ask the readers: what are the professional boundaries when managing our nanny?

I’m throwing this one out to readers to help with. A reader writes:

I have a question about managing a person who works in one’s home and how the employer/employee relationship and boundaries might need to be handled differently when the employee is more familiar with an employer’s personal and home life.

Last fall, I hired a part-time in-home nanny to care for my infant child. She has her own home and comes to us about 30 hours per week. It was difficult to find someone that was a good fit for us, and finally through a friend-of-a-friend recommendation we were connected to Eloise.

In my previous career I was a manager who led hiring for my organization, so I translated those processes when I hired for this position: I created a job description, held full-on in-person interviews, conducted reference and background checks, clearly communicated wages and benefits, followed tax rules, etc. I’ve also made sure to have a semi-formal check in with her at least monthly on how things are going and we recently had a “six-month review” of sorts to talk about adding more hours and checking in on how she’s feeling about the role, etc. Everything seemed to be really great for both her and my family.

Eloise is an exceptional child care provider and I appreciate that as a new mother I learn things from her along the way. She has also been very professional in her role: she is very communicative if she’s running late due to traffic or not feeling well, keeps a journal of her activities with my child, and we have both been flexible with the schedule as needed. I feel very grateful to have found such an excellent care provider.

There are two parts that feels tricky to me: One is that because she is in our home, which is a small urban space, she’s seen more of my life and more of my body than most employees normally would. For example, early on when she started with us I needed to pump breastmilk before I left for work. I asked her if she minded me pumping in the living room (where I usually pump) or if she’d prefer I use the bathroom. She said it was fine with her and added something along the lines of recognizing the “intimacy” of being a care provider in someone’s home. Since then I’ve pumped in front of her a number of times and it never seems to be an issue (she has a background in child birth and seems very comfortable with the human body).

That said, is this a line that shouldn’t be crossed in this sort of employee/employer relationship? I mean, “seeing one’s boss’s breasts” is not something I would consider professional, but at the same time given the circumstances, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. Have I undermined my role or set anything up to be more difficult in the future by being so relaxed about pumping in front of an employee?

The second issue is that I’m having a harder time finding where to keep the line on wanting Eloise to feel like she is an important part of our family, without being so friendly that it’s difficult to address performance issues. There aren’t any major performance issues currently, but I know I’ve struggled with this as a manager in the past so I feel a sense of obligation to be more mindful of it.

Part of this concerns stems from Eloise being the kind of person I would normally want to be friends with. We are close to the same age, have similar interests and share similar political views. There are times when we’ve had discussions that have strayed into more personal non-childcare related anecdotes or opinions that I’ve reflected on later and wondered if they were appropriate. Usually I am careful to keep the conversation on neutral topics like television/movies, current events, and “how was your weekend” type of discussions, but one time we somehow ended up talking about how I years ago I had been part of a women’s sexuality discussion group.

On the one hand, I see having a more personal relationship as a way to connection as part of our relationship to my child, and to ensure she feels like she is an important part of our family, but I recognize this can get into a gray area very quickly (the latter example possibly being one of those times)! I am not sure how to know if we are being “too friendly” in the context of this intimate employment relationship. And should I even need her to feel like she is “part of our family”?

Do you have any advice about how to better mentally frame this type of employee/employer relationship? Should I consider it the same as any other employer/employee relationships or are there some unique things to keep in mind that might help me navigate as a manager the reality of how much more personal this relationship is?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 157 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. CR

    I was a professional full-time nanny for 10 years. And yes, someone who is caring for your child SHOULD feel like part of the family. It’s a very unique employer-employee relationship that does cross boundaries that would seem completely unprofessional in any other business setting, but that’s the nature of the job. You really can’t approach it the way you would approach a regular subordinate in the office. I would feel strange if my employer wasn’t open with me, because I am so deeply involved in something so personal to her: raising her child. And I actually really liked it when I was friends with my bosses. It felt good to know I was working for someone who cared about me as a person.

    I’ve seen breastfeeding boobs, I’ve accidentally found sex toys and condoms, I’ve been present for marital arguments, I’ve seen confidential financial documents left on the kitchen table. It never really bothered me. You just have to get used to the fact that someone who works in your home will be all up in your business to a certain degree.

