Things to Consider When You Hire a Nanny


What should I look for when hiring a nanny?

MOLLY: This question came from a reader in upstate New York who has been frustrated by the process of finding the right nanny.

We reached out to Nathaniel Hammons, an attorney based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and also an Adjunct Professor at Marquette University Law School. Nathan provides expert legal counseling to parents interested in hiring a nanny at

MOLLY: Nathan, what is your Top 5 list for hiring a nanny and what legalalities should people watch out for?

NATHAN: Finding a nanny is a difficult task because you are inviting a stranger to care for your child. Even with safeguards and organizations in place, it’s important that you gain a full understanding of the type of person you will be bringing into your home. Building trust and understanding begins during the interview process and doesn’t end until the day your child is ready to care for himself.

1. Personality
It’s important that the nanny you hire has a personality that you can relate to. A charming nanny with a sense of humor is a delight to work with and will provide a healthy environment for your child to learn and grow. A reserved nanny with a temper may ignore needs or denigrate a child when nobody is around. It is recommended that you hire a nanny that is like yourself because the child will be more likely to warm up to them. Additionally, this type of nanny will perform more like you when making decisions.

2. Chemistry
The child should always have a say in who will be their caretaker. During the age before a child can speak, the only way they can display their feelings is through emotion and body language. Keep a close eye on these qualities when the nanny candidate interacts with your child. This does not mean you should throw a nanny out of your home if the baby cries when being held, but use their body language to gauge some understanding of how the baby feels about the nanny compared to other candidates.

3. Duties
A prospective nanny must be willing to perform all the tasks required of them. Be clear and concise when presenting the nanny with the duties they must complete on a timely basis. If certain tasks must be completed on a daily or weekly basis, it should be clearly stated in a contract or during the interview process in writing. Legally you may enter a gray area if there is a task you require of the nanny but you have not specifically mentioned it in the contract. Additionally, because nobody is perfect, it is wise to include a stipulation within the contract to allow you to add duties at a later date. Adding this kind of language may require you to also give something extra whether it be bonus pay or some other benefit.

4. Pay
Many parents who find the perfect nanny find that she may be willing to lower her salary to meet their needs but this person is much more likely to leave prematurely from the position. Additionally, when creating a budget, don’t forget that if you plan on having the nanny work for greater than 40 hours, she is entitled to overtime pay. It is important to write explicitly the number of hours the nanny will be expected to work and the hourly wage so that overtime can be easily calculated if necessary.

5. Legal Protection
Mentioned already were tips when writing a contract to protect the working relationship with the nanny. Historically, lawsuits and sometimes criminal investigations have arisen for several reasons including requiring a nanny to work longer hours than her contract stated, discriminating against  certain races or sexual orientations during the hiring process, hiring a nanny that is not legally an American citizen, and refusing to pay overtime. Keep these legal issues in mind while working with a nanny.

MOLLY: Thanks for some great advice Nathan! To learn more about writing contracts for nanny’s you can visit Nathan at

How To Deal With A Defiant Teen


My normally cheerful daughter is approaching puberty and is becoming mean, grumpy and defiant.

MOLLY: This question came from a reader based in Los Angeles.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): This behavior is not uncommon at all. You might even say it’s par for the course.

Physically speaking, the frontal lobes kick into action during pre-puberty and puberty. The frontal lobes are what control rational thought and decision-making. This is when often I’ll hear parents wonder what happened to their sweet, wonderful child who woke up one morning and became unpleasant all the time. A lot of this behavior has to do with the physical maturation process of the frontal lobe of the brain.

As a parent myself, I counsel that parents need a lot of patience and separate time from their kids while this process is carrying out, and the parents should just remember that period will pass.

MOLLY: But, as a parent whose child is acting this way, how do you deal with it at the time?

MOM: I think that when parents get too involved emotionally with the dramas of what’s going on with the child, they can lose themselves in the turmoil caused by the teen. This slide really only makes matters worse.

The better idea is for parents to keep a little bit of emotional distance during this time. It’s not going to last forever, and some humor and perspective can be very helpful for the family to get through it. If the parent has a partner, sharing frustrations with a partner can be extremely helpful to allow the parent to vent privately from the teen. If they don’t have a partner, sharing the experience with friends can help the parent feel less out of control and helpless.

Reach out to other parents because everybody who has a pre-teen or teen-aged child, particularly daughters earlier but also sons a little later in the teens, experiences this to some degree. Sometimes it’s a larger degree than others and finding the right parenting path can be dicey.

MOLLY: How long does this irrational and emotional period last?

