5 Phrases to Use with Caution Around Your Nanny

GUEST COLUMNSubmitted by Debbie Denard          
The key to a successful nanny and employer relationship is open and honest communication. While nannies and parents should be able to communicate effectively about all aspects of the job, there are some phrases that employers should use with caution when speaking with or about their nanny.

These include:
1. Light housekeeping. Light housekeeping means different things to different people. To nannies, light housekeeping typically means cleaning up after the children and keeping the children’s areas, including their bedrooms, play areas and bathroom, clean, neat, and organized. It also generally includes doing all of the children’s laundry and putting it away. This vague phrase is the source of both confusion and contention in the nanny-employer relationship. Clarifying the specific tasks and duties that relate to light housekeeping responsibilities will ensure that both the nanny and the employer are on the same page and that the nanny completely understands her employer’s expectations. While many nannies are willing to take on additional housekeeping tasks for additional compensation, it’s important to make that agreement in advance to allow extra time for those duties to be done and to reaffirm that the children are the nanny’s first priority.
2. You need to stay late. While most nannies are willing to be accommodating and flexible, when they are presented with this directive, rather than a request, it conveys the message that their time isn’t seen as valuable. As an employer, parents are within their grounds to give directives, however when asking for something outside of the agreed upon duties and expectations, asking instead of telling will go a long way in making your nanny feel valued and respected. The reality is that sometimes things do come up that cause parents to run late and most nannies understand this. Nannies also know that they can’t leave work until the parents return home. Being apologetic and taking responsibility for not being home at the agreed upon time, letting your nanny know that you appreciate her for staying late, and compensating her for the additional time she’ll be working is good practice to follow to maintain a healthy relationship.
3. Your salary. One of the most trouble causing phrases in the nanny employer relationship is “your salary.” Typically problems arise when this phrase is used because the clarification of if the salary is gross salary (before taxes) or net salary (after taxes) has not been made. When speaking in terms of salary, it is always important that both the nanny and parents are clear on if they are speaking in gross or net terms. The difference in gross and net nanny salary is significant enough that it could result in a demise of the working relationship. If a nanny thinks she is earning $800 per week and her first paycheck is for much less, she’s not going to be happy. Likewise, if a parent believes she secured the perfect nanny for $600 per week, only to learn later that $600 was the salary which the nanny expected to take home, the parents may no longer be able to afford the nanny they want.
4. My babysitter. When it comes to childcare terms, nannies are generally sensitive about being misclassified. Calling your nanny a babysitter, especially in front of others, will likely be perceived as an insult. If your nanny views herself as a dedicated part of your parenting team, reducing her role to one that provides only custodial care (simply keeping the children safe when you aren’t home generally on an informal or occasional basis) will convey that her work and contributions aren’t valued. While all child care providers play an important role in the lives of the children they care for, most nannies want their employers and others to understand and validate the unique role they play in the lives of families.
5. My nanny won’t mind. While chances are your nanny really won’t mind doing what you have planned for her, assuming that she won’t mind, rather than asking her if she does or not, can lead to trouble. Many times nanny employers will volunteer their nanny to care for a family member or friend’s children while they are visiting. Even if your nanny won’t mind, she’s going to care about the logistics. If transportation is going to be needed for the children, for example, your nanny will want to ensure she has the proper seating. If she feels uncomfortable caring for a large number of children she doesn’t know well, you’ll want to know that. If you do ask your nanny to go above and beyond her typical duties, you’ll also want to compensate her for it.
Developing a mutually respectful relationship with your nanny will promote feelings of trust and security. Being aware of and avoiding phrases that can spark contention will help facilitate a good working relationship.


Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

I agree that the "light housekeeping" requirement should always be discussed.

Just My Two Cents Just Now said...

As a Nanny currently searching for work, the majority of the ads I come across require the Nanny to do "light housekeeping" tasks. To me, light housekeeping refers to anything child-related. I.e., cleaning up play areas, wiping down toys, washing any dishes child uses and doing the child's (only) laundry/bedding, etc.

However, some ads request the Nanny to cook family dinners, do family laundry, vacuum, mop, dust and walk the family dog.

That to me is not "light housekeeping."

I think it is important to clarify during the interview what the family requires and what the Nanny is comfortable doing.

Also, to have everything in writing is especially important in this type of situation too.

Susannah said...

Great post! But, it's also the job of the nanny to get clarification on a few of thes phrases , and to learn to say no.

Lyn said...

Don't call me your baby sitter. I don't know why, I really haven't put much thought into reasoning, but it really irks me when a mb/db introduces me to their friends as "the babysitter, Lyn". Granted, those words have never been said in a negative or condescending tone. But it still really bothers me. It makes me feel like a 15 year old looking for an easy buck, haha. I know, I know, "too sensitive".

