The Difference Between Nanny and Babysitter

guest column
By Nanny Megan
Let me just begin by saying that one of my biggest pet peeves is being referred to as the Babysitter.

It is quite often that I am asked by various people what I do for a living. My immediate response is that I am a Full-Time Nanny for a 20-month-old. After responding with this, the person usually responds with one of two answers.

The first, and most preferred: “Wow, a full-time nanny for a toddler, that must be a lot of work. How many hours do you work a day?”

The second: “Oh, so you’re a babysitter?” My response to this is to immediately read off the differences between a nanny and a babysitter.

When a Nanny is Employed: A nanny is regularly employed when parents have very little time to devote to the day-to-day needs of their children. This situation can most often arise when both parents have demanding jobs. A nanny is employed to spend time taking care of a child in every circumstance that arises when you are unavailable and at any time. This can be every weekday, prescribed weekends or evenings. The nanny is also the exclusive caregiver of your children outside of yourself.

When a Babysitter is Employed: A babysitter is employed on an as-needed basis. A babysitter is not hired to be on call to take care of the children exclusively on a daily and indefinite basis. When parents have a special outing planned, they usually call a babysitter to take care of their kids for two to several hours at a time. Parents who use babysitters typically have more than one phone number in the event that one babysitter is not available for the time they need her.

As a Nanny, I am with the child(ren) for more time than a babysitter would be. I am expected to know the child on an intimate level. I am given permission from both parents to discipline the children when they are misbehaving. I am responsible for planning activities on an ongoing basis.

A babysitter can participate in these activites too, but he/she does them for only a few hours at a time. Often, parents are more strict with a babysitter in terms of discipline, daily routine, and meal planning.
To read more of Megan's writing, please visit her Blog:


Truth Seeker said...

Nice article. I agree that differences do exist between the two. I resent being called just "the babysitter" by people and prefer the term "nanny" ten times over. I actually have had people most recently tell me I should switch my job title to "au pair" since it sounds much more upscale. I am not an "au pair" as I do not do live-in and I do not care if the term nanny is considered upscale or not.

The only problem I have w/the term "nanny" is that many families assume since I am considered more than a babysitter, I should be responsible for household duties as well. They ask me to vacuum, dust, sweep, load the dishwasher, wash/dry/fold/put away laundry, cook, mop, walk the dog, take out the trash, etc...the list goes on and on. I tell them I am a nanny and that a nanny's job is childcare, not housework. I tell them there are women who work as both a nanny and a housekeeper and they should call them. I usually get a bunch of hemming and hawing that a nanny is expected to do some housework as well. To that I say, "Who says??" Unless their is some official doctrine that I haven't read yet, it is personal decision. I prefer to do childcare only, yet I still call myself a nanny. In fact, the job I currently have is all childcare. I care for a lovely and happy 3 yr old and we have a blast every day. We go to the park, beach, library and do arts and crafts 3x wk. I have taught him to count, spell and read already. His parents refer to me as his nanny even though I do not have to clean the house. (They have a bi-wkly maid who comes for that.) Some people think since I do not do housework, then I do not deserve to be called a "nanny" in the true sense of the word. I say nonsense to that. A nanny should not be responsible for picking up dog's messes and making sure there are clean towels hung in the bathroom. But she is responsible for making sure the child is fed nutritious food, kept clean and tidy and entertained and educated.

Nanny said...

Great article, thank you Megan for sharing.

Floor dweller said...

It's a matter of preferance, I work 50+ hours
A week but I wish to be called a babysitter.
To me it just sounds more welcoming. I think
Nanny is a term the wealthy thought up to
make themselves sound more important.

Megan said...

Floor Dweller:
You are right, it is a matter of preference. Some people prefer babysitter, some nanny, and some au pair. I just happen to prefer being referred to as a Nanny :)

meganrose said...

Truth Seeker: That sounds like a lot of housework for someone who has a biweekly maid!

nanny2 said...

