“One night before dinner, my son mentioned that the nanny had started making the kids pray before breakfast and lunch and teaching them about God… during dinner, our oldest asked if we were bad people because we didn’t go to church. As it turns out, the nanny said that everyone was supposed to go to church on Sundays, and this made the oldest question why we didn’t go… she has also been reading them the bible and biblical stories during storytime and lying about it… I certainly wasn’t planning on having them be forced to pray and read religious texts.”
This is an experience many parents fear when hiring a new nanny. While it’s good to have your children exposed to a portion of different ideas that are out in the world, most parents don’t want their nanny to indoctrinate their kids with ideologies different from theirs.
“… they’re concerned there could be insurmountable friction in the relationship.”
In fear of such a situation, parents may ask about your beliefs and worldviews during your interview.
“BUT WAIT! Aren’t interview questions about your personal life, ILLEGAL?”
True, in many places, it is illegal to ask personal questions about your faith, political beliefs, and ideologies when hiring someone. I’ve seen a lot of nannies respond to such a question by merely saying:
“My families have never asked me that. That’s illegal to ask.”
While true, that answer doesn’t really help.
First, families looking to work with you are not likely experienced in Human Resources departments. They don’t always know what questions are “right” or “wrong,” and they don’t have a legal team advising them. Furthermore, there is a reason why parents ask these questions. Simply saying: “my viewpoints will not affect the care I give your children” is only true to an extent. There are things they need to know about you before entering into a long-term professional relationship. Usually, it’s not about what you believe; it’s about what you will or won’t do.
The real reason parents ask about your religion and other ideologies are because they’re concerned there could be insurmountable friction in the relationship. For instance, they may be wondering:
- “Will your beliefs cause you to behave in ways we think are inappropriate?”
- “Will your views cause a conflict or even an argument?”
- “Will, my child tell me I’m ‘going to Hell’ because you’ve started indoctrinating them?”
- “Will you participate in the holidays with our kids?”
- “Are you going to contradict us and tell our child “God doesn’t exist,” or “Santa is real”?
- What sort of worldview will my child be exposed to under your care?
- Will my child be able to practice their religion around you?
- Are you going to turn my kid into a Libertarian?
These are legitimate concerns, and they’re handled differently by different people. The fact is, you will have to work with people of different ideologies and beliefs throughout your career. Even those of the “same group” may have differences of opinion on rather large issues. If you’re not careful, these differences can impact how you care for a family’s kids.
“Be the professional and alleviate any of their concerns…”
The mishandling of religion, politics, cultural practices, and differences in ideology have caused a lot of trouble in the workplace over the years. As our society becomes more diversified, the opportunity for friction has only increased. How can you nannies navigate such a bumpy cultural landscape? In this article, we’re going to tackle three main aspects of handling these differences:
- How to avoid overstepping the family’s boundaries
- What sort of boundaries do you have?
- Will your lifestyle impact your schedule?
- How to preempt any possible friction in the future
When Kids Ask Questions – What Are The Boundaries?
Kids are like little sponges. They see what you do, and they will copy you.
Kids ask lots of questions. If you do something different than the way their family does, the kids will notice and likely ask you, “why?” Unless parents can trust you enough to answer these questions diplomatically, they might want to avoid working with you.
Nannies have the unique position of being in the family, but not of the family. This means that, while you will become intimately involved in the kid’s day to day lives, you do not have the right to dictate what they’re taught or how they’re exposed to new things. Instilling ideologies (such as religion, political identity, and morals) lies on the shoulders of parents.
Talk with the parents about how to handle any differences in ideology that you have BEFORE you start work.
What are some of the differences between your lifestyles that may imprint on your little ones?
Christmas – and other holidays – have those who celebrate for religious reasons and others who celebrate secularly. If your practice differs from your kids, will you give them a sermon on “the reason for the season?”
If your little ones ask you about Santa, will you tell them he’s real or made up? Do you know what the parents say to their kids about Santa and other holiday figures?