Seriously said...

Nannies should never be asked to do cleaning beyond what's child related. Cleaning and housekeeping is an entirely different job and. It pays $20-35 an hour and there are no kids to consider, when cleaning. Its absurd what some (lazy) parents try to get away with. Your nanny is not your house keeper.

princess said...

I think its totally different to clean up after what the kids do during your work hours but not cleaning up after them in general. That includes laundry. That's the parents job and I wont be convinced otherwise.

creep said...

I agree with you, princess. A childs laundry is the parents responsibility. If they want to hire someone to do it, that's fine. But the person they would hire for laundry is not called a nanny.

Bethany said...

I'm situationally opposed to being called the babysitter.

Many parents mean nothing by it and it doesn't phase me, others do it as a means of degrading the work I do that bothers me.

Although, I've encountered the disrespect from people who refer to me as nanny.

Everything else I agree with.

Chelsea said...

#4 is totally something I never even thought about until I got to my current job, where MB has told me that she will be introducing me as "the kid sitter" and there is no question about it. She stated that they're all about simplicity and keeping things informal, and don't like the stigma attached to "families with NANNIES". Sigh. It irks me, but I don't know what to do about it.

babysitter said...

My MB told me it embarrasses her to refer to me as her "nanny" because she thinks it sounds like she is putting on airs and trying to impress.

So, I am her "babysitter".

Whatever, MB.

Chelsea said...

@babysitter -- I'm glad I'm not the only one! It's so annoying, but how do you change it? It just doesn't seem worth it to invite the argument.

LetsKeepItSimple said...

Chelsea....every single time you're referred to as a babysitter say this same quote. Regardless of how many times you have tlo say it. And offer NO further discussion or commentary.

"I prefer nanny!" Smile. Repeat as needed.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

princes and creep, if the attitude that you don't do kid laundry works for you, that's fine. But traditionally, nannies are responsible for kid laundry. Do each of you work very PT for several families (i.e., not there enough to do laundry) or do you both work FT for fully staffed homes that employ a laundress to care for all of the family clothes and linens?

A majority of nannies are all about working to make the lives of their employers easier, therefore allowing the employers to spend time with their kids, not doing laundry that the nanny could easily do.

If I were a potential MB, working 50+ hour weeks, and spoke with a nanny candidate who refused to do my child's laundry, that nanny would be told she was not a good candidate for my needs.

BewareoftheJobCreep said...

Neither. I'm currently a work from home mom. I own a residential cleaning business. I also have twenty years of experience as a nanny. I'm in the process of opening a domestic staffing agency.

As a parent, I've never requested my nanny do our laundry or any cleaning beyond picking up after herself & our child.

As a nanny over the past twenty years, it has been requested that I do laundry for the entire family(as well as cook dinner, do all dishes, take kids to appointments & playdates in another city) post interview & post job description & compensation agreement, just once. Naturally, I joined their long list of former nannies in record time. There was a nanny job that I had where I volunteered to do the entire households laundry(family of five) because...I enjoy laundry & it gave me something to do while the two newborns(one was my own) three year old & seven year old were being entertained. The mom thought I was a saint & I miss them dearly. The moved quite far.

So in my experience, expecting a nanny to do the childrens laundry is not standard. I wonder if this has anything to do with demographics.

I don't think a nanny agreeing to do her charges laundry is a problem unless its not specified in writing. Otherwise, its a gateway chore!!! LOL

nycmom said...


As often, I completely agree with you. I think most nanny ads and surveys also support the idea that kids' laundry is a standard part of the job for a full-time nanny. However, I do also think these kinds of issues and disagreements are why I feel it is key to list and over-list EVERY single duty and non-duty in the hiring contract. So many different expectations and all I care about (well, not all, but you get my point) in hiring a nanny is finding a good fit on both sides. I want to be on my WORST behavior during the working trial and make the job sound less appealing than it will likely be. I want a nanny candidate to honestly tell me her weaknesses and what she doesn't want in a job. There is so much time and personal investment on both sides in hiring/accepting for a new nanny position. I would never want to in anyway deceive someone into accepting a position with us by presenting it as more enticing than it will be. I want a happy nanny who feels our quirks and hers match. This doesn't preclude negotiating and compromise, but it does necessitate honesty.

Again I see the issue of nanny vs babysitter raised. I swear I feel as an employer you just can't get this right. I will always respect my caregiver's preferences on the job label, but I do not understand why the mere use of one word vs another is fraught with such personal offense. I have used the example of being called doctor vs nurse before and not finding it offensive. Someone asked if I would find it offensive if someone called me a "maid." The answer is, "No."