I find a lot of nannies on this blog get kind of up-in-arms about being called a nanny rather than a babysitter. Personally, I don't really understand it, as it is just a matter of semantics to me. Whether I'm called a babysitter or a nanny, it doesn't change what I do, which is provide daily care and education for the children, as well as participate to keep the household running smoothly.

nycmom said...

I agree with the general differences you have presented. However, I have had young women work set weekly part-time hours who I would still call babysitters. I would not make the core difference a set schedule vs as-needed basis. I've also had what I consider part-time nannies for 15-20hrs/week. To me a nanny is someone with extensive experience as a caregiver who can basically assume control of the household while we are at work. I have higher expectations for my nanny. I don't mean heavy housework, but keeping the household running smoothly. She knows my children's schedules and makes sure things happen as scheduled; she knows if we need milk and either picks it up or writes in on my grocery list; she is able to take my kids to the doctor if they get sick unexpectedly; she offers and I welcome input into how we should handle disciple and practical issues. Basically, we parent as a team during our time together. My sitters can be fun, kind, responsible women, but they can't run the household in my absence. Instead they keep the kids entertained and safe until I get home.

Finally, I believe the primary difference in the use of the term is regional. In NYC, most people use nanny for any caregiver that works more than the odd datenight. Before moving to NYC, everywhere else I've lived the term would have been considered pretentious. So I wouldn't take personal offense if someone calls you a sitter and you are a nanny. It is most likely just a function of their personal experience with the terms. People also misuse "au pair" all the time - a job with a very clear definition and State Dept regulations. If it is important to you, correct them and move on. If they continue to misuse it, then you can be offended!

gosh said...

nanny shmanny. I employ a babysitter and she does what you all do. The only difference is if you're peddling yourself as a "nanny" you want that title.

What does it really matter? You're babysitting.

Wake up.

Truth Seeker said...

@nycmom: I think it is unfair that you actually ask your "nanny" to pick up milk for you at the grocery store. Going to the grocery store with young children is a pain in the butt as any parent (or nanny for that matter!!) can attest to. And the fact that you are expecting the nanny to make sure your household is running smoothly on top of all that! It sounds like your nanny has two job titles: Nanny/Household Manager. A nanny is basically someone who's main duty is providing regular care to your children. She comes regularly, and instead of merely just "sitting" with your children, she actually educates them and does age-appropriate learning/fun activities with them. Back in the olden days, a babysitter was just expected to "sit" with the children, hence the term babysitter. She was to make sure the children were properly supervised and that was basically the extent of the job. While a nanny does have to supervise her charges, she also is expected to take things a step further. She is expected to actually be more of a teacher and role model for her charges. She is expected to interact on a more personal level and be more attentive. Again, she is expected to stimulate her charges in a more intellectual manner and it would be ideal for her to take her charges on daily outings such as the park or library.
I am strongly opposed to asking a nanny to do any type of housework while on duty. Why so? As I have seen time and time again on this blog, many families tend to abuse this privilege. Yes, it is a privilege when your nanny performs any type of housework. I use the term "job creep" to describe what parents like to do. It may start with a simple, "Oh would you mind folding the baby's clothes while he is asleep? I would really appreciate it as the baby will be sleeping for the next three hours, etc."...and then it goes to.."Would you mind chopping some veggies for dinner? It would be such a big help when I come home...I am usually so tired from working all day..." Pretty soon before she realizes it, the nanny finds herself doing family laundry, family dishes, as well as family cooking dinner. It's best to state upfront that you are a nanny, not the family cook or maid. This will keep things on the straight and narrow.

Manhattan Nanny said...

I don't mind being referred to as a babysitter, but there is a difference, in both what defines someone as a nanny, and what constitutes a nanny job.
A babysitter is expected to entertain the children, and keep them alive until the parents get home. A mature high school student can do this.
If you're hiring someone to care for your children ten hours a day this person will influence them in profound ways. She will model manners, values, eating habits. Her relationship with them will factor into their self esteem and confidence. The quantity and quality of stimulation she provides infants and toddlers is a factor in brain development. How she handles homework can influence success in school. You need someone with the background and experience to do all this well, and make judgement decisions and handle emergencies when you aren't available. You need a nanny.
I have a nanny job during the week, but when I do occasional evening sitting for other families, I say I am the babysitter.