Some people pray at night, before each meal, or even at set times throughout the day. Kids may ask why you do or don’t pray like them, and if they should copy you instead of their parents.
What will you tell the kids if they ask about God? Will you say “He loves you more than anyone,” or “God doesn’t exist”? Will you answer God’s name is “Lord,” “Jesus,” “Jehovah,” “Allah,” “Ashtar,” or “Ahura Mazda?”
If a family outwardly supports a political figure that you object to, will you let the kids know? If one of your little ones asks you about political paraphernalia that you’ve worn, would you tell them that your party “is better” than the others?
One of your kids may ask, “Did you vote the same as my parents,” then “why not?” Will you say “Because your parents voted for a bigot!” or will you be able to be more diplomatic?
If a kid complains about school, will you say, “Our education system is a broken mess. You should be homeschooled,” or will you say, “there’s a good reason why your parents send you to school.”
What Should You Do?
This is just a small sample of the kinds of questions and conversations that can come up when you’re with your little ones for a long time. So, what should you do?
don’t just decide for yourself which approach is better. Ask the parents.
Talk with the parents about how to handle any differences in ideology that you have BEFORE you start work. Ask them if they’d prefer you to either:
- redirect them with such questions to the parents or,
- neutrally inform the kids of your viewpoint.
Let’s take the example of prayer. Suppose the family is nonreligious, but you have the practice of praying. If your little one asks you what you’re doing or why you could say either:
“I’m praying. It’s something that some people do. You could ask your parents more about it if you want.” or
“Many people are religious. I’m […] I believe that a religious person should pray to […] about […]” If they ask whether they should pray too, you can simply tell them, “That’s something you could ask your parents about.” Don’t just leave it at that, though. Let the parents know what they asked you, and what you told them. That way, the parents will be ready to discuss it with their kids.
Again, don’t just decide for yourself which approach is better. Ask the parents. Remember, you and the parents are a team, but they get the final decision on how to raise these kids.
A WARNING: Never teach any ideology or worldview to your little ones behind the parents’ backs. If a nanny does go behind the parents’ backs on such an issue, it proves that the nanny is not capable of following the parents’ wishes. For example, if the parents wanted to restrict their kid’s screen time, and the nanny just sat the kids in front of a T.V. all day, she should be fired for blatantly ignoring the parents’ request. The same would go for what you teach the kids.
When a Family’s Lifestyle Makes You Uncomfortable
Should you be forced to put your feelings and beliefs aside to appease the family? No.
Based on the way we’ve been raised and our core beliefs and ideologies, we all have different zones of comfort. Someone who belongs to a faith group that doesn’t celebrate certain holidays on moral grounds may not be comfortable helping kids with their Halloween costumes or even Christmas crafts.
For instance: Approximately 37,500,000 of those who identify as Christian, do not observe Christmas and Halloween customs due to their faith.
Should you, as the nanny, be forced to put your feelings and beliefs aside to appease the family? No. Let’s go over a few examples to see why this is the case.
For some families, politics play a huge role in their identity. Those who are deeply involved in some form of politics may attend a candidate’s election rallies or a national parade, plant a politician’s signs, pass out flyers or raise awareness about their cause. A portion of these families would love for their kids to be involved in this work, even while the parents are away. However, it would not be reasonable to expect you to bring children to a political event of the parent’s choosing or help the kids with a politically based project.
If the parents in a family attend a religious service, they usually expect their kids to come along. It’s possible, however, that you may occasionally be asked to care for the kids during a time they would typically be attending their service. Should you take your little ones to Mass, Shabbat, or Jumu’ah if you don’t follow the same faith? If you are comfortable attending the service, and you would like to work at that time, by all means, do so.
If you are NOT comfortable attending one or any specific religious service, you have the right to tell the family you will not be attending ANY or SOME religious ceremonies with the kids.
