Notes on Boundaries

Notes on Crossing Boundaries:

No, I don’t mean the predictable and unlikely scenario of Dad hitting on the nanny (i.e. first season of Girls and every other TV show/movie with a young nanny.) I’m talking about boundaries that are crossed when employers unfortunately, and inevitable, ask their nanny to perform some additional job duty which has virtually no connection to the job titled “nanny.”

As a professional nanny, I have come across some interesting, albeit offensive, requests. My favorites have been: “Can you wash our sheets… Clean the master bathroom… Bartend our party…Iron my shirt…” While these incidences 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 this as nannies and employers?

To Employers:

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

If you’re considering asking your nanny something and you hesitate for just one second because you aren’t sure it’s okay, than DO NOT 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.

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 might think she would be interested in the extra money remember that cleaning houses is not the job/career she chose. *If she wants the extra money she will offer to do it, but never ask. The money tactic does not make you respectful or considerate, because you are associating our chosen career with all other service-based jobs and assuming they are interchangeable. We are nannies who watch, care for and educate your kids. If we wanted to clean houses we 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.

To 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 this issue 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, I will clean up the messes we make throughout the day.” And maybe 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. In the meeting list again all of the wonderful things you do and follow up with a more detailed list of the things you do not do.

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

At first you might say ‘yes’ because the job requests are simple enough and some can even be traced, perhaps somewhat illogically, back to an origin of child-care—something like: Clean master bathroom sink>Sometimes you wash the baby’s hands in the sink>Therefore the sink needs to be cleaned for the baby. However, soon the requests will get weirder 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 talk about my job duties at a meeting…I’m not sure I’ll have time (list all of the child-related things you are doing!)” If saying no and being upfront is not difficult for you, than this process will be easier, but if you are more timid, or worried about your job, then take your time moving toward a more aggressive “no.”

Stop yourself from saying yes, replace “yes” with “I’ll try to” 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. Remember to take a second to respond, consider the job they are asking you to perform because the sooner you start to say “yes” to weird jobs the harder it will be to stop.

Tip #3: Remember to stay calm and respectful.

While it might be tempting to hand your employer the card of a cleaning service every time they cross job duty boundaries, try to avoid this tactic. However, there is an exception to this rule: if your employer keeps bringing up that the house needs to be cleaned, and you feel, through their subtlety, that they are hinting that you should do it, here I think it is perfectly fine to say “Well, I know of a cleaning service, do you want the number?” *Only use this if they directly say the house needs to be cleaned, do not use this if they say, “our house is dirty!” These are two very different scenarios. In the first, they are allowing for suggestions, and hoping for your willingness to clean. In the latter they are simply making a statement, so there is no need to respond.

To All:

The moral of this: Communicate with your employers and employees: both parties should bring up job duty expectations and limitations. It makes for a happy home and pleasurable work environment.


Sleep: is it Nap Time?

How do you know if your baby is tired?

Naps, we all need them, so does your baby.  While we might all know this, many of us are tricked by our baby’s actions, making us guilty of keeping them up past their nap ‘window’.  Missing the nap window can be a perpetual cycle of no sleep for your baby, and for you. I will eventually have many entries about sleep, this one is specifically about how to identify a sleepy baby.

Tip #1. Seriously, put down the baby books and trust your instincts.

All babies have a sleep “tell”, think of this as your baby’s poker face.  Finding your baby’s tell is simply a matter of paying close attention– to your baby, not to your baby books.

Baby books can offer good advice, and a lot of what I say here represents the inners of these books.  The problem with baby books is that in a sense they claim more authority than the parent (especially first-time parents) –causing the parent to refer to their bookshelf rather than their instincts.


Tip #2. Look for frustration with things that your baby can already do, for example if your baby has mastered rolling over, and you see her suddenly unable to perform this activity, she is likely ready for a nap.

When the girl I currently watch was about 2 months old, I started to notice that her tell was a reddening of the skin near the eyebrows.  A boy I watched years before had a specific cry—these are examples of some sleep cues.

Some common sleep signals: yawning, rubbing eyes (when they have the motor skills to do so), laying their head down, crankiness and frustration. Frustration can be difficult to tell sometimes if you feel like your baby is consistently more sensitive or colicky.  Pay attention to things your child is suddenly having difficulty doing–these frustrations are different than the frustrations of a colicky baby.

Tip #3: Use a sleep journal to help identify your child’s ‘tell’.

If you’re having difficulty finding your baby’s tell I (and all baby books) recommend keeping a sleep journal, write down when your baby wakes up than put her back down for a nap at these intervals:

  •  New Born (first month): One hour after being awake, sometimes sooner.
  • Infants (2-6 months): The gap between naps will start increasing by about every 15 minutes.  Start with putting her back down 1hour and 15 minutes after being awake, slowly increasing wakeful time as your baby grows.
  • 7-10 months: Between 2 ½ and 3 hours after waking up.
  • Toddlers (11-19months): These months vary; your baby may be shifting to one nap a day, or may still be on 2.  I recommend keeping 2 naps as long as possible, there’s no need to rush ridding your baby and yourself of naps.

Keeping the sleep journal should help you to identify your baby’s “tell” by paying especially close attention to your baby 20 minutes before her scheduled nap.

Tip #4: Every couple months your baby’s sleep “tell” may change so make sure to remain alert.