Not a P.A.!! said...

In MY opinion:

A Babysitter is someone who comes to the house randomly, and likes to play with children while the Parents are away, but does NOT want to make watching children their life long career.She is more like a fun big Sister.

A Nanny is someone who comes to the house regularly, cares for the children, and is like a 3rd Parent. She Teaches them, comforts them, guides them, baths them, reads to them, makes food for them, cuts their nails, sings to them, disciplines them, and wants to care for Children as a career.

A peronal Assistant does childcare, house keeping, and any other little (or big) thing she is asked to do.

I am a Nanny ;-)

nycmom said...

Calm down, Truth Seeker. My nanny's job description quite clearly includes: "Going to the store to buy food or items for kids or household if needed. We order food weekly, but sometimes run out of items like milk." Yes, going to the grocery store with a child in tow IS inconvenient, but it is eminently doable and something I do almost weekly. I do not find it to be an overbearing task. Yes, my nanny DOES assist with keeping the household running smoothly in my absence. This is what makes her such an amazing nanny I am willing to pay quite well. Addition of duties is a problem that many nannies have to deal with. Just as slow reduction in initiative, effort, and puntuality is something many employers have to deal with. Luckily, neither my nanny nor I will ever have this problem as we have a clear Work Agreement that we both respect.

Anyway, didn't we just have this discussion a few posts down? I get it. You don't want ANY prospective employer getting the idea you might be able to juggle something other than watching the children. You need your downtime to nap, check your email, fix your makeup, etc. Listening for a waking child and folding laundry truly DOES sound like it would be overwhelming for you. Especially since you consider a nanny who "takes her charges on daily outings such as the park or library" to be one who is going above and beyond! You keep right on yelling your theory out to whomever will listen, while the majority of employers and experienced nannies will continue to negotiate contracts that include reasonable other tasks.

Truth Seeker said...

@nycmom: Just because I don't let families walk all over me and I speak up and stand up as an advocate for my profession doesn't mean I am incompetent at all. I live in Cali where the weather is beautiful and sunny 365 days a year and you live in NYC where the weather is pretty miserable the majority of the time. I would be bitter too. Again, I would never agree to go to the store for my family nor would I ever want to be responsible for doing your laundry, cooking and errand running. You need a personal assistant along with your current nanny. But it seems to me like you are trying to squeeze both from your nanny and this is not fair. Your nanny is probably very overwhelmed and hates her job just as I would. I can't believe you have her fold you and your husband's underwear as well as plan/shop/cook all your meals!! And the fact that she speaks only Spanish tells me you are probably taking full advantage of a vulnerable immigrant.

I have said it before and I will say it again...a nanny's job is to care for children on a regular basis. Her primary tasks are to educate the child, provide stimulating daily activities where she actively engages the child. (I.e., arts & crafts, story time, park adventures, etc.) She is to use positive discipline with them and be a good role model while she is around the child. She should also be a go between the child and parent daily, she should provide parents a daily re-cap of the day, including any new concerns that may arise either regarding behavior issues or health issues. In other words, she should be an angel. Yeah..I like that word..let's replace the term nanny with the term "Angel.." I am only kidding.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

As far as grocery shopping with kids goes, I actually enjoy it! It certainly isn't all that efficient, especially when your 4 yo charge is carefully counting out apples into the bag you're holding while you talk about the colors of the produce with the 2 yo, but it's great experiential learning on so many levels!

Heck, I've done regular grocery shopping with 3 kids (5, 2.5, 6 months) before, so less than that number is like a vacation. :-)

I am a Nanny said...