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    1. Kah2218

      I have never commented before, but I felt like I could definitely add perspective. I use an in-home sitter and have for the past 8 years. She has become one of my best friends. Why? Simple: TRUST. Because unlike the revolving door of daycare employees, she is a constant in my kids’ lives. If something is going on in my life, she is one of the first to know. What affects me affects my kinds as well, and she is on a need to know basis in that regard. With this you cannot help but form a bond. This is how this relationship can become completely different. It is not just an “employee” as it a intimate person in your personal life. You pay for their services, but you certainly never sit them down in meetings to discuss issues. You end speaking to them like you would your sister or close friend. If you had an issue with the way your sister friend handled something with your kids, you wouldn’t call a performance review meeting. Same thing with a nanny. You have to trust them to that level and so do your kids! You also to enforce with your children to have a high level of respect for this person. So I would recommend dropping all of managing an employee and begin to look at it as developing a personal and trusting relationship. Gone should be those days of “hired help” in these regards as this is where children first learn how to respect and love outside of their family. I have always looked at it as a great way to teach them love and respect!

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      1. Book Lover

        Perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I definitely have meetings with my nanny to discuss issues. My nanny is part of my family in a way, but she has a contract and I don’t anticipate she will stay with us forever. In fact, she will be reducing her hours soon to take care of a new grandchild.

        My mother used to take care of my son and I didn’t feel I could talk to her about what she fed him or tv/screen time because I wasn’t paying her and she was doing me a favor. My nanny is paid and I can tell her how I want her to do her job and I can tell her forthrightly when I have concerns.

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        1. Anon today...and tomorrow

          My nanny stopped sitting for me years ago. It doesn’t mean she stopped being in our lives.
          I understand your point that the nanny is paid and you are her employer and should be able to tell her how you want the job done. Absolutely! But this is a job where the line between employer and employee gets blurred and most times it’s ok. I wanted my nanny to feel like family to my kids and to myself. I cared (and still care!) about her. I wanted her to care about us. I wanted her emotionally invested in her job.
          The wonderful part of this is that she became family without the preexisting baggage that came along with my actual family. I could tell my nanny “Hey! I know it’s weird but I don’t want my kids having hard candy unless there’s a stick attached and even then I want them seated to eat it.” and I knew that she would say “Ok” and do it. Unlike my sister who would laugh at me and question my choices before saying “ok…I’ll do it, but I think it’s weird and your kids are going to have issues.” (Ask me which one of us has a kid who choked on a hard candy and had to have the Heimlich done?!?)

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          1. Sled dog mama

            Yes, I had a nanny growing up. And she is still part of my life, if I still lived in my hometown I probably would have hired her for my daughter.

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          2. Sassy Sally

            From being a nanny and my roommate for several years also being a nanny, this is completely normal. The kids my old roommate nannied were in and at her wedding, they’re that close. It’s a special relationship for sure and I have been blessed with some excellent nanny families and others not-so-great. The best treated me like I was part of the family. The worst were over-protective and wanted more of a maid in their home. But I think CR nailed it here!

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            1. Ted Mosby

              My little bugger used to ask if she could be my flower girl all the time. It always made me laugh because I couldn’t explain to a five year old “I know your aunties all got married at 25 but TerribleEx is not going to propose until you’re 13 at the youngest.”

              The current Mr. Ted is much more together, and although I no longer nanny for B., I do plan on having her as a jr bridesmaid . She’s the first kid I loved as she grew from an infant into her own little person and I will always love her so freaking much.

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    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I was a nanny in college, but at that time I didn’t know much about professionalism. I lived in the house, and I became a part of the family. I was unpaid (they offered, I thought room and board was adequate pay), and the parents kind of became surrogate parents to me. I don’t know that that is a good way to do it, but I do know it’s a way that can work. I learned to discipline in the way they wanted, learned to cook the foods the girls wanted, helped do chores around the house.

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      1. Natasha

        I was a babysitter in high school, and the kids’ parents felt like mentors to me. I agree with everyone that childcare is a deeper relationship than employee/employer, and often very important to the caregiver too, especially if they are younger.