You can be upfront with them about which types of services you are or are not comfortable joining. Families are rightly not comfortable with a nanny forcing religion on their kids, and the same should be true the other way around.
Entertainment: Movies, shows, & video games. Many have objections to viewing entertainment that centers around violence or occult practices. Others may object to doing anything that promotes a particular morality: capitalism, killing or eating animals, or even the appropriateness of certain types of relationships.
Reading religious texts to the kids. Many families are deeply religious and have integrated their worship into their daily lives. Some children have the habit of praying with their parents or having scriptures read to them as a part of their schedule.
Keep in mind: the principals we described in these last two examples would also be true for helping your kiddos with holiday crafts and activities which you wouldn’t be comfortable taking part in.
It’s up to You
Remember, these are all things that you could do as a nanny if you felt comfortable. But you are by no means required to do any of these things. Often, your worldviews are aligned, and integrating certain practices into your child care is easy and second nature to you. Even if you don’t share their religious worldview, you may have no qualms about reading them some psalms. (pun most definitely intended)
But, in the end, it’s up to you what your boundaries are.
If the parents asked you to be involved in something that was outside of your comfort zone, how might you approach the issue? Let’s use the example of a mid-week religious service.
Suppose the family is Christian and active in their church, but you’re not. You believe that attending the family’s church would be comparable to participation in their religion, which is something you couldn’t do in good conscience. You would need to make it clear to the family from the start that you won’t be able to attend the service with your little one mid-week. If they insist that they want their child to participate in the service, you have a few optional suggestions:
- “Are there any alternative services he could attend on a day or time that I’m not with him?”
- “Is it possible to have someone else bring him to these services?”
- “Is there a trusted family member that will also be attending who could care for him during the service?”
- “Is there something we could do in place of this service?”
If you find that none of these options will work, you may need to find someone else to work during that day, or you may simply have not to accept this particular job.
Holidays And Time Off
Most religions have special annual observances that are important to members of the faith. Many people’s religious observances align with common holiday periods where employees are typically given time off. But this is not always the case.
As an employee, this issue is a bit more challenging to navigate. In many places, employers are required by law to make “reasonable accommodation” for employees to attend religious observances. However, the language used in these laws is often vague and makes it difficult to get the time off that you need. Even if you can’t get paid time off, though, you will likely be able to get the time off that you need if you ask months in advance.
If you work as an independent contractor, this issue is much easier to overcome. As an independent contractor, you can determine when you do and do not work. Being self-employed gives you much more flexibility when it comes to making time for the things that are important to you.
Regardless of the legality, parents will often ask about important personal topics. Usually, they ask because they have fears and concerns. You need to be the professional and alleviate any of these concerns (or even ones they didn’t realize they had) by telling them about your boundaries. Then, you need to ask them about theirs. This is the only way to ensure there will not be insurmountable friction between you and the family. You can do all of this during the interview. Don’t wait for the parents to ask you these questions, bring this up on your own. It will go a long way in making them comfortable with you.
You also need to understand and respect the family’s boundaries. If your little ones ask about your faith or lifestyle simply inform, don’t evangelize. You should never force your worldview onto the kids if the parents are not okay with it. This requires that you be upfront with families about things you will and won’t do.
Employers are required by the laws in many places to make reasonable accommodation to employees to observe religious holidays. If you are clear about what days you need time off, this will usually cover you if you work as a nanny employee. If you’re working as a self-employed contractor, then you have a lot more flexibility with your schedule because you’re the one who calls the shots.
As a final note: your worldview and lifestyle can actually serve as an asset. Sometimes, it may seem that your particular worldview is a burden on your nanny career, causing friction with would-be clients. However, you can use that as a way to niche down, rather than cast a wide, broad net, focus on finding families who share something with you. Often, advertising yourself within a specific, narrow niche helps you find better-paying jobs quickly.
At over 2,600 words, I know this is a long article, but I hope we were able to cover a lot of potentially sticky situations and help all you nannies out there up your nanny game.