What is Nanny Professionalism?

guest column
Written By Mary S.
Why is it that unprofessional Nanny behavior is so very rampant in the Nanny profession? I think it is because Nannies, like many in other professions, do not understand what professionalism really is and how it can be an asset to them.

Professionalism has nothing to do with a salary or a title -- anyone can be a professional if they commit to it. Professionalism is the total package of attitude, speech, behavior, and appearance. Professionals are perceived to be a “class act”; people you can trust. They need not demand respect because instead, they inspire it. Insisting upon professional behavior makes them serious role models, not mean bitches.

You know how almost everyone you do business with (health care professionals, auto maintenance workers, utilities, contractors, government agencies, etc.) has some sort of written contract you must sign before proceeding to do business with them? There is a reason for that. It spells out expectations on both sides, and holds both sides accountable. It is objective and unemotional, clearing the path for professional behavior on both sides.

How to approach the concept of an employment contract.
They way you present the contract is equally as important as the contents of the contract. You DO NOT present it diffidently or with embarrassment, as something that you hope they will accept. Rather you present it confidently and with optimism, implying that of course they will be as invested in it as you are, and for the same reasons -- the establishment of and protection of a professional relationship with healthy boundaries.

If the employers intend that you sign and abide by THEIR contract, express appreciation for the fact that they have a contract and state that you would never consider employment without one. But in a matter-of-fact way point out that you will be negotiating using your own contract, which is open to their input but will be written and finalized by you. They sign, you initialize -- not the other way around.

Why is authorship important? Like other professionals, you are the one providing the service, therefore you are the one who dictates the terms of the contract. If you are the author of the contract, the parents will be more inclined to pay attention to it because: if your contract is broken, you will quit; if the parents’ contract is broken, the parents will fire you. Authorship=authority; authority=ownership; ownership=control of destiny.

These may seem like radical or even subversive concepts to some Nannies, but in reality they are quite common and unremarkable in the professional world. Because Nannying involves work that is very sentimental and intimate, it can be difficult to view it rationally and objectively, but it is precisely because it is so sentimental and intimate that professionalism is critical to a successful working relationship.

If the parents cannot handle all these elements of a contract with aplomb, they are not ready for a professional employer-Nanny relationship and you need to keep looking. In fact, the pre-employment screening is the most critical part of a Nanny’s career maneuvers... being able to suss out dysfunctional families before even agreeing to enter into a contract will prevent 95% of all employer-Nanny problems.

So pay attention to the nuances during an interview. Do NOT apologize, over-explain, or try to force-fit your concept of a contract over their pre-existing concept... it will not work. If met with uncertainty, calmly clarify; but if met with opposition or hostility, be confident in yourself, disengage, and move on. A healthy employer-Nanny relationship is truly a joy; a dysfunctional one lands you a post on ISYN filled with whining and ranting.

How professionalism can prevent job creep.
You need to step into every new Nanny job with an acutely pro-active attitude and razor-sharp vigilance. Once hired, remain aware of the exact terms of your contract -- it’s not just a pretty piece of paper, it is a document governing behavior; USE IT! When a special request is made, don’t immediately smile brightly and say eagerly, “Sure! No problem!”. Instead, pause to evaluate how compliant it is with your contract and generally do NOT agree to do it. Some parents have a longer learning curve than others, so you will need to be persistent and consistent, but the simple truth is that you cannot be taken advantage of unless you permit it.

Now granted, every professional must balance being flexible with not permitting oneself to be taken advantage of. You can bend the rules now and then but ONLY if you are strong enough to immediately go back to enforcing the contract after making it clear that you made a rare special exception. This is where a lot of Nannies start to dig their own hole; they may start out strong but once they bend the rules even once, they are reluctant to go back to enforcing them. Don’t fall into this trap; if you do, you have no one but YOURSELF to blame.

Another way that many Nannies start to dig their own hole is to say to themselves, “Hmm, it’s technically breaking the rules but I really don’t mind.”... only to discover that, once it’s habitual, they do indeed mind. You know how a teacher will say to a student, “I can’t do that for you, because then I’d have to do it for everyone else.”? Well that’s the way to look at job creep, which you can nip in the bud by saying “I can’t do it this time, because then I’d have to do it every time.”.