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    3. Helen

      I was also a professional full-time nanny for a few years, and completely agree with this. Hiring a nanny is part hiring an employee and part hiring a family member. This is just part of the nature of the job, and part of what you want to look for in hiring a nanny is someone you feel comfortable welcoming into your family. It is unavoidable that your personal lives will overlap because having a nanny caring for your child in your home is by definition very personal.
      You and your nanny need to share values in a way that you don’t necessarily need to with employees in an office. You need to be on the same page in terms of parenting choices and that kind of thing. Developing a good nanny/employer relationship means opening up to that person and letting them into your life, because that is what allows the nanny to be successful at her job.

      I don’t think you need to worry too much about feeling friendly with your nanny. That’s a good thing in this particular case. Also, nannies won’t blink an eye over breastfeeding or anything like that. I saw my employer without all her clothes many times. I washed the family’s laundry, including “unmentionables.” I even shopped for bras for my boss! (OK maybe that was a little unusual). I handled breastmilk and saw it being made. I was there during labor while they were having their second child and was the first person outside of the parents and doctors to see the second child after she was born. That I was part of the family in this way strengthened my ability to do my job, not weakened it.

      As far as handling “performance issues,” if you truly have actual performance issues, beyond just “hey, can you do this task differently?” or something minor like that, that also should be handled differently than a usual office setting. You have to have an extremely high level of trust in your nanny’s judgement–and if anything happens that puts cracks in that trust, it’s probably going to undermine the effectiveness of the nanny. I can’t imagine most parents would tolerate for very long behavior that causes them to not trust their nanny or think she isn’t doing a good job, no matter how friendly things have gotten. And for minor things, if you have a good rapport and relationship with your nanny, asking something to be done a little differently or some minor correction really shouldn’t be a big deal.

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    4. Parenthetically

      And on the other side… I was a nanny in a situation where the employer viewed me purely and solely as an employee, and didn’t even disclose basic things about the kids that directly impacted their behavior, their interactions with me and her and one another, and it was incredibly strange and awkward. I was caring for her family and was treated like a total outsider — explicitly, even! — to the point that she insisted her children refer to me as “the babysitter” and not “our babysitter” or “our nanny” lest they get too attached. Not ideal for anyone.

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  2. HR Manager

    First off, let me say I’m jelly that you can afford an in-home nanny. :)

    I think you’re doing a great job with your nanny. To your first question, pumping in front of her (especially since she has said it’s ok), is OK! Childcare is not like office work and you could say wiping your boss’s baby’s bum is not usual but childcare is a different beast. I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

    Also, just because she is your nanny doesn’t mean she isn’t a person! In office environments, managers and staff often discuss ‘personal’ things like what they did over the weekend, important college classes, or even social groups they may be involved in. I don’t think you should be a robot or a hard-lined boss with her.

    I will also say, as a mother of a 2 year old myself, I want to have that close and friendly relationship with my son’s childcare providers so in-case something does come up regarding my son, they feel comfortable sharing with me. I think you are creating a good relationship with her and not blurring the lines at all.

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  3. Jabes

    It seems like this is an excellent, functional, working relationship for both of you, and it’s great that you prioritize the “professional” aspect of a type of employment that I think can easily get dicey. There are plenty of industries where you end up seeing people’s bodies as part of the work, and while it’s true that it’s not usually your direct employer’s body that you’re seeing, it is easy to compartmentalize it, and most importantly, you made it very clear that you could pump privately if Eloise was more comfortable and she made it clear that she wasn’t uncomfortable with it.

    And personal or political discussions are part of every workplace. You are treating your employee extremely well and you get along. That’s great.

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    1. Woosicle

      I agree 100%. It sounds like OP is comfortable and happy with her relationship with the nanny. I have no experience being a nanny (or employing one) but my thought is it makes more sense to have someone who feels more like a member of the family taking care of your child. If OP is not sure how the nanny feels about the relationship or the current boundaries, it’s always a good idea to check in but it sounds like this is already being done. I’m glad things are working out so well and I hope they continue to be this way!

