Submitted by Abby Nelson
There’s hardly a phrase more confusing in nanny lingo than that of “light housekeeping,” yet it’s a phrase that is widely and consistently used in job descriptions and work agreements all of the time.
In the nanny world, light housekeeping typically means leaving the home in the same condition it was in when the nanny arrived. If there were no dishes in the sink in the morning when the parents left for work, there should be no dishes in the sink when they return home. If a nanny arrived in the morning and the floors were sparkling clean, and then she and her charge tracked in mud after playing outside, it would be reasonable and expected for her to clean up the mess and restore the floor to its original morning condition prior to the end of her workday.
In addition to childcare, nannies are also generally responsible for undertaking all tasks related to providing care for the children. While each job will vary slightly, depending on the family’s needs and if a housekeeper is also employed, most nanny jobs require that the nanny do the same household tasks as they relate to providing childcare.
Nannies typically: do the children’s laundry, launder the children’s linens, keep the children’s areas neat and tidy, sanitize and disinfect toys, sterilize and clean bottles, prepare nutritious meals and snacks for the children, pick up after activities and arts and crafts, pick up after themselves and the children, keep the family provided vehicle clean, organize the children’s toys, and organize the children’s closets.
Some nannies may also take on additional household related tasks. They may do the children’s grocery and clothes shopping, as well as purchase the supplies needed to properly stock the nursery. In some cases, nannies may also be responsible for ordering age-appropriate supplies, toys, and arts and crafts, depending on the arrangement that was made.
Nannies typically do not: do the parent’s laundry, clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, dust the furniture, or prepare family meals regularly.
In each family and nanny work arrangement, light housekeeping should be clearly defined. It’s what is in the contract that will dictate what the family’s housekeeping expectations are and what the nanny’s housekeeping responsibilities are. Instead of, or in addition to, using the term “light housekeeping” an employer’s definition of what light housekeeping means should be defined.
Many nannies do agree to take on additional non-childcare related housekeeping tasks. They may do this because the children spend mornings in school or they simply enjoy cleaning and would gladly take on the housekeeping tasks in exchange for increased compensation. If your nanny agrees to take on additional housekeeping tasks, she should be provided additional compensation for them and allowed adequate time to complete them when childcare is not her responsibility. For these nannies/housekeepers, it should be stressed that when the children are in her care, childcare should be her main responsibility.
Often times a nanny will go above and beyond the call of duty simply out of practicality. If a nanny is doing the dishes from lunch and her employer left a knife and dish in the sink after breakfast, for example, she’s likely going to wash them too, rather than simply leave them sitting there in the sink. If a nanny is preparing one of her favorite homemade pasta recipes for the children’s dinner, she may make enough for the entire family, since it’s easier than tweaking the recipe for smaller portions.
When these random acts of kindness become expected by employers through, resentment and relationship problems in the nanny relationship can occur. Light housekeeping is going to mean different things to different people. Clearly articulating the duties and responsibilities that meet an employer’s definition of light housekeeping will help to prevent job creep and miscommunication over housekeeping related expectations.