For new moms, the arrival of a little one can be daunting, so much so that one might dream of Mary Poppins magically landing on her doorstep, prepared and ready with all her tricks of the trade. Flying umbrella? Check. Bottomless carpetbag? Check. Nursing pillow? Check. Wait, what? Nursing pillow? Well, maybe Mary Poppins wasn’t exactly into the natural family lifestyle, however for Kristen St. Onge, founder of Natural Nannies NOLA, a nanny agency for families in the greater New Orleans area, the concept of natural parenting was quite prevalent when she worked as a nanny out in Los Angeles.
“I worked for some families who—I think it’s like a new hippie movement where people say ‘attachment parenting’— were into things like nursing, natural birth, and a natural way of living, which I think they’re just really into that out there,” said St. Onge. “So I actually started a nanny agency geared towards that called Green & Granola Domestics. We got this DailyCandy thing written up on us and it was really cool—people seemed to like it.” However, family matters called her back to New Orleans, where she eventually started her own family. It was actually after returning to New Orleans and having worked at day care centers in the area, that she noticed a void that needed to be filled in child care.
“When we came back, I noticed that people in New Orleans weren’t so into the concept of natural parenting the way that Los Angeles is,” she said. “What I really did see was that we needed some kind of infant care that is much better than what we actually have. When I came back, I worked in some day cares. First of all, with infants in the day care center, the ratios can be up to six infants per one caregiver. Imagine a room with one person and six infants in it and right off the bat you’re thinking it's not doable. But on top of that, the people [in charge] of the whole center—when I was working in them—they just didn’t really mind if sometimes you went over that. It’d be the end of the day and all of a sudden you had more than six infants to one person...it really, really bothered me.”
Before having her second child recently, St. Onge was actually a nanny for a couple of families in the area, one which had a little girl who was twelve weeks old when she started, and another whose little girl was not yet born when she came on board. “Joanne Diaz, married to Ed Diaz, who owns Bar Tonique and Serendipity, was the mother with the first little one (the twelve week old),” said Kristen. “She was telling me how difficult it was to find someone, and when I interviewed she said, ‘You’re the only one who showed up who had any kind of solid experience,’ and I was like, ‘What? I know that’s not right.’ So we started this [business] in May 2012 and she encouraged me—it was really great.”
So where did the idea of naming her agency Natural Nannies NOLA come from? For St. Onge, the concept was two-fold. “Natural Nannies is kind of a branding element for us, because people like Erin Reho Pelias, owner of ZukaBaby, know me as the person who came back to New Orleans and had Green & Granola Domestics. They know that we work with nannies who are breastfeeding friendly and that we can offer that type of training,” she said. “We don’t offer training for every single nanny; right now what we do is screen them all, so we’re the referral agency. For people who aren’t necessarily acquainted with a natural family lifestyle, they see the name and they think the nannies are naturals at being nannies, so that was just kind of our focus.”
One misconception about hiring a nanny that St. Onge comes across is that there are no cost-effective options, when in reality there is actually the option of nanny sharing. “Our biggest thing that we want to educate the public on is the nanny share. The nanny share is when two or more families get together and they share the nanny at the same time in one of the family’s home," explained St. Onge. "Some people, when they hear nanny share, they think, ‘I’ll have her Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and you'll have her Tuesday and Thursday,’ and that’s not what’s happening. It’s more like, ‘I have an infant, you have an infant, so let’s have the nanny watch both of them full-time.’ That way, the client is paying maybe $250 a week for really stellar care in the home.” However, she mentioned that sharing a nanny is not something you'd want to do if you can afford one on your own since there's some extra logistics and details involved.
Considering the unique dynamic of the nanny-family relationship, one has to wonder if the pairings will work out right the first time around, especially for families who have never hired a nanny before. “We have a really good process ... we have as much opportunity as possible to spot any kind of problems that might happen," said St. Onge. "We send over three nannies to begin with in order to give the family people to compare the nannies to, so they can see for themselves that, ‘Oh, I really liked this about this nanny,’ or maybe see that one was stronger than another in a particular area. That’s good for people who’ve never hired a nanny and generally, the first time they get it right.”
So what’s one of the most important aspects of running a successful nanny agency? According to St. Onge, it's communication. “We really focus on communication, helping parents build a comfortable relationship where they can communicate really easily because the nanny relationship is strange...it’s just weird,” she said. “This person can become like family, so if something happens, you don’t necessarily know how to confront them about it; we’re there to help with that too.”
“Just recently, I saw when a nanny was pressuring a mom to do something. She was trying to be helpful—and nannies are experts in what they do—but at the same time, a nanny is not only there to care for your children, but also to support the family," mentioned St. Onge. "So if I see if a nanny is not so gracious, isn’t good at communicating or just isn’t happy to be there, then we’ll try somebody else out, because we want everybody to be happy.I think that’s kind of a unique twist, because nanny agencies historically [just] send people over. If the families like them, then they like them but we’re much more involved.”
With her agency now close to 50 nannies, St. Onge has plans to get their nannies involved in the community and to start up a play group as well. “When people think about hiring a nanny, they think, ‘Well, I really do want my child to socialize, so why don’t I just send them to the day care center,’ and sometimes, that’s the deciding factor," explained St. Onge. "But a nanny can easily bring your child to socialize with a consistent group of peers; we’re going to try and give them consistency and schedule that for them.”
To find out more about Natural Nannies NOLA and their services, visit their website.