I am not a mom, I am a nanny, but I have to say, I agree with nycmom. As a nanny, I work for a busy family, and my job is to maintain the household when the parents are not there. That does sometimes involve running to the store for milk, and folding underwear. I make big decisions in the parents absence, and have full support from the parents on those decisions. We have a wonderful working relationship, a solid contract, and we are both able to express our opinions and experiences without fear of judgement or recourse. I am payed well, respected, and work hard. My employers recognise the difference between a professional nanny and a babysitter. I am a Nanny.
The family I work for also employs a couple of babysitters. Both are part-time, as needed. They are not responsible for any household duties, nor are they expected to do anything other than be with the kids while the parents and myself are not there. Thats it. They are babysitters. It's a very differnt dynamic.

nycmom said...


I had the same job description for my prior nanny when I lived in San Diego. So don't think weather has anything to do with my employment philosophy. Please try a more creative theory next.

I actually DON'T need a personal assistant and a nanny because my nanny is perfectly capable of of performing her agreed upon job description. Let's do this slowly because you seem to be making a lot of assumption with absolutely no evidence:

1. Yes, my nanny does family laundry which is something *she* requested to take on as an extra duty after about two years with us because she wanted to earn extra money.

2. My nanny does not "plan/shop/cook all your meals." My nanny cooks for my kids as does every other nanny who watches kids. How else would they eat? My nanny also does not do all the shopping for the kids. As I said in my other post, I do ask her to buy milk or bread if we run out unexpectedly. At most this happens once a month, though it's usually less.

3. Ugh with the "She speaks Spanish so she must be a vulnerable immigrant" garbage. That is such a narrow-minded, patronizing, bigoted assumption. I hired a Spanish-speaking nanny because I want my kids to be bilingual and neither my husband nor I speak a second language. My nanny is not a "vulnerable immigrant." She is a legal immigrant who is paid quite well and is very well educated. I did not limit my search to immigrants. I interviewed any qualified candidate who was fluent in Spanish, which in nyc includes people of all races and nationalities. My nanny just happened to be the best for the job.

Yes, again, we all know your theories on how you shouldn't have to do anything but babysit - since you post it on virtually every.single.thread. As I already said, I get why you think that way. You aren't paid or treated as a professional nanny. You don't expect to be paid for 52 weeks a year so of course you don't expect to do anything but childcare. What you need to understand is that most professional nannies ARE paid for 52 weeks a year, even when the parents take long weekends. In return, those nannies are willing and capable of providing more than energetic babysitting services. The way you are treated financially and your job expectations are exactly what one would expect of a babysitter - which is fine. You sound like a great babysitter. You don't sound like a great nanny.

another nanny said...

I don't see the difference between nanny and babysitter so much as as a difference in the level of interaction with the children (I used to do "educational" activities with the kids as a high school babysitter) but more in the level of responsiblity. As a babysitter, I never/very rarely bathed the kids, cut their nails, administered medication, took them to the doctor, dropped them off at school, planned their daily schedule, etc. As a nanny, I have a greater responsibility to be alert and aware to the needs of the children, which can include the needs of the household (for instance, if a child appears to be getting ill or is almost out of diapers or needs clean sheets). It's kind of hard to explain. But I know many nannies who don't have special training, etc, and don't necessarily provide education to the children, but who still have the responsibility of a nanny.

Future Nanny said...

I don't know any nannies, so the first impression when I hear the word "nanny" is everything that I've seen in shows and movies, which is the stereotypical nanny. Which is everything that I'm not.

But after reading this blog (current - all the way back to mid2009), I know that's not the case. Even so, I'd prefer to be called the glorified babysitter =]

Truth Seeker said...

