To “Friend” or Not to “Friend”
Networking With Your Nanny
By Erin Mantz
Like almost every day, an e-mail from Facebook popped in to my AOL inbox, announcing I had a “friend request.” Since joining Facebook last fall, I had grown used to connecting and reconnecting with people from the past and present. I almost always recognized the faces (if not the names) and reacted with some emotion (Excitement: My long-lost best friend from seventh grade! Dread: The coworker from my first job who followed me around every day for a year. Curiosity: My friend’s uncle in California. Rapid heartbeat: My high-school boyfriend.) But, this time, when I opened the e-mail, I was shocked. It was from my new, 20-year-old nanny!
Immediately, the shock turned to panic, confusion, fear–and even anger. I felt invaded. I was scared to let her into the personal life of my Facebook page and terrified I would find something questionable if I peeked into hers. The average Facebook user has 120 friends on her site. What if one of her friends looked like some shady character? Would I worry that he’ll pop by my house for a visit and steal my rings? What if I find pictures of her partying the night before or hear a song with lyrics unfit for my 4-year-old’s ears? Will I wonder if she’s playing that tune when my son’s in her car?
I accepted the invitation to connect but didn’t look at her Facebook page … until a few weeks later. I quickly popped onto her page, looking over my shoulder and feeling sneaky, and all I saw was her status update from earlier that morning: “Have to be up in six hours!” she’d posted. No wonder she looked so tired this morning! She was up at midnight the night before. Unsure whether she had been up studying for her college course or hitting the clubs with her friends, I couldn’t really be mad. I couldn’t really be mad, anyway, since how she spent her personal time outside of babysitting hours wasn’t really my business. Or was it?
As George Costanza on Seinfeld said, “My worlds are colliding.” Welcome to the world of Generation Y nannies and technology.
Blurring the Lines of Personal Boundaries
Navigating the perks and pitfalls of Generation Y babysitters/nannies and their technologies can be tough. Also known as the “Net Generation” and “First Digitals,” Generation Y (those born between 1979 and 1994) accounts for 70 million people in the United States–and one may likely be taking care of your child.
In so many ways, having young sitters and nannies armed with cell phones and lifestyles where texting is second nature does make parent/nanny logistics much easier. You can text her to stop and get milk while she’s leaving the carpool line or notify her your kid’s soccer practice is running late. She may use her cell phone camera to send you a snapshot of your son hitting a home run while you’re stuck at the office, offering you an unexpected smile. She’s always reachable. But she’s always connected, making it awfully easy for her to mix workday tasks with time for socializing. What if she’s using that cell phone to text her friends instead of playing with your kids? And how would you even know?
Social networking sites, such as Facebook, pose even deeper questions. Who is to say what’s too close for comfort or where the boundaries of privacy borders blur? Like many moms, I am feeling my way through and figuring it out as I go along. So are professionals like nanny agency owners, who find themselves rethinking their roles and responsibilities around educating nannies on tech etiquette and calming parents who call with concerns.
Nanny Agencies Address the Issue
Alexandra Afari is director of Five Star Nannies, an agency serving Maryland, D.C. and Northern Virginia. She prides herself on taking an educational approach to child care and recently recognized a need to at least address the technology issue. “We are cognizant and mindful of the convenience and distraction technology may pose. That’s why we take steps to ensure that our nannies refrain from the personal use of all electronic communication devices during working hours.” Afari communicates this expectation to her nannies and offers a level of reassurance to parents.
Jaclyn Gobuluk, owner of Metropolitan Nannies based in Herndon, understands the nannies of yesterday and today. She worked as a nanny for 15 years before opening her agency in 2002. Back then, Facebook wasn’t even a thought. But today, she does Facebook searches as part of her screening of nanny candidates. They will be role models for children, so she wants to learn more about their lifestyles. “Technology is tied to a nanny’s identity,” Gobuluk says. “People should have common sense about what they post. Anyone coming out of college should know not to use Facebook to let their crazy side out.”
Gobuluk embraces the good sides of technology and even launched an agency Facebook page. She thinks technology is mostly just an extra tool for parent/nanny communication, and it won’t totally replace in-person dialogue. “There will always be times when parents still want to sit down [with their nanny] face-to-face and know what’s going on with their kids,” she says.
Some parents do visit nanny candidates’ Facebook pages, but Gobuluk hasn’t heard of any crisis as a result. And as for technology taking time away from the kids, such as a child telling Mom that Nanny was texting for hours while he just watched TV, there have only been a few complaints in recent years.
Trusting Your Instincts in the Social Media World–Mother Knows Best
With moms’ use of social media up 462 percent over the past three years, according to BabyCenter’s June 2009 “21st Century Mom Report,” I wondered how some area moms felt about becoming friends with their nannies on Facebook. In an informal poll, none were friends, only one had gotten a request from a former nanny, and all of them said if their current nanny did send them a friend request, they would not accept it. “I think it’s best to keep some lines of separation to maintain privacy,” said one Potomac mom, whose policy is to friend only former nannies. As for visiting her current nanny’s Facebook page? “I would be a very curious fly on the wall and would be very interested to find out what someone so close to my family really thinks about us and what she shares publicly.”
Moms who feel worried or guilty about denying friend requests shouldn’t be so hard on themselves. It is human nature for a mom to not want to accept a friend request from her nanny, according to Jennifer Kogan, LICSW, who works with many moms at her parent counseling and support center in Northwest D.C. “A mom may feel she doesn’t want to share her life with her employee, and boundaries can be tough to uphold with a public setting like Facebook,” she says. She acknowledges it’s also natural for a mom to be very curious about her nanny’s Facebook page, since she could learn a lot about the type of person she has watching her child. Still, the moms I spoke with said they would never peek at their nanny’s Facebook page. “Too much information,” summed up one insightful mom.
Erin Mantz (erinmantz.com) is a writer and communications professional based in Potomac, where she lives with her two sons, 4 and 8, and a Pug named Rizzo.