I care only about the intention of the person using the word. If a patient or peer or anyone uses an incorrect job label, but does so with no malice, I would politely correct them (if there was a reason to do so), or just smile and move on. If someone used the wrong title to be intentionally derogatory or disrespectful, then that would bother me. But as a nanny I doubt I would want to keep working for someone who tried to insult me by calling me nanny or babysitter against my wishes anyway.

I truly do believe the terms nanny and sitter are regional and experiential. I don't think they have as much inherent feelings to most employers as people are projecting. I never used the word nanny growing up so it did feel pretentious when I first encountered it. Then I lived in NYC for years and it became second nature (sort of like the transition the term "playdate" underwent for me) because that is simply the commonly used word for a full-time caregiver who assumes duties beyond basic childcare. Of course, I could be wrong, but I can't imagine there is a whole group of moms out there going around trying to intentionally demean nannies/sitters by calling them the term they know the person dislikes. I just think there is much less intention here than people believe, and offense being taken unnecessarily. Most employers have no desire to insult their employees in any field and those that do are not people you want to work for.

BewareoftheCreep said...

I couldn't agree more with nycmom that a list of specific chores & duties are essential to a working relationship. Without it, you're bound to have a much higher rate of turn over. A simple single page agreement can prevent so many issues. Children deserve continuity of care & that's what drives me to want to run an agency. It doesn't really matter. As much what the nanny & mb agree upon. Its much more important that they have an agreement!

♥ Amy Darling ♥ said...

I think if parents want their nanny to do housekeeping tasks during her shift, they should offer more compensation for it. Otherwise, it seems to me like a "2-for-1" deal. It is common sense to wash the child's dishes vs. leaving them in the sink as well as picking up the child's toys and books.

Doing the child's laundry is a huge perk for the parents and if a nanny does the child's laundry, she should make extra for it. I is a gateway job. Once you do the child's laundry, then sooner of later your bosses will ask you to throw in a few towels and before you know it, you are folding their underwear.

Lyn said...

I have washed my charges laundry in 2 of my 4 Nanny families. I agree that it is probably considered a standard duty of Nannies. However, it's been my experience that in the past few years parents expect this less than in years previous. I wouldn't mind doing a load every now and then if asked but my past 2 families have not expected this to be part of my job. I think this particular duty is becoming less of a given with Nannies.
I get the hour a day my charges nap as downtime. I may spend 20 minutes of it cleaning up the mornings messes, loading or unloading the dishwasher and the rest of that time eating my lunch and chatting with you ladies. :) I really enjoy having that little bit of "me" time and find it really helps me recharge and take on the next half of my day. But if I were doing laundry duty as well I don't see another time that would be good to do all of that folding with as busy as I keep my kids days and I can't say it would be "fair" to have to spend another 20 minutes folding and putting away the kids clothes when that would leave me with just 20 minutes to regain my sanity. Assuming both kids actually sleep for an hour that is.

Bethany said...

I agree that you have to get very detailed in describing the types of chores you want dome as an employer or willing to do as a nanny.

I do kid laundry. I've never had a problem finding time to do laundry and catch a break.

As for them asking for household laundry after the fact. Learn to say no.

It's ok. It took me awhile to realize that, but no is okay.

I agree that fewere parents are expecting kid laundry.

leftcoastmama said...

We're always upfront about what we ask our nannies to do, in our ads, and interviews. No more and no less. We discuss it in great detail and write it out in contracts.

All our nannies have been asked to do the kids laundry, and they have never had an issue with doing so.

I've always just refered to our caregivers as nannies. It cuts out on misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

I would never offer my nannies services without consulting her first. That is so very inconsiderate!

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

I've always done kid laundry, and I have not been willing to do family laundry since my first job, when I decided that washing other adult's dirty clothes was something I would never do again. I am clear with families about that boundary if they ask. If the washing machine or dryer has a finished load of things inside that the adults put in, I will remove that stuff to do my laundry.

I also do kid laundry because it's another way to teach kids to help around the house. My charges help with the entire task, starting as soon as they can shove a wet item into a dryer with help.

MissMannah said...

Bethany's right: you are capable of saying the word NO. I do my charge's laundry, because it is in the contract as one of my duties. Most times, I will throw towels in with it because I know where they go and I don't mind folding them. Occasionally I will ask MB if she wants me to wash any of her clothes in order to make a full load. It is never, ever expected of me to wash adult clothes or towels, I just do it to be nice. Also, I never fold up adult clothes or put them away: I just throw them all in a laundry basket after they are dry and put them on her bed. MB has never said anything about this, it is just an unspoken thing that I will not put away their clothes, but she is always grateful when I volunteer to wash them because it helps her out a bit.

sad but true! said...

