Notes on Boundaries

Image by Cohdra via MorgueFile.
Image by Cohdra via MorgueFile.

by savanna fox

Let’s talk about setting boundaries. No, I don’t mean in effort to prevent the predictable yet unlikely scenario of the DadBoss hitting on the nanny (i.e., first season of Girls and seemingly every other television show or movie featuring a young attractive nanny). I’m talking about boundaries that are crossed when employers ask their nanny to perform additional job duties that have virtually no connection to childcare.

As a professional nanny, I have come across some interesting, albeit offensive, requests. My favorites have been:

“Can you wash our sheets?”

“Can you clean the master bathroom?”

“Can you bartend our party?”

“Can you iron my shirt?”

While these asks make for interesting conversation points, they are incredibly offensive to us nannies. Being a nanny is an intimate job and lines will likely be crossed—so how do we deal with these inquiries from our employers as nannies and what do our employers need to know about respecting our professional boundaries?

Tips for Employers

Tip #1: If you’re not sure the job you want to ask your nanny to perform falls under the purview of her duties, then it most likely does not, so don’t ask her to do it.

If you’re considering asking your nanny to do something and you hesitate for just one second because you aren’t sure it’s okay, then don’t ask her to do it. You should never ask your nanny to perform duties that have nothing to do with your child unless this has been previously discussed and your nanny is being fairly compensated for the extra tasks.

Tip #2: Hire a cleaning service.

If you need your house cleaned, don’t ask your nanny to do it, and please refrain from offering her $50 extra a week to clean. While you may be tempted to think she would be interested in the extra money, remember that cleaning houses is not the job or career she chose for a reason. Offering a bit of money for someone to scrub your toilet does not make you respectful or considerate. It is unfair to associate your nanny’s chosen career with all other service-based jobs and assume they are interchangeable. Nannies care for and educate your kids. If nannies wanted to clean houses they would clean houses.

So, how do you get your house clean if you don’t have time and your nanny isn’t doing it? I recommend that working mothers and fathers hire a cleaning service. They aren’t that expensive and will allow you time to relax after work. You will be able to play with your kids and enjoy your night without the worry of cleaning or scheming a way to “respectfully” ask your nanny to do it.

Tips for Nannies

Tip #1: Bring up job duties either in the interview or set up a meeting to discuss this topic.

If you’re starting a new job, make sure to address all of the expectations immediately. In your interview, bring up all of the great things you will do. After you do this, say something like, “My duties will be limited to your children, so I will clean up the messes we make throughout the day.” Give a couple of examples of jobs you will not perform. Start your job off with open communication and clear boundaries.

If you are currently at a job where the parents either ignore these boundaries or the boundaries have not been discussed, ask for a meeting so you can list all of the wonderful things you do and follow up with a more detailed list of the things you do not do. If you are willing to take on the extra chores, offer a competitive rate. If you are not willing, give them the name and number of a cleaning service you know.

Tip #2: Stop yourself from saying “yes” the next time your employer asks you to perform an out-of-bounds task.

At first you may agree to off-the-wall requests because they are simple enough and some can even be traced, perhaps somewhat illogically, back to an origin of childcare. Maybe that request to clean the sink in the master bathroom can be related to the fact that you wash the baby’s hands in there sometimes, and therefore the sink needs to be cleaned for the baby. However, soon the requests will become more strange and you will find yourself struggling to make any logical connection between the task and your job as a nanny.

If you, like myself, have been guilty of performing out-of-bounds jobs, take a moment to respond the next time a parent asks you to do one of these jobs. Give yourself time to process the job they have asked you to perform. Is it related to the kids? If not, come up with another answer such as, “I’m not comfortable doing that. Maybe we should set up a quick meeting to talk about my job duties.” If saying no and being upfront is not difficult for you, then this process will be easier, but if you are more timid or worried about your job security, then take your time moving toward a more aggressive “no”.

Stop yourself from automatically agreeing to perform tasks that aren’t your job. Replace your tendency to say “yes” by saying “I’ll try to if I have the time” instead, and slowly work your confidence up to a point where you request a meeting to discuss your job duties. It can actually be pretty hard to stop yourself from immediately saying “yes” because we want to be good employees, to help out, and because we as nannies become so much a part of the family that odd jobs feel okay sometimes. The sooner you start to say “yes” to weird jobs the harder it will be to stop.

The Moral of the Story…

No nanny should be made to feel taken advantage of, and no NannyFamily should hire a nanny who isn’t clear on the scope of their duties. Communication is key. Both the employer and the employee should bring up job duty expectations and limitations early on in the relationship. It makes for a happier home and more pleasurable work environment.