Nanny Magazine Talks to Sittercity’s 2014 Top Sitter, Nichole O’Neal!

Photo courtesy Nichole O'Neil. by savanna fox

Humble, ambitious, creative, and patient: these are sought-after, hard-to-come-by qualities for any employer looking to fill a position. In the nanny biz, these qualities are what set the average nanny apart from The Nichole O’Neals, Sittercity’s winner of their America’s Top Sitter contest.  Let’s get to know Nichole up close and personal.

Nanny Magazine (NM): Did you know the family you work for was going to nominate you for Sittercity's America’s Top Sitter? Nichole O’Neal: Nope! I found out through a post on Facebook a few days after I was nominated. I didn’t even think I had a chance.

NM: Why do you think you won so many of the votes? What sets you apart from other awesome nannies? Nichole: I have a rather large community of parents I work for; I am actively sitting for at least a dozen families right now; the votes from these families helped! I feel like a good nanny is a very personal experience. Each family has different needs and different priorities and there are just too many factors. I think it’s all about having the right chemistry and being able to communicate effectively. I personally geek out about how amazing it is helping children develop enough to be a part of our society. Maybe genuinely loving what I do sets me apart. I have a lot of patience with the kids and myself. I have to remember that it’s not an easy job and that there will be some challenges that don't always have a solution or a quick one for that matter. I think having patience makes me an awesome nanny. I also like to get crafty and make a simple task into an adventure.

NM: I read that you're an artistically inclined nanny. For nannies that don’t lean toward the arts (like myself!), what fun and easy art activity would you recommend? Nichole: I think art is a great way to express yourself, no matter if you are Picasso or just getting your stresses out by scribbling on a page or pounding on modeling clay. For other nannies who aren't so into the arts, I think that whatever you do you shouldn't worry so much about what you are creating but just experiment with texture, color, or whatever medium you are using and explore what your hands are capable of! Have fun and let loose! I’m not trying to instill a career as an artist in my kids, but I use creativity as a way for them to express themselves and explore possibilities.

NM: I read that you currently care for 16-month-old twins. Would you call yourself a twin specialist? What age do you feel most comfortable with? Nichole: I feel pretty comfortable with most ages. The ages I look forward to are 6-8 months! When the babies really start to interact with you and respond to your requests and really start moving! 14-16 months, when they start mimicking you, this is such a fun interactive age! They are still babies but they are little people who are trying to find ways to really communicate with the world. 20 months, when they start gabbing their heads off! Like it happens over night! I guess I should stop there because every age is truly magical.

NM: Childcare providers often have side projects. Is there anything you’re working on currently? Nichole: I am an active painter around the city of Chicago. I specialize in Scandinavian style floral designs. I also enjoy painting murals and painting found wood. This weekend I am currently putting up an art show in coffee shop/bar in Ukrainian Village in Chicago.

NM: Was there a distinct moment you realized you wanted to be in the childcare business? In what ways have you made this a career rather than just a job? Nichole: It was a light switch decision. Literally. One day, sometime around winter of 2009, I decided to make a résumé and sign up for sittercity.com and put all of my energy toward childcare. I was a little nervous and my parents relentlessly tried to lure me toward other options. I was working as a graphic designer and babysitting for a few families on the side and realized childcare was what I was truly good at and what I truly enjoyed doing. It was hard at first for me to feel comfortable going into childcare because I went to school for graphic design, but once I found my first family it was clear that I was doing what I was meant to be doing. Life is so short, and its goes by pretty quickly, especially once you reach a certain age. I enjoy spending it helping and improving the lives of families. I think that having a career in life development is the most gratifying experience anyone could have.

NM: What makes you a professional, award-winning nanny, rather than just an everyday “good enough" nanny? Nichole: I feel like taking care of kids, for me, comes very naturally. I go with my wits and instincts. This leaves room for me to explore and focus on nurturing the needs of the child I am looking after and explore the limits of fun and adventure. When it comes to the everyday activities like going for a stroll knowing that walking two blocks may take two hours because they are interested in everything. I really appreciate the phrase “stop and smell the roses”. I want my kids to feel safe and confident to be themselves and to appreciate all the moments as their motor skills develop and not feeling ashamed or fearful in that process.

