Minnesota nanny becomes part of Grand Forks familyTrina Whitney is a beloved member of a family she isn’t related to. As a nanny for Amy and Kris Helm of Grand Forks, she spends more than 45 hours a week caring for their twins Kole and Avery, 6, and Jackson, 5, in their home.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Trina Whitney is a beloved member of a family she isn’t related to.
As a nanny for Amy and Kris Helm of Grand Forks, she spends more than 45 hours a week caring for their twins Kole and Avery, 6, and Jackson, 5, in their home.
“You’re with these people every day,” said Whitney. “They become part of your life.”
Her workday starts at 8 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, while the parents are at work.
Whitney gets the kids up and dressed in the morning, prepares meals, keeps them busy with activities, and takes them to swimming classes and a summer reading program. She also does household chores, manages three dogs and helps out with anything else the Helms may need.
Whitney has worked as a nanny on and off for two years — first in Madelia, Minn., her hometown, and this summer in Grand Forks, where she’s enrolled at UND.
It’s more than a job, and the Helm family is more than an employer.
“The kids are pretty much family to me now,” said Whitney, who’s 20. Since she has no relatives in the area, the Helms “are pretty much like my family.”
“We love her,” Amy Helm said. “I’ve known her since she was little…
“She’s become a friend now. She’s more than just a nanny.”
In spite of their age difference, the women are almost like sisters.
“We have a lot of things in common,” Helm said. “We laugh at the same things, we have the same views.”
Whitney, whose aunt is a good friend of Helm, began babysitting occasionally for the Helms a couple years ago and filled in when their nanny had to be away for a week. When that nanny couldn’t work this summer, Whitney stepped in.
Her interest in caring for kids bloomed early.
“My mom runs a day care so I’ve been around kids pretty much all my life,” she said. She started babysitting at age 11, she said.
A good nanny, she said, “has an understanding that they are kids, and they’re not always going to do the right things.
“You have to be there for them. For me, it’s just natural.”
She’s always ready to hear their “stories,” she said, like “what happened on the playground, or how they broke a crayon and that makes it hard for them to do their artwork.”
“You have to be a good listener,” she said. “They have so many stories.”
Taking on three kids — “who are basically the same age” — is a tall order, Helm said. “They’re energetic — all talking at the same time, fighting for your attention. Plus the responsibilities of keeping up with the housework, we expect a lot.”
In the past, the Helms had some caregivers who didn’t work out. Before hiring Whitney, the couple interviewed a dozen candidates.
“I thought, ‘We can’t go through this, having people who don’t last,’” Amy Helm said. “I was very stressed.” She wondered if she should have taken a job outside the home.
Adding to her concern is the fact that one of her children, who has low-spectrum autism, doesn’t handle change well.
“When we hired Trina all that stress went away.... She’s so mature for her age; she’s very capable of handling things. She has a really good head on her shoulders.”
Helm chose a nanny over day care for a variety of reasons.
She said she was concerned that if her kids went to day care they wouldn’t get to spend much time outdoors, go to the pool or attend educational programs.
She’d have to devote more time to housework and prompting the kids to clean their rooms after she got home from work.
With a nanny, “I come home to a clean house, the kids are happy,” she said. They’ve each had a bath or shower.
“When I get home I have so few hours with them.” she said. This way, she said, “I just have parenting time with them.”
Whitney takes care of all other tasks, she said. “I don’t even worry about that.”
Helm doesn’t worry, either, if the children are sick, they’ll be home with the nanny. A child who’s running a certain temperature is usually not welcome at day care.
If Helm’s work schedule calls for her to go in early or work late, “I don’t have to rush out of here to pick them up at day care,” she said. “There’s just more flexibility. It’s nice to have that.”
With Whitney, the children “have a routine, they know their limits,” Helm said. “She does a great job of setting expectations....
“They’re better behaved for her than they are for me.”
Whitney has siblings and an aunt and uncle who are twins, Helm said, so she understands the boy-girl-twins phenomenon.
She’s also “adapted to (her child’s autism) so well,” she said. “A lot of that she has taken on herself.”
Helm’s decision to return to the workforce was not so much a financial decision — employing a nanny is a considerable expense — as it was for her personal well-being, she said. “When we moved here from the (Twin) Cities, we left a lot of friends and family.”
Consumed with caring for three children so close in age, “I craved ‘adult time.’”
Her husband, who works long hours at his job, she said, supported her choice to accept a full-time job.
“I’m a better mom because I’m not with them 24/7.”
Good and bad days
But not every day is idyllic, Whitney said. “It varies. Some days are better than others.”
She uses “time out” when the children “are just too overwhelmed and they need to chill out by themselves, to calm down and relax.”
When necessary, she separates children in conflict and lets them “do their own thing.”
To be effective, nannies need to learn “how the kids listen and how (they) test you,” she said. “Your patience is always tested. Every nanny will tell you that.”
Even when they’re on a grocery-shopping trip, and the children “are acting goofy, I’ll say, ‘You shouldn’t do that’ but pretty soon I just start laughing, and say, ‘I can’t be mad at you kids.’”
Maintaining structure is her main goal, she said.
“Kids need structure, as in, ‘Every day Trina is going to be here.’ It makes for a seamless transition (from parent to nanny) and makes their days a lot better too.”
A predictable schedule is “a huge factor in a child’s life,” she said. It helps offset the effects of “too many things going on, too many kids around. All of that matters to a child.”
That routine — and being able to keep their children at home — is a big part of the reason that people hire nannies, she said.
The biggest challenge, Whitney has discovered, is “figuring out what they like for lunch.” Unanimous approval evades her.
“If they could, they’d eat chicken nuggets and mac-and-cheese for the rest of their lives,” she said. “I’m like, ‘OK, let’s have something healthy here.’”
Whitney said she knows she is impacting their lives.
As a nanny, “you need to love the kids,” she said. “If you don’t, there’s no point in doing it.”
Whitney is studying entrepreneurship at UND where she’ll be a junior this fall.
“I like to think I’ll run some big company some day,” she said, “but part of me, when I’m doing my homework, I think, ‘I’ve got to get around some kids.’”
The children impact her, as well, since she’s been their de facto parent the last couple of months. When she starts fall semester classes, leaving her nanny job will be “really sad,” she said. “They’re the best kids I’ve been around.”
“You could have the crappiest day and then, when you’re leaving, they give you a big hug and say, ‘I love you; see you tomorrow,’ it’s a great feeling,” she said. “It makes you realize why you do it.”
Knudson covers Health and Family for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572, ext.1107 or firstname.lastname@example.org.