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    2. Sarah

      I agree. You can compare it to other in-home caretakers as well — for example, someone who is hired to be an in-home caretaker for someone who is very ill might also see various body parts and help with intimate activities for their employer that would be out of bounds in a regular office job, but that’s simply part of that particular job. With pumping/breastfeeding, I think if she’s comfortable with it, it’s perfectly fine.

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      1. the_scientist

        I agree too! If you’re hiring an in-home carer for an ill relative/spouse (or for yourself!) they are going to see parts of your body that wouldn’t be appropriate for an employee to see in any other type of relationship. They are in your home for many hours a day, and it’s natural that they will be witness to aspects of your life that it would not be appropriate to share with office-based employees.

        I think the way to best maintain and show professionalism with an employee like this is how OP is already doing it- being fair and transparent about wages and benefits, following tax laws, checking in regularly, and discussing hours in advance. Unprofessional behaviour would, IMO, be simply expecting the nanny to pick up extra hours whenever you feel like it and being upset when she declines because she has her own life.

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      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I think this is exactly the right framework. As others have noted, there are all sorts of professions where it’s totally normal for someone to see parts of your body. So as long as that “exposure” isn’t harassing or predatory or otherwise discomfiting, I think it’s ok.

        With respect to boundaries, the boundaries are certainly different, but I do think it’s on OP to be aware. With someone who’s as intimately involved in your life, it’s really easy to forget that there’s still an inherent power imbalance between you and your nanny. Striking a balance between being inclusive and overstepping is really difficult. You can always ask her what feels appropriate/ok to her, also. She sounds experienced, and I think she’d be able to tell you what has made her uncomfortable in the past.

        And I think the check-ins are actually super normal. I wouldn’t frame it as a “performance review,” but it’s ok for them to include performance-review-type-issues. I also think biweekly/weekly/monthly (one of those, not all three) check-ins are good and will give you a structured time to determine what’s working for you both and what’s not. Good luck, OP!

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    3. MillersSpring

      OP, it sounds like you are doing a great job of mixing a professional relationship with personal conversations. My only advice is that you throttle back what you reveal in the personal conversations.

      That’s where to draw the line. Though you may wish to cross it occasionally, save those times for very thoughtful revelations.

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    4. Hey Nonnie

      Home health aids are typically hired by the patient/client, to my understanding, so that’s one example where the employee will see quite a bit of their employer’s body — generally more than just pumping breast milk.

      I think the care industry is closer to the medical industry than it is to a typical office environment, so an increased level of, for lack of a better term, clinical intimacy is perfectly normal.

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  4. Amy

    Something like this is very different by nature than an office environment. I don’t think it’s possible or necessary to apply the same standards.

    If you’re not sure if you’re crossing lines, what about talking about it with her? It sounds like your conversation over breastfeeding went really well–you gave her room to opt out, she let you know it was fine, and it’s been fine since. Alternatively (or maybe additionally), it sounds like you found Eloise via friends–if you know other people who employ nannies, you might talk to them about what they do, to get a sense of what’s ‘normal’ here.

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  5. Fine line

    If you are concerned about the pumping there are more options besides living room and bathroom. How about your bedroom? That’s the first place I thought of.

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    1. Maeve

      As a former nanny, I have seen so many boobs of breastfeeding moms in my life! It’s part of the job. (Not that someone shouldn’t pump in private if that’s how they’re more comfortable.)

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      1. Jessi

        I wanted to chime in and say that I’m a nanny (career nanny!) and I’ve seen plenty of my bosses boobs when they pump or breastfeed their bubba’s. nannying is totally a profession where it’s going to happen and it’s very normal!

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  6. Sassy AE

    While it’s not as intimate as a nanny my aunt cleaned houses for many years. She had a good relationship with most of her clients (she’s extremely outgoing and friendly), but I remember one client, Jen, who overstepped a little and tried to be my aunt’s friend rather than employer. She would buy her things for her kids, and ask her to get lunch and things. Nothing like… terrible, but including the fact that my aunt needed her business definitely inappropriate.