MOM: It may be a more individualized thing on a person-by-person basis, but I think parents can count on at least one year. I do think when girls get to be about 15, generally speaking, they settle down and they return to more like they were before they went through this episode. Actually, frontal lobe activity settles down about the age of 25.

MOLLY: Is it worth it to point it out to to the teens while they are acting this way?

MOM: It’s not a bad idea to mention it as you notice your child approaching this time. I think it can be very helpful to educate your child about the frontal lobes and show her where they are located (on the front of your forehead). Then explain exactly what I had just said: that the frontal lobes are developing during this age and it may make somethings seem confused and extra emotional for her, but she will pass through this stage. Giving her some idea what’s ahead of her might be helpful to her to sort out why she might be feeling so intensely sometimes. Teens don’t understand what’s going on inside of them or why they’re so upset or are feeling so grumpy.

What adolescents need most is to have more separate space from their parents in which to grow and start to learn to make their own decisions. This is not to say that parents should be hands-off during these years, but that guidance should replace the constant monitoring needed with younger children. This is part of the maturation process for parents and children, and everyone goes through some version of it.
The job of a teenager, psychologically speaking, is to begin the separation process from his or her parents. For some kids it’s very traumatic and for other kids it’s not such a big deal.

MOLLY: How can parents help that process along?

MOM: I think parents can really help that process when they are able to separate what’s best for them from what their kid needs. What happens to parents at this stage is that they get very nervous about exposure to sex and restricted substances. The natural impulse for parents is to clamp down on their kids and attempt to keep them safe at home where they can be watched. But honesty that’s probably not the best of idea because the kid will fight like crazy against that.

I think that the best approach is for parents to talk with their kid –and by that I mean mostly listen to the teen– and to not come down so hard on the teens but rather give them a little bit more freedom. Does that sound counter-intuitive? Rebellion in teens is an expression of their need to be less tightly tethered to their parents.

In exchange for increased freedom a parent might link the privilege to school performance. A parent can say to the teen, “You’re a smart kid, I expect you to get a 3.0 average in school. We believe you can do this, and we are going to let you be in charge of your life. We will allow you to do x, y, and z, until or unless you show us that you cannot handle it. As long as you manage your time and get your responsibilities done, we’ll continue to give you more and more freedoms as time goes on. We don’t expect perfection, but we expect to see you putting forth the effort to be a trustworthy person who does well in your job, which at this point is school.”

MOLLY: Those freedoms are what specifically?

MOM: They might be what time you come home at night or a curfew…

MOLLY: This is even for a 12 year old?

MOM: No, this is more like 14 and 15 years old. There are more options for a child because their world is smaller.

The key is not to reflexively clamp down really hard on a child when they’re going through adolescence because it will just make matters worse and leave bad feelings on both sides. As the parent in this dynamic, you want to mitigate that potential negativity. Of course, a lot depends on what’s going on and what level the behavior has reached. Everyone will experiment and make mistakes as they go through life, but If your kid continues to act out and escalates the behavior, then we move into another realm of parenting. In this post, we’re talking about kids doing the usual kid things while growing up.

MOLLY: And if the acting out gets worse instead of better with more freedoms?

MOM: My basic motto with kids at this age or any age really is that you trust them until they show you that they’re not trustworthy. Then you have to do something different, but that’s another conversation.

MOLLY: I also think that even when kids show you that they’re not trustworthy, you can’t hold that against them forever.

MOM: I agree with you. Holding grudges doesn’t do anyone any good in any situation. Parents have to grow with their children.

MOLLY: Even if they mess up once, the parent has to be able to move past it and give them another chance, and another, and another…

MOM: Right. Parents have to talk with kids about what happened when they transgress and help them see that maybe there were other ways to handle that situation. This will help them to grow up and become more mature.

MOLLY: Are there long-term effects to consider when you see moody and unpleasant behavior in pre-teens and teens?

MOM: The most devastating long term effects come from when parents clamp down really, really hard and are overly restrictive with the teen. They don’t let them have friends over or to hang out in their own house, they don’t help them attend social events with their peers, and so on. These kids often end up very oppositional and angry with negative feelings toward their parents. They feel misunderstood much of the time and, the truth is, they probably have been misunderstood. This escalates as the child matures and rather than the parent granting freedoms to the child, the child rebels against the parental restrictions. It creates an angry and unpleasant dynamic in the family.

It’s a fine line: successfully raising your kids when they start going through puberty by helping them to learn to become adults rather than holding them back as undeveloped children.