Now occasionally, a family’s circumstances will change and what the parents didn’t used to do to you, or ask you to do for them, will begin to become a recurring issue. There are times when there is a legitimate need to change the parameters of your job. If you are being vigilant, as you should, you will recognize this fairly quickly and call for a re-negotiation of your contract because that is what professionals do instead of whining, complaining, ranting, or seething while being passive-aggressive.

How professionalism can prevent emotional dysfunction.
How many times has a Nanny said, regarding a horrific job, “I stay in spite of it all because I love the kids so much, and they would be devastated to lose me.”

If this applies to you, then you need to learn what appropriate emotional boundaries are and how to set them. You are doing neither yourself NOR your charges any favors if you behave like a family member rather than a professional. This is why people in other caregiving professions are specifically and carefully taught how and why to set boundaries. Do you think health care professionals, social workers, teachers, etc., ever remain trapped in dysfunctional relationships because their clients would be “devastated” if they left? Of course not, and neither should the professional Nanny.

Setting appropriate emotional boundaries is not the sign of a less-loving Nanny, or a cold Nanny, or a Nanny “just doing a job”; rather, it is the sign of a professional Nanny who does not want to compromise the Nanny-charge relationship by refusing to acknowledge the respective roles in that relationship. If you handle this issue professionally, the children will be sad at your eventual departure, and will miss you for a while -- but if they truly are “devastated”, you will have left them crippled rather than empowered. In addition, you will have demonstrated your own immaturity by enabling a dysfunctional relationship in which your over-investment emotionally has compromised your commitment to your professionalism.

In summary.
Because Nannies are largely un-regulated, and have job duties involving what is typically viewed as the role of any random (but good) mother in the neighborhood, they’ve never really coalesced as a professional entity. Nannies have many obstacles to overcome if they wish to avoid the roadblocks to being treated as professionals, but the good news is that the power is in the hands of the Nannies themselves. This means Nannies need only be exploited to the extent they allow it, and they will be empowered to the extent they take charge. Remember, Nannies are a commodity desperately needed, not a service begging to be used.


Truth Seeker said...

The author of this very well-written and informative piece was not listed, but whoever he or she is I want to commend you on a very great article. I learned a lot from it and it was written in a non-preachy way. It was educational and very easy to read.

I like the section regarding "job creep." You addressed this topic brilliantly by reviewing both perspectives. I agree, that a nanny should know her boundaries and stick to them. This has always been a tough area for me since I am by nature, a people pleaser (esp. on the job) and want others to like me. I will take this advice to heart and be more pro-active in asserting myself in future situations.

Please continue to write other columns for us on ISYN!~

Marypoppin'pills said...

Truth Seeker,

I was waiting to hear back from the Author on whether or not she wanted to be credited... her name is on the piece now. ;-)

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

Nice article OP...I am glad you addressed the topic of "job creep" so well. This is my least favorite part of being a Nanny.

Thank you for sharing. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being a nanny even I have been guilty of thinking, "Why don't people look at nannies as professionals?!" However, your words really made me look at my complaint differently.

No, I won't mow your lawn! said...

When a special request is made, don’t immediately smile brightly and say eagerly, “Sure! No problem!”. Instead, pause to evaluate how compliant it is with your contract and generally do NOT agree to do it.
Oh, this is SO true. Can you imagine hiring someone to come in and clean your carpets, then asking them, "Oh hey, while you're here, could you mow my lawn for me?". If you did -- and he refused -- he would be behaving professionally, NOT showing a lack of initiative or being unwilling to go the extra mile.

Truth Seeker said...

Nice article Mary. :)

Good Point "No, I won't..."

a mother said...

Anonymous said... (re-posted)
As a mother who has employed a nanny in the past and is planning on employing one again in the future, I think this is a very insightful analysis and has a lot of good advice. I think a key part of a good nanny-employer relationship is finding a way to be flexible without experiencing 'job creep', but on the other hand, the nanny does not want to appear to be too inflexible (and neither does the employer, for that matter). There is a British term called 'jobsworth', which is used to describe someone who always says things like 'that's not in my job description', i.e. who avoids taking initiative or attempting to exceed expectations. I think a mark of professionalism is knowing when it is appropriate to go above and beyond, without being a doormat.