@ Amy Darling - you are SO RIGHT!!!!!!!!! This happened to me at one nanny job years ago. Kid's laundry became EVERYBODY's freakin laundry, towels, sheets, and cleaning up after the kids became cleaning up ALL the parents' nasty dinner dishes and whole trashed kitchen from the night before... EVERY freakin day. Taking out diaper trash became taking out ALL the trash, parents freakin leaving bags of dripping smelly trash in the hall for me to take outside. Nice people, though, I honestly think they just couldn't help taking advantage of nanny. If I had to deal with that today, I would sooooo not put up with it! :p

chrstine said...

I Have a residential house cleaning business and I equate it as similar to being a nanny because I am somewhat intimate with my clients and their home. And, it seems like there is something most people just can't help doing... ASKING FOR MORE SERVICES WITHOUT PAYING A DIME. I used to just do what people asked me to do and then I'd bitch and whine about it. Years of being taken advantage of made me a much different person.

After maybe five years of people assuming I didn't mind extra work for no extra pay, I finally started to approach things differently. When asked, I simply tell them that, yes, I can do "xyz" for you. It will cost $10, or whatever I decide. If it is a monumental pain in the ass job, I will make sure it costs so much (like an extra $100) that they won't take me up on it.

It works! I either make more money or they get the hint to stop asking for freebies. And, I've lost customers over this and my thought process is- I probably would have gotten fed up with them eventually and left.

Phoenix said...

one of my friends is a nanny. She is now seeking a new job.

She has taken an interesting approach.

she has put out an add saying : Nanny interviewing potential families.

She is interviewing the families who she wants to work for. Its a reverse application process. She has wonderful references and experience. She has interviewed a few families. She doens't put her salary request or duties in the add. She goes over that when she meets them. If she is lucky she can get two families into a bidding war.

Something to try

Princess said...

Nope I don't work for a fully staffed house or part time. I work 45 hrs a week for one family and they have never asked me to do anything besides light cleanup of activities we do while I'm there. They don't ask for that, actually, because it's common knowledge I would think. I wouldn't necessarily turn down a job based on laundry alone but if I had a choice of 2 similar jobs, one with laundry and the other not, I'd choose the latter. I'm not a housekeeper nor do I want to be. Same as a daycare doesn't do laundry. I run my day in a similar fashion.

MissMannah said...

I have never worked at a daycare and NOT had to do laundry.

DonutsForEveryone said...

MissMannah, I ran a daycare for several years & never washed a childs clothes. If they soiled them, I placed them in a ziplock bag & then in a plastic grocery bag. Its a biohazard & I'm not mom or dad. That's their job to wash their childs clothes. I'm sure if child cares would keep the kids 24/7/365, some parents would be okay with that. I had to create a policy that forced parents to pick up their children after ten hours of care. Otherwise, some parents would leave their small kids with me for up to FOURTEEN hours per day!! I'm sure if I volunteered to have them bring me the kids laundry, they wouldn't have a problem with me doing it. Some parents are extremely lazy. So, MissMannah why were you doing the kids laundry in a child care? I've never heard of such a thing.

Bethany said...

I've done laundry at daycares too.

We didn't do individual laundry, but here's what I/we washed:

Soft toys
Dress up clothes
infant playmats/gyms
clothes that beonged to the center and that had been borrowed or donated
Spare bibs
Spare towels/rags

Bethany said...

Phoenix, I like your friend's approach.

Let us know how it turns out.

I may add that to my bag of tricks.

Phoenix said...

I know she did it for her last job. The boy she nanny'd for started 1st grade. She was still with him while in kindergarten because he had 1/2 days. So she worked there for 3.5 years.

she said she was paid good and given a family car to drive.

She was the one who wrote up her contract and had the parents review it and sign.

She had everything in the contract from her duties all the way to what she would charge the parents if they were X late to come home.

But the parents said they loved it because it took the guess work out of what they should do with a nanny, partly because they never hired one before. She said it made her bosses view her as a professional who was well organized.

I will see if she would send me her "application/resume" questions. She would also have the parents fill out an "application" and she would review it. She would ask the parents during interviews certain questions. One thing she would ask is, "in the event your family goes on vacation, do you intend to pay your nanny for the time you are gone if she chooses not to use her vacation time when you are out of town?"

she has an entire list. I will have to see if i can get her to send me one

MissMannah said...