    I think the onus is on the employer in this situation to maintain boundaries, but I think you should also cut yourself some slack. The fact that you’re thinking about this is really half the battle. As long as you don’t start seeing her as a “friend,” but are able to maintain “friendly” (so like… let’s chat about Wonder Woman for 5 or so minutes, but I’m not going to invite you to see Thor: Ragnarok with me). You should be fine. That’s about the level of closeness I have with my bosses, anyway.

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    1. TCO

      I think you make a good point here–if your socializing is during the nanny’s work hours, such as for a few minutes at the beginning or end of the day, that’s really different than hanging out for hours outside of work. That doesn’t seem like an unhealthy situation at all, and wouldn’t be dissimilar to the social connection I’ve had with many bosses in office settings.

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    2. Grits McGee

      Talking and conversation vs actions ( social invitations, personal gifts) sounds like a really helpful way to delineate between friendly-but-professional vs. overstepping.

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    3. Misquoted

      I agree that some of this is just the nature of the situation. We have a house-cleaner whom I met through a HS friend (they are engaged). We chit-chat like you would with any employee/coworker at an office. I’ve asked her for advice about my grandson (she has small kids and it’s been a while since my kids were small), etc. When she’s cleaning, she sees evidence of my partner’s illness, which might seem personal but hey, if you are cleaning a bathroom, you are going to see meds that are sitting out, etc.

      We haven’t actually discussed his illness, but as I’m getting together socially with some HS friends soon, and she will be there, she will hear others ask me about his health. That’s okay, and I’m sure nothing will change with our professional relationship.

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    4. N

      Never been a nanny/hired a nanny, but I think you might be right, Sassy AE. On the one hand, I can see the point that you want the nanny to feel like part of the family, but on the other hand, things can get a little weird if you don’t maintain the professional boundaries.

      My example: I had a boyfriend from a very wealthy family. His family had a housekeeper, as you describe above, who had kids who were the same age as my boyfriend and his siblings. The families were very friendly and the kids socialized together a lot. When I was dating boyfriend (we were in our early twenties) he would often refer to the housekeeper and her family as their friends but didn’t understand that there was a somewhat paternalistic relationship there. I had to explain to him that because his family was paying he housekeeper and, by extension, paying for braces, clothes, food, for the other family, their friendship wasn’t exactly the same as it would be with anyone else, and the housekeeper and her family were being kind, in part, because they literally had no other choice. He didn’t get it–like he seemed to think the housekeeper cleaned the house out of the kindness of her heart, or something.

      tldr; I don’t think it’s a bad thing for the child/children to learn that the housekeeper is a person with a life outside their own, and while you can be friendly, they’re doing a job and need to be respected as an employee or contractor–they’re not just there for “fun.”

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    5. LNZ

      See i feel like that’s a lesson that can be applied to all job, not just these specific in house ones. I have had bosses that i socialize a bunch with during hours and even think of as (work) friends. But it’d be weird to socialize out of hours and it only felt ok in the office cause i trusted them to be professional too.

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  7. Mary Dempster

    1. Pumping is fine. Breastfeeding in public is fine, so I don’t see why doing it in your own home in front of someone familiar with childcare needs. No issues there.

    I can’t really comment on how to manage a person you know so intimately, but I do know that the nannies I grew up with are pretty much my second mothers, or aunts, or at the very least good friends. I am close with them, still communicate with them regularly, and even act as mentors for their children(who are younger than I am). From my perspective, I couldn’t imagine my life without some of these women, and it’s A-OK to have a closer relationship with them than the normal employee-employer relationship.

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    1. Thoughts

      I agree with the first paragraph. Try to think of pumping and breastfeeding as just that. It isn’t that you’re walking around topless around an employee, but you are feeding your child. If you are both comfortable with it, then try not to worry about it. I’d also argue that might be the nature of the position of being an in-home nanny to a young baby with a nursing mother.

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      1. blackcat

        +1 to pumping/breastfeeding being about feeding the kid, rather than about being partially nude.

        I’m in academia, and we can be a bit… bad with boundaries/professionalism, so take this with a grain of salt. One time I was meeting with a colleague to work on a paper together. She was a very new mom (the baby was 6 or 7 weeks old). About 10 minutes into our meeting, she just blurted, “My boobs really hurt and I need to pump NOW. I have a hands-free set up and we can continue our work, if you are comfortable with that. We can also take a break, but I’d personally prefer to keep working since I have a lot on my plate today.” We were “in the zone” so to speak, getting a lot done. So I totally got her not wanting to interrupt that and slow down the rest of her day.

