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What is a Nanny?

by Ruth Riley, Inc.

Looking for a nanny position? Heard conflicting stories about what a nanny is? Want to know what a nanny does and how to become one? Want to learn how to improve your chances for success? Then read on.

Nannies must have the child or children in their care and their welfare as their unqualified primary concern. Any task which is directly related to childcare can be within the realm of a nanny's job description; however, the circumstances of the family - i.e., number of children, ages of children and hours of the job are all factors which also need to be taken into consideration when determining if the job requirements are reasonable. While you should look forward to "fun" time with your charges during each day; you should generally expect to also perform various daily tasks (straightening up after the meals you cook, doing the children's laundry, making the children's beds, helping them pick-up at the end of the day etc.) which, while not the most enjoyable part of each day, are reasonable expectations and a practical need for busy parents.

A nanny is more than a babysitter! Nannies are expected to participate in the social, emotional, and intellectual development of their charges, and will work with the child(ren) on such areas a language development, potty training, social manners, homework, and more. Most families request that a nanny make a minimum commitment of one year to the job. This is to make sure that the children have continuity in their childcare. Candidates who do not feel that they can commit to a year might consider other types of childcare work until they are comfortable with the commitment.

Before you apply to become a nanny you should ask yourself the following questions to judge your suitability for the work:

  • Are you patient? Can you handle 8-10 hours on a stretch with a small child, perhaps with no other adult companionship? Are you reliable and trustworthy?
  • Are you flexible enough to perform your childcare responsibilities according to the family's rules?
  • Are you a self-starter with initiative who can organize his/her day to accomplish all required tasks, while not neglecting your charge(s)?
  • Do you have good communication skills? Are you able to address child and work related issues with the parents in a professional and pro-active manner? The most common reason families and nannies part ways is poor communication skills.

With children, things do not always go according to plan. Are you adaptable and flexible enough to change your routine to accommodate the sick child, for example, or the lost sneakers when you are on a deadline, without becoming upset? Being a nanny is hard work, but very rewarding. Make sure you are ready for the realities.

It is true that many nanny job descriptions also include tasks not related to the child or children. When reviewing various families' job descriptions, don't automatically exclude every family who has included non-child related tasks, simply because you are not interested in performing any non-child related tasks. You should know that few families are experienced at hiring nannies - or at creating job descriptions. This means that while they will probably agree with you that your primary focus must be their children, they may not have always taken the time to think about how that translates into what should be expected from you. You must not be afraid to speak up if you feel that family expectations are unrealistic. This is a discussion to have before you accept the job and begin working. Discussing with prospective employers that performing non-childcare related tasks will take you away from what feel must be your primary focus - the care and nurturing of their child/ren is not inappropriate and may cause them to reconsider the job description.

The bottom line is this: It is to everyone's mutual benefit that you and your prospective family develop a set of job responsibilities (whatever they end up including) which are clear and which you are comfortable with. Never agree to take on tasks which you are either unqualified to perform or which you know you will relegate to the bottom of the list, never to get done or done properly. It is much better to simply state that you can not manage to get the hang of laundry, than to agree to perform the task and repeatedly do a miserable job. You may eliminate some or many positions by not agreeing to perform tasks which are commonly considered "typical" within the profession, but that is still preferable to accepting a job with a weekly ironing requirement, only to find out too late that no matter how awesome you are with your charges, the parents can't escape the fact that you cannot get the clothes ironed satisfactorily and the position ends on a bad note, with everyone disappointed.

Nannies are not "one size fits all". There are many different nanny styles, just as there are many different family styles. Look for the family that fits your style and happy shopping!

TIP: If the family you are considering working for has hired a nanny or nannies before, consider asking to speak with the individual or individuals in order to gain a clearer picture about what a typical day or week is like. Think about how you feel about performing the tasks he or she describes and ask questions about the family's willingness to be flexible if there appears to be fairly tight or rigid schedule to adhere to. Try to get a feel for what the family's true priorities are. You may use the Family Reference Form from to help you. If, on the other hand, the family has never hired a nanny, it may be helpful to suggest that the proposed job description be re-visited after a month and perhaps again at three months, in order to make any necessary adjustments.'s Ruth Riley has many years of personal and professional experience with nanny care. Ms. Riley is the working mother of three, an attorney, and nanny agency operator. is a unique nanny and family job matching service, offered at a fraction of the price of traditional nanny referral services.

SUGGESTED READING: The Professional Nanny by Monica Bassett