Regarding the contract, I understand the rationale but I think it would be better find a way to combine the two contracts together, so that both the employer's and the employee's interests are represented. It is not uncommon for employers to be the ones drafting contracts; most employees do not write their own contracts yet can still be 'professional' about their jobs. Getting both sides to write the contract together seems to be an excellent way to establish open lines of communication and honesty about expectations right from the beginning.

Mary S. said...

OP here, thanks for the feedback, fellow ISYN readers! Yes, as I said in my article, the contract should certainly include feedback from the parents so that their wishes are represented. However, in my opinion, the Nanny should present her rough draft and should be the one who produces the final copy after all parties have given their input.

But then, I tend to view Nannies more as contractors than employees and every contractor I've ever dealt with is the one who writes the contract describing the parameters of the working relationship. Your mileage may vary of course. :)

Wow said...

Actually, nannies are considered household employees, according to the way taxes are handled and according to labor laws. Check out this link:

Short-term childcare workers, such as baby nurses and postpartum doulas would be considered contractors.

That doesn't mean the nanny doesn't have a say in the drafting of the contract. The parents and nanny should come together in agreement. If the parents are new to hiring a nanny, the nanny can make it known what are standard nanny tasks. If the parents insist that the nanny do things that she doesn't want to do, they're not a good match and the nanny needs to move on.

MissMannah said...

I've never been the nanny employer, only the employee but it seems to me that if the nanny insists on using her own contract, the parent is going to think "Well who is in charge here? Am I the employer or not? Is she going to listen to what I want at all?" I've always believed contracts should be talked about, ironing out all the details and then the parents should write it up, so they do have the feeling of authority. Then the nanny thoroughly looks it over before signing and if there's any changes that need to be made, both parties address them together.

I say the parents should have authority, because they are the employers. Nannies are not contractors, no matter how much you want to believe that. A contractor takes a job when she can schedule it in and she dictates the times and rates. Agreeing to this does not make the nanny a wuss, as you seem to imply.

Mary S. said...

I believe I made it quite clear, both in my original article and in my comment above, the contract should be a blend of BOTH parent and Nanny wishes.

As far as contractor vs. employer, yes technically a Nanny is classified as an employee. I said that my own personal perception of a Nanny is more akin to a contractor. Meaning that yes, she MUST insist that whatever contract is eventually finalized be honored by both parties. This will prevent job creep and general dysfunction in the relationship.

I have nannied for 26 years and have never accepted a position with parents who have the attitude that they are "in charge" and I will comply with their wishes regardless of what my own are.

Apron said...

@MaryS: I see your point, actually. If it's the nanny drafting/finalizing the contract after input on both sides, it implies that the nanny is asserting - "Here is how I will and will not be treated.", as a professional SHOULD assert, putting her in a position inspiring respect.

If it's the parent(s) drafting/finalizing the contract, it implies that they are asserting - "Here is how we will and will not treat you.", putting the nanny in a subservient and submissive position.

Works for me, thanks for a great article.

MissMannah said...

Well actually, no you didn't make that too clear. You said the nanny should include feedback from the parents, which in my mind means she can take their feedback into account but she doesn't have to.

I hope I made it perfectly clear that I do not think nannies should be subservient and comply with everything. I have also been very outspoken about this problem on other threads. But in case you missed it: Only you can allow yourself to be taken advantage of. You must have respect for yourself first and your employers will respect you too.

Wow said...

Mary S...

I see your point, but it is standard for the parents to present the final contract. I agree that the nanny should have input, but it's more on the level of a mutual agreement than taking charge.

At some level we're probably talking semantics, but the parents are, without question, the employers and the nanny the employee. But that doesn't mean the nanny has to do everything the parents say. It's perfectly acceptable for "no" to be part of a nanny's vocabulary. It's okay to say, "Mopping floors, making beds, cleaning bathrooms, etc. are not part of a nanny's task and I don't do that." If that's a deal breaker for the parents, they're not a good match. It's the confidence and assertiveness of the nanny that determines how much she is or is not taken advantage of.