When kids enter adolescence, parents can really set the stage of how it’s going to go for the next few years through high school.

Preparing Kids For A Divorce


It looks like my husband and I are going to get divorced. How should I explain it to my son?

MOLLY: This was submitted from a reader in Denver, Colorado. She added that she wants to make sure her son is mentally prepared should they get a divorce.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): I think that you’re right to think ahead and get as mentally prepared as you can. Although truthfully, I don’t know if you can become totally prepared for telling your child about a divorce. It’s really one of the hardest things for a parent to do.

So there are a couple things she will want to do as a parent. First she will want to lay it out that basically that this is an agreement between the parents and it has absolutely nothing to do with the child.

I know that that’s advice that everybody gives but it’s really important advice. It’s important to say this out loud to the child and reassure him that it’s not his fault and that he has nothing to do with this decision.

More often than not I’ve found that children are most concerned about what’s going to happen to them. So that’s something she’ll want to spell out to her child. Where he’s going to live? Where is his home base going to be? When is he going to see his Dad or his Mom? The parents should work out those issues about how the child is going to live before they tell their son the news so that he has a clear idea about what’s going to happen to him. That’s the most important way to allay his anxieties and fears.

She’ll want to offer security to him: reassure him that he’s not going to get lost in the mess and that his parents are going to work as hard as they can together to limit the amount of disruption in his life.

MOLLY: You probably don’t do this until you’ve truly decided to get separated, right?

MOM: Right, you would not do this until the couple has made the final decision and somebody has figured out where they are going to move to when they leave the family house.

The other thing to consider is the age of the child (in this case I don’t know the age). That would determine how much information to give.

It’s very important to answer a child’s questions as honestly as possible, without getting into details that a child doesn’t really need to know about, that are of a more personal nature.

MOLLY: So keep the conversation at a high level?

MOM: Yes, take the high ground?

MOLLY: Now of course, you’ve told me before, the mantra in a separation or a divorce should be: “don’t speak badly about the other parent. “

MOM: Yes, that’s a one big No-No. As in, never. Never speak badly about the child’s other parent. First of all, it’s doing a disservice to the child as well as to the other parent, and secondly, criticism will usually boomerang back on the parent who tells the child these things because the child will automatically want to defend the other parent. If you think you’re making a good case for yourself, you’re really not. Negative talk about the ex will interfere with the relationship with your child.

MOLLY: What are the long-term issues she will need to be aware of?

MOM: There are a lot of long-term effects of divorce and how parents tell their child about the divorce is important because it’s something kids usually remember. The long-term consequences very much depend on how much fighting is going on between the parents. Studies have shown that the divorce itself isn’t so much the issue that plagues the kids but rather the continual fighting that goes on between the parents that is much more distressing to them.

MOLLY: Should the parents sit down together to tell the child?

MOM: Well, I think that people do it differently. I don’t think there are any rules about that. Sometimes one parent refuses to sit down and tell the child because they don’t want the divorce in the first place. It’s really something that the parents have to work out between themselves but should be agreed upon ahead of time.

How To Address Emotional Eating In Teens


How can I help my daughter stop emotional eating without making it worse?

MOLLY: This came from a reader from California. She added that her daughter is a teenager and when she brings it up for conversation it seems to make things worse.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM): This can be a very difficult area to address.

What I would probably do first is talk to the child about what’s going on emotionally in her life without connecting it to the eating because usually kids can get quite defensive about behaviors like this.  This is a time to tread carefully. I would try to assess what might be going on in the child’s life that is distressing for her and driving her to seek solace in food.

MOLLY: Should she take her kid to see a therapist?

MOM: Well, it depends if her parents can help her reduce her stress with some coping strategies so that she naturally becomes less dependent on food to feel better about herself. If the root is low self-esteem, finding ways to improve her self-image will help. If it’s severe enough that there’s a significant weight gain or weight loss, or if the child begins to hurt herself by cutting on herself –those things often go together– then absolutely the child should see someone.

MOLLY: What could be the long-term consequences?

MOM: Well, it’s hard to predict. What we don’t know is if the emotional issue is long-term or if it’s a temporary one that will pass on its own. The longer it goes on the more impact it will have. Often we see that when such a kid becomes an adult and has some stress in her life she’s likely to revert back to that eating pattern.

MOLLY: So you want to break the pattern.

MOM: Right, you want to break the pattern of linking food with emotions. And, it’s not an easy job.

Experience this? Comment below if you’ve had success dealing with emotional eating in a teenager. Or Contact Us if you have other parenting questions you’d like to see addressed.