Defining the working relationship with your nanny

Nannies and au pairs can be domestic dreams, household heroes and child whisperers but any relationship that involves living with a stranger can be fraught with difficulties. When you consider different cultures, a distance in ages in ages and homesickness it can easily be a disaster while you try to establish an equilibrium.

Whether it is your first live-in child care or the fifth, each nanny or au pair is different and can be frustrating in different ways. However by maintaining a few ground rules and structure while being understanding of their position and firm of your own, you can live in a household of harmony.



When interviewing potential staff be upfront with them. Though the nanny agency would have vetted them, and given them some details about your family, clear and honest communication from the start will ensure that everybody is on the same page and working towards the same goal.

Listing all the duties expected of them, showing them where everything is and ensuring they are aware of the standard you anticipate, will make the first week intense but it will also give you a decent framework to build on and then negotiate if things do not go as well as planned.


While sticking to a routine week after week may seem impossible with modern living, it is important to ensure your child will be covered. A last minute announcement that the au pair is needed to babysit may be fine once in a while (though may cause some resentment) however if it is a regular occurrence it can cause similar problems.

The same is true for a nanny, while illness and family emergencies cannot be anticipated, social engagements should never be prioritised over their duties. If you give them notice of discrepancies in your schedule, they can do the same to nurture a relationship based on mutual respect.


Everybody begins with the best of intentions, a new nanny, and a new regime. You may plan to restrict the television to half an hour a day, and never over meal times, or introduce a sugar free diet for the whole family, however the reality is often very different. Over time standards may slip, a sickly child can be coaxed with nothing but custard or fighting your child over his television time may seem impossible after a long day at work. Maintaining the standard of discipline that you expect from your au pair is not always easy however, you cannot let them always play bad cop.

Continuing to update your nanny on the standards you expect them to maintain, will not only ensure they are aligned with your own views, but will also make you aware of the times you fail to meet these standards. A consistent approach will not only make the children aware of the rules (that should not be bent) but also will help you nanny deal with any situation without any doubt.

Image Credit: Adina Voicu

Downton Abbey vs Reality

The television show Downton Abbey has been a roaring success, enjoying six seasons and with talk of a film on the horizon.  Not only has the British population relished a peek at life upstairs and down, but it was received with enormous praise by those across the pond.

There have been some criticisms of the series and the portrayal of not only the relationship between the upper crust and the serving class but also the conditions they worked in. While it is tempting to believe in a history of benevolent masters and loyal household staff, the reality was in fact very different.

There is much evidence from maids’ diaries and journals that confirm that the Crawleys were a rare breed of management. Mostly the living conditions were poor, either over crowded attics or chilly basements, the wages were minimal and the codes of etiquette more strictly enforced. While Downton conforms to modern standards, the reality would have been servants who were grubby at best but probably smelled. The nobility would have disregarded staff in an ambivalent manner, when attention was paid it would often be to criticise and to lash out either physically or verbally.

Though many of the personal aids (like ladies maids and valets) have something akin to friendship with their member of the household, giving advice and making personal marks above their station, this would only have been permitted in the rarest of cases. Instead any scandal would have a maid out on the street with no character reference, often condemning her to poverty.

As times have changed so have our expectations of household staff. Being based on much more than wages, instead mutual respect, friendship and often true affinity come into place, with many staff feeling more like family than hired help. Au pairs often keep in touch with their young charges and employers have a vested interest in their staff’s well-being as well as their future. Though we may like to indulge in the fantasy that Downton encourages, of perfect civility ensconced in lace and velvet, the modern day version is much more palatable.

Image Credit: photos of the past