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Blurred Lines: Where do Boundaries Begin and End with a Nanny Job

Ten Boundary Busters between Nannies and Families

Thanks to Fräulein Maria, reruns of The Nanny, and Ben Affleck’s philandering, most people conjure ideas of a romance between an employer and their kid’s nanny when they think of boundaries being crossed in this profession. While it may happen in rare cases, in our experience it is more likely that potential angst on the side of the parent is over the close bond between their children and nanny, rather than anything to do with their partner. In this case, the stereotype is (almost always) far juicier than the reality.

The most common situations where boundaries are crossed between a nanny and family are just that – common. It is due to this commonplace nature that so many instances go unchecked. That is until a simple, and usually avoidable, breakdown in communication results in the nanny and family making the decision to part ways.

Emily Dills, founder of Seattle Nanny Network, Inc., says that when clients call with a concern over their nanny’s performance, the first thing she asks is whether the nanny is aware of the issue. Often, they admit they haven’t even discussed it yet. This approach can ultimately result in the parents choosing to fire their nanny over an issue never their employee was never made aware of.  Nannies too, are guilty of concealing their frustrations over work-related grievances, fearing they could jeopardize their position if they spoke up. The nature of this work is unique. The industry is largely unregulated, and parents do not always see themselves as employers. Unlike almost all other professions, the nanny has no manager or HR department to mediate complaints when they arise.

So what are some typical examples of boundaries being crossed? Here you go:

1. No sleeping on the job

Can you imagine if your office job allowed a paid nap break? Don’t let your boss find you drooling on the couch while their four-month-old naps. Baby monitor cranked all the way up or not, you might want to clear that first.

2. Stop with the “scope creep!”

Almost every nanny has experienced the notorious scope creep: agreeing to a specific job for a specific amount of money, then months later finding the work has magically multiplied while the pay has not. It is one of the fastest ways to create job dissatisfaction for a nanny, yet something so completely avoidable. If you as an employer realize your needs have changed, address them with your nanny and pay them accordingly if additional duties are added to their workload.

3. Keep your clothes on

You’d think this would go without saying, but there are more than a few people who find nothing wrong with walking around in a towel (or less!) while the nanny is on duty. It doesn’t matter if you have abs of steel or look like Jabba the Hut. It’s always inappropriate.

4. Decline (no, I don’t want to be your friend!)

Social media accounts are very personal, and adding your boss or nanny to your friends list not only blurs the lines of professionalism but is an open invitation for snooping and oversharing.

5. Yes, I belong to the 1% and no you can’t ask me for more

Many times nannies will state what their salary range is prior to an interview, then raise their price considerably once they visit a prospective employer’s home for an interview. They have been known to frivolously spend the petty cash or rack up their work credit card because they feel their employer should be able to afford it. Just because an employer is affluent doesn’t mean they throw money around.

6. I’m paying you to watch my kids, not your phone

Pretty self-explanatory, and the biggest complaint we hear from family employers.

7. I’m not your therapist

Nannies often get stuck in the position of a family therapist, and it is one of the most uncomfortable situations to be in. Whether an employer has had a tiff with their partner, is in the midst of a nasty divorce, or has some other family drama it is not fair for them to dump that on their nanny or even worse, expect them to take a side.

8. Just tell me if there’s a nanny cam

Fewer things destroy trust levels faster than discovering you’ve been filmed without your knowledge. If a parent feels the need to have a nanny cam, there is no reason why that shouldn’t be disclosed to the nanny. In this digital age of connectivity, video monitoring is not only accessible but often welcomed by the nanny, who fully supports your desire to know what the kids are up to when you’re not home. Professional nannies know that video monitoring protects them as well, and are almost always amenable as its

9. The playdate is for my kids, not you

Playdates are naturally social for both children and adults, but there is a big difference between a nanny meeting up with other nannies or parents for an actual playdate versus lunching with their friends or significant other with their charges in tow…especially if their employer is picking up the tab.

10. Who is in charge when everyone’s home?

Both the parents and nanny tend to cross the line on this one. It is crucial to have consistency and mutual support, especially in front of the kids. One of the main ways this gets derailed is when one party undermines the other. If a nanny has worked all afternoon to curb a difficult situation that required disciplinary guidance, it can be maddening to have the parents come home and undo all that hard work. It is also a major point of contention when the nanny oversteps their role and offers unsolicited advice to the parents on how to parent.

Every family has different parameters they are comfortable with, which is why communication is so critical. What was allowed and even encouraged by one family might be considered a huge offense to another. Nannies should make sure to ask how their bosses would like things managed, and employers need to set clear expectations and boundaries with their nannies from the start. Most importantly, both parties need to be forthcoming if things develop over time that either one of them isn’t comfortable with so that issues can be resolved quickly and smoothly.

Success can be had and the vast majority of stories are positive, but clear communication and expectations from the onset are the key to avoiding conflict later.

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