@nycmom: It appears to be that you think you are the authoritative expert on what defines a nanny and what doesn't. You seem to think that a nanny should not only do housework, but also help run the household. That is your opinion and if someone is happy doing all these things, then great...more power to her. Period. However, you are misleading others who may be reading this blog by stating that any nanny (like myself) who does not wish to perform any housework during her shift is not a nanny in the real sense of the word. There is no ONE true definition of what a nanny is. To one person it may equate being a babysitter, to another it may mean someone who educates like a governess should, and to others it may mean someone who works all day while on the clock. Take your pick. Even on T.V., the nanny profession is depicted very differently. In the television program "SuperNanny" is actually depicted as a Nanny who comes into a home with certain ideas on how to discipline another families children. She gives advice and provides support for the parents. In the old T.V. show "The Nanny," starring Fran Drescher, the Nanny Fran is seen caring for the children. The family has a separate maid for cleaning and Fran makes sure people do not confuse her with the maid. She states she is the "nanny" and cares for the kids and is offended when anyone refers to her as the maid or hired help. In "The Sound of Music" Maria is the Nanny/Governess and she teaches the children how to sing, takes them on outings and provides the children with a good role model. Never in the movie is she seen performing any housework as a Nanny's job is to care for the family...not fold laundry.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

Truth Seeker, how old are the kids you care for?

When caring for younger kids, it's true that it is harder (not impossible/exhausting/ridiculous, just *harder*) to help manage the home where you work.

I believe nycmom's kids are preschool age and up, and in that situation, when all or most of the kids are in school during the day, paying your nanny to sit on her butt and drink tea is not reasonable.

Most nannies I know who work for families whose kids all attend school ask nanny to add some "Household Management" tasks to her day - grocery shopping, errands, and the like. Nothing too strenuous!

Frankly, for most families, if their nanny wishes to stay with them once the kids are in school she will need to grow and adapt, taking on new responsibilities.

Of course, if Nanny is not willing to change her job description, most families are happy to write her a letter of recommendation and find a nanny who is adaptable.

nycmom said...

Truth, I just replied to you on the post above. I think I'm going to leave it there. We clearly are not going to agree on this issue. Suffice to say we would not be a good match as employer/employee, and that is okay. I think we can agree to disagree.

nycmom said...

Tales, you are absolutely right. My kids are 3, 8, 10yo. My nanny has been with us since my little guy was just born. You are also spot on that in the early years, she did much less around the house and I was fine with that because my son was a handful. You are also correct that over time, her childcare duties have become much easier and she has taken the initiative to take on more household duties.

The net result of this is that, as long as we are in NYC and can afford it, I will continue to employ her full-time with annual raises even when all three kids are in school full-day. The reason is because she has made herself indispensable to our family and shown how completely flexible and adaptable she is. I am guessing that she will volunteer to take on additional responsibilities during the day also. I know she will still have a few hours of downtime each day and that is fine with me. If she were a caregiver who refused to do anything but basic childcare, I would have had to let her go about 6 months ago as it would not have made financial sense. So, in a very direct way, her work ethic and initiative outside of childcare are benefitting us both!

Truth Seeker said...

Tales from the Nanny Hood: I have never nannied for a family who had children in school. Usually the children are 3 and under..with the majority being under a year. If the child were in school, I would not even think a family would have the need to employ a nanny, but if some do that, they are very fortunate as times are tough and many families simply cannot afford to pay both a preschool and a nanny simultaneously.

Many of the children I care for do not take the standard 1-2-3 hr dedicated nap. They usually sleep well the first 1/2 hour, then after that they may cry (though not fully awake yet!) just so they can have their pacifiers put back in their mouths or have the blanket wrapped around them because they are cold. Many will just nap in spurts, like my cat does and some will wake up when they hear street noise outside the window.

During these times, I prefer to take full advantage of what freedom I can get. While I never leave the house or use the shower, I do make whatever phone calls I need to make since many calls can only be made between 9-5 weekdays such as the DMV or my Dr's office. I also try to eat my lunch in peace since when my charges are with me, they usually fuss if I don't share my food, even though they usually have their diets planned for them. I have had many families who either are Vegetarians due to religion or whatever, and I am a meat kind of girl so my lunches always included either a turkey or roast beef sandwich. Plus, I admit..I pack Oreos for dessert. Anyhow, then I brush my teeth and if there is any extra time, I check my e-mails/Facebook since I am a Facebook Addict. I also catch up on this blog since it is in my Favorites now. Wink. Wink. ;) The time goes by pretty smoothly and some days are better than others. Some days my charge will nap in his stroller on the way home from the playground, then when we come home he is already awake so I do not get any downtime for that day.