As your baby moves through different stages their sleepiness can get easier or often harder to notice.  Your baby is going to be pretty pumped-up that he can move his legs, crawl, walk, talk, etc., in this excitement he will likely not show signs of sleepiness or his tiredness will be masked with hyperactivity.  Your baby still needs to nap, even if he appears full of energy. You can refer back to tip #2 for this.

Note to my fellow Nannies: If you know what the baby’s tell is, don’t be afraid to cue the parents into this discovery. Sometimes being the nanny can make it awkward to inform the parents about their child, but you can pose it in a way that won’t make the parent feel ill equipped. Ask the parents what they think, something like:  “I’ve been noticing this funny thing Lizzie does (insert ‘tell’) and she always seems to do it about 2 hours after she woke up–I wonder if that’s her way of telling us she’s tired, what do you think?”

Say “Yes” to the Word “No”

*It’s hard to say “NO” to your kids, because of those adorable faces, vicious tantrums and sometimes because you’re just a “yes” kind of person.

It’s that time of year again when we start to lather our children with sunscreen, adorn them with hats and miniature sunglasses. The days are longer, the air is fresh with flowers and rotting trash confusing our senses, and in the distance we can hear the ever-increasing din of ice cream trucks. These trucks will bring out the inner monsters and sweet angels in our children, the fate of which rests upon the acceptance or rejection of the sweet delectable treat. Ice cream trucks are just one of the many delights the warmer weather brings.

What’s that New York Parents? You don’t want ice cream trucks?

Tip #1: Don’t blame ice cream trucks for your problems with the word ‘no’.

Around this time last year, Brooklyn parents petitioned to ban ice cream trucks, some claimed obesity fears as their cause, others admitted they just didn’t want to say no to their children. I know the “No to the word, N.O.” parents.
Some don’t want to limit their child’s options, believing the word ‘no’ hinders the decision-making process and does not properly address issues of behavior. Other’s may claim these reasons, but in reality are horrified of an embarrassing public tantrum.

Tip #2: Be okay with the N.O. word and use it sometimes. We don’t always have to be accepting of our child’s actions.

At first glance, the “No to the word N.O.” parenting style makes sense. It seems kind, non-judgmental, and most significant, other parents are doing it. But maybe it’s not as simple as being a kind, nice, approving parent, maybe your kids need to hear “no” sometimes.
Let me be upfront about where I stand on this issue, you may have guessed but I am a big proponent of using the word “no.” I always try to couple the N.O. word with explanations, but sometimes a simple “no” is just fine and warranted, especially when your kid is old enough to understand.

Tip #3: Let your kids hear “No” from you first.

While the theory behind eliminating the N.O. word proclaims more opportunity, better decision-making and the belief that a stand-alone “No” doesn’t properly address issues of safety and boundaries, the reality is your kids are going to hear the word from the outside world; other parents, kids, teachers, etc. They are going to face rejection. They are going to cross boundaries and these situations will often be coupled with the word no. So, my question is, why not have the first person they hear “no” from be you, the person they love?

Tip #4: Couple the N.O. word with explanations.

I understand why parents think saying “No” is final and harsh, but “No” coupled with explanations is a healthy way for you to show boundaries, unacceptable behavior and to teach your kids their own personal boundaries. Children should know that the word ‘no’ can help fend off harmful and coercive behavior from others. Children should know that a verbal “no” should be treated as a finality, especially for personal, physical boundaries. If your kids never hear the word no from you, I fear they will never respect the implications. They may be the kids who push others’ boundaries and be weaker to coercive behavior from others.

Tip #5: Don’t run away from issues as a way to avoid saying “No.”

Your kids will be tougher if they don’t always get what they want-if they don’t always get the ice cream cone. They won’t be tougher if you just run away from the truck and you don’t face them with a “No, you can’t have that because its dinner time… No, you can’t have that because you smacked Sally in the face”. Without learning the importance of the N.O. word your kids may become people who are either peer-pressured or the peer-pressurer’s.
So, use the word no and explain to your kids why you are saying “no” to that action or thing, prepare them for the real world, isn’t that what we are supposed to do as parents and nannies?


Become comfortable with the word “No”.

1. First off become comfortable and confident that saying ‘no’ to your children is sometimes necessary and that your limitations will provide them with future awareness of boundaries and unacceptable behavior.
2. This means accepting the fact that tantrums will occur: when the tantrum happens simply ignore it-if you think other parents are watching and judging, remember that they have kids too and have likely dealt with tantrums.
3. Saying ‘no’ does not hinder your child’s decision making-process as long as you discuss the issues with her. Make your child apart of the discussion.

Successfully use the N.O. word.
1. Always couple the word ‘no’ with a follow up explanation, even if your child is an infant (they understand more than we think.)
2. At the point where you and your child can converse, I recommend asking your child why he thinks he can’t do or have a certain thing (if this action has previously been discussed.)
3. Make sure the people in your household (you, your partner and nanny) are consistent with acceptable and unacceptable behavior and treats. You will see quicker response and acknowledgment from your child when everyone is on the same page.


Remembering why the “N.O.” word is important:
1. Teaches your kids boundaries for others and themselves.
2. Your kids will hear ‘no’ from other people, so prepare them for the real world.
3. “No” is a quick way for your kid to set boundaries, now, in the sandbox, and later, in high school and college.