One of the more popular posts on this blog is this post in April 2011 about what Ryan gets up to at his nanny's place. I've received not only post comments, but also private emails, and it's also been brought up in conversation with friends a few times. Following a recent query from an anonymous commenter, I thought I'd pen down the things that we were looking out for when we were searching for a nanny for Ryan.

First, let me tell you how we found her. We placed an ad on the internet (gumtree), which was picked up by Ryan's nanny's daughter. We got calls from a few other people, but because of location or lack of experience, they were not suitable. When Ryan's nanny called, the boxes got ticked (experience, location) so we asked if we could visit her at her place and she agreed. At the time, she was not looking after any children. We visited and had a chat about her experience and her family. We raised a few queries and asked if she could handle our requirements (which were not many). It wasn't a very probing "interview" - we spent most of it just pleasantly chatting about children in general, just seeing if we clicked with her and her with us.

Her place was calm and peaceful and Ryan slept in my arms throughout our chat. Towards the end of our conversation, I put Ryan in her arms. She cradled him naturally, my sleeping child, spoke quietly to him, stroked his head, and couldn't take her eyes off him. Ryan snuggled in close and continued sleeping without a care.

Up till that point, apart from Richard and I, nobody had handled Ryan in that calm, gentle, focused manner. Other people, including relatives, bounced him up and down in their arms, talking to me without looking at him. When they did look at him, they talked about his features and dispensed advice, but they were talking to me, they never talked to Ryan. They held him without feeling any connection, and treated him as if he was unaware of what was happening, as if there was no point interacting with him because he was too young to understand.

This lady, Ryan's nanny-to-be, a perfect stranger, held him with such tenderness and looked at him with such wonder in her eyes, interacting with him and treating him like a person, never mind that he was asleep, so much so that you got the impression that this baby must be so very precious and special (as all babies are).

I knew, right there and then, that she was the right person to care for our son.

We procrastinated confirming the deal, not because we had any doubts about her, but because we couldn't bear to think about the moment of parting. Still, the day for me to go back to work crept up on us and I had to face the fact. As luck would have it, by that time, we had misplaced her number! My reluctance was then replaced by panic at the possibility that she might have found another ward and we would have to search all over again. God intervened at this point because she called us! She asked if we were still interested and we told her, oh yes!

So that was how Ryan found his nanny. She was the only person we "interviewed" and she fit the bill perfectly. The ultimate seal of approval for us was when strangers came up to us to fawn over Ryan and, upon learning that a nanny takes care of him while we work, told us that he looks well taken care of and that his nanny must be very good. This has happened a few times, in fact.

So what should you look out for? I've set out below a list of the things that matter to us. I acknowledge that we did not have many requirements, so the list below is not exhaustive, and it may not even be very helpful to some. I guess much depends on you and your child, your child's needs and your circumstances. This is perhaps the very basic criteria. Ok, here goes.

1. Time flexibility and proximity to home/work. Most of the infantcare centres insist that you pick up your child by 7 pm, and we could not do that. The official arrangement with Ryan's nanny is anytime from 8 am to 8 pm, but we usually send him around 9 am and we have picked him up later than 8 pm on occasion. She is always understanding when we are late. If we are going to be very late, we will call ahead to check if that's ok. She lives somewhere between our home and our offices, so it is perfectly convenient to fetch him to and fro, or to get to her place in case of any emergency.

2. Experience. We do take her advice on issues, we are not too proud to do so, and that's the whole point of getting someone with experience - she knows what she is doing. Proficiency in handling the baby and taking care of the baby's basic needs is a given, of course. The nanny should also know how to recognise an emergency and what to do. Apart from those obvious points, experience is also crucial so that she knows what is "normal" or not and can pick up any signs that your child may possibly be suffering from development delays and/or medical disorders.

3. Chemistry with the child. This is the intangible X-factor. Some people have the ability to soothe a child and calm a child instantly, and they just have that special connection. Since he was an infant, Ryan has been able to communicate with his nanny without straining - she knows what he is thinking and feeling without him having to express or say it. She, in turn, can communicate effectively with him. Basically, Ryan is comfortable with her. Also, as I mentioned above, I like the way that Ryan's nanny interacts with him, treating him like a person, talking to him even though he may not yet fully understand the words that are being said. She gives him attention and respect, and shows him empathy and understanding. This created an emotionally secure environment and helped a bond to form quickly between them.