Australian nanny said...

I am an Australian nanny who works in melbourne australia. When i take the children i look after to the park i always get asked how old are your children ? I reply that i am their nanny and not their mother. The next question i get asked is how many grandchildren do you have? This is because the word nanny also is another word for grandma or grandmother here. I now say i am not their mother but i look after them . Which is followed by lots of praises by the people who had asked me. The annoying thing is though i am and look too young to bre a grandmother.
Also a nanny here will do all the above chorees but light house keeping and we are quite happy to take the chuldren out to buy groceries. A babysitter only plays with the children reads stories at bedtime and puts the children to bed. The babysitter can perfom wow factors such as tidy kitchen fold clothes , put clothes in hamper and do a quick tidy up if she like.If these wow factors are done youu get the parents ringing the nanny agency full of praise for the babysitter. And word nof mouth about how good the nannies are from the agency they go through.

Reese said...

Australian Nanny, the word "nanny" has the same dynamic here in the States I think. I use the term "Nanny" interchangeably with "Au-Pair" and "Babysitter" as I do not think the average person knows the difference between the two. When I am with my charges, they only think I am a big friend that comes over to play with them while Mommy + Daddy go to work. :)

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

Truth Seeker, have you worked with your employers to research how to help your charges get better sleep? That sounds like it's unhealthy for the babies, and hard on the adults around them. There are many "gentle" methods for promoting better sleep habits!

I am so lucky that my employers have always counted on me to help them find solutions to standard issues like sleep problems, eating issues, etc. I can't imagine not being able to be proactive and simply having to accept that my employers were less than interested in bettering things for me or their kids!

Also, and maybe this is a regional difference, where I live almost all kids 3 and over who are cared for by a nanny also attend a few 3 hour long days of preschool each week during the school year. As they hit kindergarten, those school days lengthen and they attend every day, but a nanny is still very needed for before school, after school, and school breaks. After all, the parents work hours are still long when their child enters full time school. And then, of course, Nanny is still needed for younger siblings!

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

That's interesting Reece.

I tend to explain the difference to people I am going to be interacting with regularly, since I am neither a babysitter who simply has very very basic custodial care of children on occasion nor an au pair, who generally is a young girl from a foreign country who is (supposed to be) kind of like a family member who pitches in to help with childcare in exchange for room, board, and a small stipend.

I found this on, and I think you, truthseeker, and many others might find it interesting!

"In the custodial care model, the nanny’s role is limited to meeting the children’s physical and emotional needs during their parents’ absence. In this model, the parents manage the children’s day by providing the nanny with specific guidance. A nanny who provides custodial care will not have input into the child’s scheduling or activi­ties and does not have a voice regarding childrearing practices or parenting philosophies.

In the coordinated model of nanny care the nanny’s role is to be a team player in raising the children. Nannies who engage in the coordinated model of care are viewed as true parenting partners. Nannies in this model have a voice when it comes to childrearing practices and parenting philosophies. Their input is not only sought, but highly valued by the parents. These nannies tend to be full charge nannies who are given the freedom to make the day to day decisions regarding the children’s activities and outings.

In the surrogate model of nanny care, the nanny’s role is to be the primary care giver for the children. In this model of nanny care, the nanny may have limited interaction with her employers and may be left to make almost all decisions for the children in her care. Nannies who engage in the surrogate model of care may work for parents who travel extensively, or work in highly demanding jobs and need a guardian type of caregiver to tend to the children while they are away."

Jade Graham said...

Thanks for a wonderful share. Your article has proved your hard work and experience you have got in this field. Brilliant .i love it reading. หาแม่บ้าน