NM: Do you ever get criticism from your peers or family for choosing this line of work? If so, how do you deal with it? Nichole: I have to depend on myself for feeling good about what I do. I made the choice and I went into it thinking that I have to give it my all and not second-guess that decision. I think making that initial choice put the responsibility on myself to be proud of what I am and what I do.

NM: Do you plan on continuing this line of work? Nichole: To this day, being a part of someone’s life and having him or her be a part of your life is something I can't ever imagine being paid for. I cannot believe that I make a living doing what I am doing. I am having so much fun and often I feel like I am a part of the family! (But come on, nannies need to eat, too!) I cannot imagine doing anything else, nor do I have any plans on changing my line of work.

NM: Do you have any nanny horror stories? Can you give a tip to other nannies on how to avoid and deal with this particular situation? Nichole: It took me awhile to understand how important it is to have the right chemistry with a family. There was a family I worked for where I was literally the kids’ punching bag. They would climb on their bunk bed and tell me I had to catch them or they would break their neck! I would leave with bruises and scratches daily! I thought that I was obligated to take such abuse because they were depending on me to “fix” the problem, yet not really taking me seriously. I learned in this situation that it’s totally important (for me) to have a connection with the parents and the confidence to know that your opinion counts and to stand your ground. You should be a team, and not just an instrument for the children's amusement.

NM: When asked, "What do you do?" by an acquaintance, how do you reply? Do you call yourself a nanny or do you prefer a different title? Nichole: I always say that I am a nanny and can never help myself from going off a little bit about how adorable my kids are and how I have the best job in the world.

NM: Do you think the title "nanny" is misleading and/or not totally accurate to nannies like yourself, who clearly go above and beyond what typically describes nanny work Nichole: I think the word is fitting. Anyone who has had experience with a nanny in his or her life knows that it’s something to be proud of.

NM: Are there things you see fellow nannies doing on the playground that drive you nuts? Nichole: Ha ha, this is a hard one. Maybe judgmental nannies? In my line of work it’s very hard for me to judge anyone else's situation. You never know what is really going on. Most kids test the limits of the caregivers in their lives and we caregivers will not always feed into that. So when you see a nanny or a mommy at the park and they seem like they have no idea what they are doing, it’s important to realize you don’t know the whole story.

NM: What do you like most about being a nanny? Nichole: I love being able to go on adventures and explore the world through the eyes of a little one. Not only does it make me so very grateful to be alive and really appreciate each and every day, I also get paid to do so! I don’t think I will ever get over that concept! Seeing kids grow and develop is just an amazing experience to be a part of. I can honestly say I love each and every child I have worked with.

NM: What irritating assumptions do people make about your job? Nichole: Whenever I am out and about with the twins, people always mention that I have my hands full or I have my work cut out for me or that I must be exhausted. I actually have few complaints about hanging out with the twins. I actually get pretty sad when I leave for the weekend.

NM: And I have to ask, what are you going to do with that $5,000 you won?! Nichole: This contest had amazing timing! My family recently moved so I bought a car! It has helped me get around to jobs all over the city and often outside of the city! I am able to work with more families without worrying about getting to them! Most of my jobs are with new families. I am finding it to be very common for families to move out of the city as their family grows; now I can accommodate their situation.  So Sittercity has really helped me stay connected to what I truly love doing!

Nichole was the neighborhood sitter in her hometown of Farmington Hills, Michigan. Even with her prior experience, her venture into the nanny world seems to have come by surprise, and what a pleasant surprise for all of the families she is helping care for!

Nichole’s dedication to her job seems like something of a mirage; did she really say she was going to use the money from the award to help pay off the car she bought to be more flexible for the families she works for? Let’s hear it for Nichole, Sittercity’s America’s Top Sitter!