4. Chemistry with the parents. We needed someone who spoke English because Richard and I speak mainly English. I don't mind if she uses other languages or dialects with Ryan, that's perfectly fine. I only need her to talk to ME in English because that's the limit of my ability. More importantly, although Richard and I never discussed it, I guess we were looking for someone who would handle Ryan the way we handle him - being calm and firm, but not fierce and iron-fisted. Certainly not someone who was overly concerned about petty or superstitious things, always worried that the child cannot do this or that, or cannot eat this or that because of some bizarre outdated belief or practice. Essentially, someone who was on the same page as us. We didn't want to be constantly "fighting" with the nanny over little issues, giving rise to tension between us. One interesting thing I will mention is that, I have never noticed any childproofing measures in Ryan's nanny's place (to this day) - and I like that! Ryan is allowed to roam around and touch anything he wants, climb up on chairs, open drawers and explore freely. It also means that he is supervised closely. We apply the same philosophy in our own home.

5. Environment. Apart from cleanliness and (less) noise, what one looks for may differ from parent to parent, so I'll just say that you may want to consider factors such as the presence of other people living there, the family's lifestyle, the environment outside the house (ie. the neighbourhood), the languages/dialects they speak, maybe even their religion, etc. For us, we were not bothered about a lot of these things (and nothing seemed out of the ordinary when we visited). We were simply looking out for a clean, peaceful and welcoming home, a place where Ryan would feel comfortable and safe. We were lucky that all the other factors fell into place.

6. Specific requirements. Either you or the nanny or both of you may have specific requirements. We had just one - Ryan would take breastmilk and only breastmilk (until we felt he was ready for solids, of course). Ryan's nanny was not familiar with handling breastmilk, but she was willing to learn (and really, the only thing she had to learn was how to store it). Some parents may have requirements like not bringing the baby outside, must nap/bathe at a specific time, morning must eat this and afternoon must eat that, cannot watch TV or can only watch programmes selected by the parents, etc. Personally, I think that, apart from medically prescribed dietary requirements or if your child has special needs, the parents should adopt a hands-off approach. I mean, you're trusting this woman with your child, basically putting his life in her hands for 8-12 hours, and you still want to dictate what time to bathe the child? Forgive me for being blunt, but it sounds ridiculous. Which brings me to the last point...

7. Trust. At the end of the day, will you be able to trust this person with your child? Richard and I trust Ryan's nanny completely, without reservation. We are absolutely confident that he will be well taken care of. I have never felt the need to question her judgment or to dictate her actions. I have never called her to check on Ryan, not even on the first day that we sent him to her. We brought him there, gave him a hug and a kiss, placed him in her arms, and left straightaway. After work, we came by and picked him up. He was clean, fed, rested, happy and content, and that was all that mattered. That's the whole point of taking the trouble to choose a nanny with experience and who meets all your criteria - so you can then step back and let her do what she does.

I will add that, the parent-nanny relationship is just as important as the nanny-child relationship. Even if you're hard on everyone in your life, your child's nanny is the last person that you should be hard on. If you are hard on her, or unpleasant or difficult, you'll likely end up needing her more than she wants you. So, if you do find a suitable nanny that meets all your criteria, play your part and be reasonable, be understanding, be nice, and pay her on time!

That's all I can think of, and I hope that helps. All the other stuff that I mentioned in my April 2011 post - the different activities that Ryan gets up to with his nanny, the mental stimulation and the social interaction he receives, the bond that he shares with his nanny and her family, the toys/clothes/books/videos that they buy for him - honestly there was no way that we could have known all that when we started this partnership, when Ryan was 16 weeks old. There's no way you can be sure how it's all going to turn out. There is no guarantee that things will still work out when your child is 6 months old, 1 year old or 2 years old, when his needs change. No matter whether the nanny is new to you or is someone familiar, there is always going to be a leap of faith that you need to take. The only things that will remain constant, and which I believe are the things that matter, are the things I've set out above, so get those things right, and have faith that everything else will fall into place.

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