Managing the Home Team

I’m counting down the last of my maternity leave days. I wonder if it would have been easier if I had six months’ leave. Or even a year. On the other hand, I may as well rip off the bandaid and jump back in. Naturally, I look around and find some workplace inspiration right in my space.

Home is my new office, my new job that I can’t quit, the personal project that will last a lifetime. I need to get troops and set them in line to make things move. Team member number one is my husband. He has his assignment cut out- more like my business partner, a fellow authority in this domain and brings in his own leadership style and strengths. Team member number two is where things get a little tough. How do I work with this stranger and trust her with the most precious thing in my world? Thankfully, in Kenya, it is relatively easy to get a nanny aka a domestic manager. My nanny is interesting. Referred by another nanny, she is older and feels more like having an aunt coming to help.

I talked to my sisters and tried to learn from their mishaps and find direction in managing my home. I wrote earlier about work culture at and being in a space where your team is chosen for you. So in this situation where I am picking my team, I have few overlapping ideas from work that I’m playing around with on the home front.

1. similar interests but different objectives

The nanny loves babies. Being an extensively experienced mother, she’s very understanding of the recovery process and believes that she should take as much care of me as the baby. This is great, a real case of loving your work. However, she has three children that she is still educating and money is the main mission. No matter how much she loves my child and understands the challenges of this season, there is a bigger reason that brought her into my home. I cannot be ignorant of this and expect her to make my priorities hers and I do not expect to become her community sponsor either.

So now my offering is to help her fulfil her objectives, not just the standard wages and rest times, but also treating her with dignity daily and empowering her on a personal level. A way I do this is picked from my mother, she would ensure her workers would have a savings account and she would teach them how to plan their money more responsibly. This works in two ways, she can build her kitty, ease her fees and emergencies and I don’t have to deal with mid-month crises from her home like an extended black tax.

2. Boundaries must be drawn early

Did I say she loves babies? She really, really does. Like, a lot!! I put on a documentary on babies and she was literally cooing at the television. It’s great, it means she’s very careful with my little one and cares about her needs. But there’s a downside; she wants to cuddle my baby all the time! She loves the baby smell as most of us do and you know how nice it is to carry a newborn. Then it got a little invasive and we had to have a chat.

There are many ways this does not work for me but to her, it makes her very happy. It’s cool, I say, but what makes her happy cannot derail my project, will not interfere with my child’s development needs, my quality time as a parent or her interactions with the greater family. This is a space where she is meant to help me take care of my child and it means my philosophies will override hers.

3. Defining roles

I was told a story of a lady who had a job that meant travelling a lot. One day, while she’s on one of her home stretches, she denies her child something and the child threatens to tell on her to mummy meaning the nanny. Yes, giant alarm bell.

You see, we tend to call our nannies “aunty and culturally, an aunt views her sisters’ children as her own plus the vernacular translation of how the aunt addresses the child comes to my child. Now, my nanny likes to call my child ‘toto yangu’ and well, you know we had to have a talk about that! The nanny is the nanny, not a surrogate mother nor a replacement grandmother. Remember, my business is mine to run, she is here to contribute.

4. The double edge task of delegating

So how do you define the role when you are used to doing it all by yourself? This team member is to help mostly with the menial tasks at the early stages of parenting. She takes up the cooking, cleaning, ironing and general house maintenance. She must be responsible for how she uses the resources and report when something needs replacing. I appreciate that she also shows the initiative to make things work better like making chapatis where I would buy a handful when I felt like it.

This does not excuse me from directing her on how I want the house arranged and having a menu and similar overall directions. Seeing as this is still my home, I have to find ways to communicate my expectations and giving her what she needs to do her work well.

5. a different method to the madness

This might sound a little bratty but I do not like how she cooks. It’s not bad but it’s just not how I do it. The soup doesn’t come out as rich as when I cook, the rice is not quite as fine and the greens have different flavour. It’s not tasteless, it’s just not cooking the way my food does. Then she has some crazy old wives’ tales on handling a baby that leave me in stitches. She doesn’t have a sense of order though she’s really clean.

I have a very clear picture of how I want to move from A to B, she has a different route to follow. Fact is that I can’t clone myself. Even my siblings don’t cook all the same but the food is still great. Does she get her chores done, food on the table and keep my baby comfortable? Yes. So I accept, there are places where I just have to let her do it her way.

6. Errors will be made.

I give her some grace sometimes considering the fact that she’s not a professional nanny and didn’t actually go to school. She made it through with grit and a determined goal to see all her six children get some form of education. There are things that are obvious to you and me, that we take for granted that she has never encountered in her life.

She makes a cup of porridge for me to take during night shift feedings. With a more stable sleep pattern, the night shifts are gone and the flask that I use stays on the table till morning. So one morning I told her to keep the leftover porridge in the fridge and I would take it in the evening. We left for a doctor’s appointment only to come back in the afternoon and find my little flask in the fridge. The science of a flask and a fridge is a foreign concept to her. My coping mechanism is the next point.

7. Becoming a teacher

She has had 6 children. My child falls asleep in her arms almost immediately. It makes me so jealous but it is her thing. Despite my whining about this adjustment, she is good at taking care of the baby. That’s the biggest reason why I need her. The rest are teachable moments, like how to pronounce french beans (she says frensch even after we broke it down to syllables), and teaching her new meals.

As with the flask and fridge incident, I teach her new technology or devices, I communicate when the deviated method has gone too far and give positive feedback when she teaches me something in return. I teach her my foundation and in return she builds on it.

8. A growth mindset

Despite her lack of education, she has one of the most progressive and determined mindsets that I have ever seen on any level. She constantly asks me for feedback, she laughs at her mistakes and is very disappointed when she sees silent dissatisfaction. She is a leader without a title and I appreciate that in a team member.

9. Some things still stay centralised

Remember E-Myth by Michael Gerber? There’s a chapter on management by absconding and it applies to this point. The thing is, breastfeeding is hard for some people. Yes, there are ways to supplement it but ultimately, as the mother, my child’s nutrition falls squarely on my docket. I have to stay on top of my child’s diet or I might find my nanny giving her cow’s milk thus compromising my child’s health. For those who know, that’s not a situation you want to be in.

Michael Gerber wrote of a business owner who comes to his premises to find service are under par, finances askew and himself a stranger in his own venture. All because he got a good manager but then transferred his interests completely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying micromanage, but being present and available to not get caught out by changes.

All in all, my house is full of laughter because I found a good nanny at the first try. This little team of mine is building up our cohesion daily and looks promising. Now my main fear is that I will come home to a messy house because she just had to hold the child all day.