But it is important to be clear that the nanny is considered an employee, because considering a nanny a contractor can have negative legal ramifications down the line.

Mary S. said...

You said the nanny should include feedback from the parents, which in my mind means she can take their feedback into account but she doesn't have to.

In YOUR mind; not in mine. I would not be an extremely successful career Nanny if I had such an attitude.

But in case you missed it: Only you can allow yourself to be taken advantage of.

Seeing as how I said in the article: "Don’t fall into this trap; if you do, you have no one but YOURSELF to blame.", no, I don't think I missed that point at all. It is my Nanny mantra.

considering a nanny a contractor can have negative legal ramifications down the line.

You're right, we are arguing semantics. I have always been paid on the books, proper overtime, vacation, holidays, sick days, personal days, etc. I understand the legalities involved; however as is obvious from the abundance of tales on this blog from Nannies who work without contracts, who routinely permit their contracts to be violated, who are fearful of bringing up basic issues such as salary and chronic involuntary overtime, I think it is vital for Nannies to take their destinies in their own hands. And one of the best ways to establish their assertiveness is to do so from the very beginning when it is time to draft their contract. Unless the Nanny is coming from a placement service, there is no corporate HR department to protect her. And if she IS coming from a service, the service will be presenting a contract on its own behalf.

How many ISYN posts have been from parents who feel taken advantage of by their Nannies? Very few, if any. As long as the Nanny views the contract as a mutual input affair, I see no problem at all with her being the one to draft it and finalize it. If the parents are so insecure or controlling that they view that as some sort of threat, you can be SURE there will be issues down the road.

MissMannah said...

Hm, I've always had the idea of say what you mean and mean what you say. If you don't mean "contractor" in the literal sense, then don't say it because it confuses your readers.

Wow said...

Mary S...

The only reason I've belabored this issue is because there are many nannies that are new to the industry, or parents looking to hire nannies for the first time, who need to know the legal difference. You know what you mean when you say you see nannies as contractors, but the reality is that nannies are not contractors, they are employees. If a nanny or parents read what you've said and the nanny's money is treated as if she is a contractor, it would not be good.

I think most who have commented agree with what you're saying, but we cannot ignore the legal reality of the situation.

The ideal situation is a nanny and parents coming to an agreement together. Either there is mutual respect, or there's not. If there's not, it won't matter in the long run because the parents are going to overstep their boundaries, even with the contract. And either the nanny knows how to assert herself, or she doesn't. And if she doesn't, she will be taken advantage of, even with the contract.

On that note, I'm out.

Mary S. said...

Well I acknowledged in my article that my points might seem radical and subversive -- and that has played out here to some extent I suppose.

Look, if an in-home provider or a placement service can offer their services via a contract initiated on their own behalf, then I see no reason why a self-employed Nanny cannot approach her own career the same way.

It's really not that frightening, unless you are a parent who cannot wrap his/her mind around the idea that a professional Nanny might just have an idea or two about how her own destiny is going to be governed.

Calm down, fellow ISYN readers and really think about it... you are professionals, you need to write your own futures.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

But nannies are NOT self-employed! If you are self-employed, you dictate the terms of your contracts with your clients, and you work hours that YOU set. You also get that ugly 1099 form at the end of your employment year, and have to pay double to Social Security and Medicare taxes that an EMPLOYEE pays.

A nanny is an EMPLOYEE of the family that hires her. She fills out paperwork and gets a W2 form when it comes time to file her taxes.

Yes, Mary S., it's semantics in a way, but calling (or inferring that) a nanny an independent contractor is also something that families do that costs nannies a LOT of money.

It's terrific that you encourage nannies to act professionally! It's great to encourage nannies to work with families to create a contract everyone is happy with using.

It's not OK to mislead nannies and families into being tax losers and tax cheats with the terminology you use here.

Wow said...


It's a losing battle. She's determined to see things her way, even if it's misleading and can cause some people to be wrongly classified.

As we know, this issue is not a matter of opinion, it is a matter of facts. The facts can be verified
and they prove her wrong. I just hope nannies will research any information they get from any blog before they accept it as fact. That's what I do.