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.


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