I kind of like your friend's way of doing it, but for me instead of asking that question, I just outright tell them my policy on it. If they don't agree with my policy, I don't accept the job. I think the nanny having the parents filling out an application is a bit too presumptuous. If I were a potential employer, it would really turn me off.

Phoenix said...

Yes Mannah that is what she does.

Those questions are the same tpye of interview questions that most people ask in order to get a feel for how they would handle a situation.

Like when I started my current position one of my questions was 'at any time did you disagree with managements buisiness decisions and how did you approach the issue?' another one was 'if you caught another employee doing something that is against the companys mission and code of conduct how did you handle the situation?'

those are questions to see how the person thinks. Are they problem solvers, do they just sweep it under the rug and think it goes away, do they take advantage of people.

it allows her to determine what type of parents they are

she could say,

'what methods of discipline do you use when your son/daugher does someyhing wrong?'

'how does this family choose to eat their meals?'

'do you engage in extra-ciricular activites with the family?'

'does your child have any friends that they go on playdates?'

'is your child allergic to anything? and if she/he is what are the best steps to deal with it?'

'what would you do if the nanny called in sick?'

'how do you report your nanny's wages to the IRS?' - please note that I require all my employers to pay me according to the law, which means I will receive W2 income. i have already filled out a W4 for your tax purposes so you know the deduction percentage I require

'If you sign here, I can run a credit report on you to make sure that I have some secirity'

'as an employer have you employed any other nannies?' if so please list them and their phone number as your reference

'how long have you lived at this current house? how long have you been employed?'

'please see below regarding my professional references, my education and experience, as well as my back-ground check'

'in the event that something occurs that changes the description of this position it shall be discussed as a meeting between nanny and employers.'

I will see if I can find that application she uses.

Phoenix said...

hey, you guys may be able to start a new trend. Start up a website

you could call it

"The Elite Nanny"

The professional, dedicated, and experienced nanny. We enrich the lives of not just the children but the family as whole. Dedicated to the field of early childhood education we pride ourselves in understanding the specific needs of each family.

We understand the role we play in the lives of your son or daughter and assist them in their life to becoming intelligent successful adults.

Every baby step, in the right direction molds the future generation. Let us touch your family and begin a journey that will influence your child's life for years to come.

- if someone starts this, you better let me be in on it.

Phoenix said...

basically what I the nanny puts up an add about herself and potential employers can view their profiles and select one they want to interview with. Basic information would be listed like the nanny location and experience. The salary would not be listed. In order for the employer to get the know the salary they would have to get through the phone interview with the nanny. When the nannay feels he/she wants to meet with them she will and have a face to face (which should include the children)

The nanny can review her applications to determine what would be the best match.

Think of it like a Nanny/Employer eHarmony. "we match you on many different levels of criteria"

you could have a nanny for people who are Christians, kosher, 420 friendly, artsy, alternative life-styles ect ect.

The nanny would be able to stipulate her trial period as well. On her frist couple days she will require the parents to tell their kids that when they are gone nanny is in charge.

I could go on and on. i don't know how well this would work tho. but this approach was good for my friend

Mrs. Billy Lamar said...

It is true that when a family in interviewing a potential nanny, that nanny is also interviewing the family.

I think the child's laundry is okay as long as the family is paying their nanny a little extra for doing it. It shouldn't be one of those things that should just be expected to be done.

Momwest said...

I agree with Miss Mannah: filling out a app would turn me off. Asking about our financial situation, checking refs and running a credit also would be off-putting.

Phoenix said...

yes it would be offputting but any family wanting to have an experienced career nanny should understand.

I think it would be like a landlord doing a check on his tenants. It is offputting but they do it to the nanny and they but into her personal life. Why can't it be fair? They are the ones who are paying her, so essentially the family's security and income are more important.

Bethany said...

I would ask about finances, but I think asking for references and background check is fair.

Truth Seeker said...

When one is working in someone else's home,one can never be too careful.

I think a nanny has a right to ask for references from a family. Many families have offered me the contact info of their past nannies and I always appreciate the thought.

To ask about credit and finances is just rude however.

princess said...

I worked at 2 diff daycares and did not do laundry. I also think there's a big difference again if you're washing the kids' personal clothes or daycare provided items. Where I worked their sheets and blankets went home each week for parents to wash, and we did the same as someone else said with dirty or soiled items, they went in a bag to go home.

Again, I have a Job that doesn't even ask that of me. If you dont mind doing it,great, you take those jobs and those of us who don't feel we should have to do it will take the others!

Bethany. said...

That should say wouldn't I don't need to know about their finances.

I'll find out soo enough if they can afford me or not.