As the head of a nanny agency catering to Washington powerbrokers for the past 20 years, Barbara Kline has some interesting tales to tell. And like many who run in elite circles of the nation's capital, she's put her stories in a book.
While the tales in White House Nannies (which is also the name of her firm) are true, some of the names have been changed to protect some former clients from embarrassment, Kline tells Michele Norris.
In the 1980s, one of Kline's caregivers kept losing the keys to the client's house. "That would be a problem in anybody's house — but this was the secretary of defense," Kline says. "This was a huge problem." And it turns out the nanny had made copies of the keys and gave them to friends so she could have backups in case she misplaced them again. Thankfully, the defense chief never found out that his house was vulnerable, Kline says.
She says some of her super-achieving clients haven't learned how much their lives change when they begin to have children. "You might not be staying at the office as many hours as you did previously. You can't just insert this person into your life and not change anything."
"You can outsource a lot of things in your life" — cooking, the groceries and other shopping — "but you can't really outsource all your parenting," Kline says.
In her book, Kline offers the following suggestions for finding just the right kind of nanny.
Tips for Finding the Perfect Nanny
• Trust your instincts. If you can't get past a prospective nanny's ring and tattoo, hold out for someone else.
• Call all references yourself. Some parents "forget" to tell an agency things they'll share with another parent.
• If an agency costs less, it probably doesn't spend enough time making sure its nannies are well qualified.
• When both parents interview a prospective nanny, it's no one's fault if the relationship happens to go south.
• An "overlap" should be long enough for your old nanny to show her successor the ropes — but not long enough for them to bond, in case Old Nanny tells New Nanny something you wish she hadn't.
• Don't expect your nanny to devote nine of her ten hours a day to developmentally appropriate play with your children.
• Don't give your nanny mixed messages. If you tell her she can have her boyfriend over, don't look surprised when he shows up.
• Call an agency yourself. Even if you have a Chief of Staff, don't outsource this particular hire.
• Don't micromanage your nanny. If you're calling her a dozen times a day, quit your job and take over hers.
• Tell your nanny and your children your real schedule — not the one you wish you had.
• Repeat this mantra at least once a day: My nanny's job is harder than mine.
• Career. Family. Sanity. When life gets difficult, just pick two out of three.
From White House Nannies, Copyright © 2005 by Barbara Kline. Published by Tarcher/Penguin.