        And so we continued to work side by side with her sitting there, with one boob out (and then the other), pumping. I doubt she would have done that with a male colleague, but it was fine for the two of us.

        YMMV, but I’m a strong proponent of treating breastfeeding & pumping as no big deal.

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        1. Mary Dempster

          I saw a picture of a woman who made a nursing cover with breasts all over it that she would use when people would tell her to cover up. It’s so genius.

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      2. LizB

        Agreed with all of this! I’d love it if breastfeeding and pumping were widely considered as banal as eating a sandwich or packing a lunchbox… because functionally, that’s what you’re doing. I know our culture really isn’t there yet, and not everyone agrees with me, but anyone who decides to work as a nanny for an infant has to know they’re signing on for maybe some baby-feeding happening in front of them, which might include breasts. It’s not widely accepted in most workplaces at this point, but in this field it should absolutely be no big deal.

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    2. LNZ

      Same. I work in an office and I’ve totally seen a coworkers breast when she was pumping post maternity leave. It’s not like she was just whipping them out or anything, pumping has a purpose (she also used a cover up but i mean things happen, it’d slip off or i turned around at the exact moment she was getting resituated).

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  8. Elle

    I did a breastfeeding session at the day care we use when I was visiting to get my son settled in prior to him actually starting at full time day care. I would have been comfortable breastfeeding other times if the schedule had worked out and I know other moms with two kids have done breastfeeding there while letting their older child play a little longer with their friends. I know the day care has also had to negotiate dealing with divorced parents or parents who are in the process of going through a divorce – who has custody, are there other family members who are explicitly allowed to pick up the child, etc. It’s more intimate and that’s with a day care center, not in my home.

    I also grew up with hired help – part time carers for me, a lady that came to clean our house regularly, a hand man I would say “Hey Joe, how’s it going” to him as I went through the kitchen after school. The relationship is definitely different from a regular office setting. Maybe not as intimate as a nanny, but different.

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  9. Karen D

    I have been navigating these EXACT issues with my mom’s in-home caregiver. I took the same kinds of cautions at first (interviews, background checks, a written contract with lots of details, etc.) but now it’s starting to feel more like the caregiver is part of the family, and I’m worried about how we’ll handle things the first time we have a major conflict (so far anything that might have been a conflict has been resolved easily and quickly; I’m really lucky because she is frankly amazing.)

    I’m definitely tuned into this thread for the day!

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    1. Karen D

      (well, not the pumping thing, obviously, LOL, but the greater questions of how much intimacy is too much.)

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    2. Manders

      Same here! My mom’s caregivers are great people, and part of the service they provide is making sure my mom has some company during the day. It’s a type of employer/employee relationship I’ve never dealt with before; my office-mates are nice people, but they’re not paid to talk to me.

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    3. Liz Lemon's Assistant

      We’ve had a nanny watch our twins in our home for two years and, she was already a family friend, but THE BEST advice I can give is to address issues quickly. Take a day or night to think it over, discuss it with your partner, etc. to make sure you’re not being to micro-managing, but then just say what you’d like, “I’d like if my mom has fruit with her lunch every day,” “When you wash the towels, can you please use a dryer sheet?,” whatever! It’s such an intimate relationship that YOU do not want to build up resentment to someone who is in your home every day or in your loved one’s home every day. I want us to get along, address any issues or make clarifications quickly, and move on. In those moments, you can always ask the caregiver if there’s anything they need from you. Good luck!

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      1. Jessi

        Part of your comment really resonates with me. It IS so much better to just speak up and ask for something to be done a certain way! Otherwise what tends to happen is you get really frustrated, hit breaking point and blow up!

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  10. Janet

    Tina Fey addressed this very issue in Bossypants. She has a whole essay about how she has no problem managing the entire staff of a TV show but is unsure of how to treat the woman who cares for her kids because this is a woman who’s caring for her children. It’s a messy area. I had a nanny for my oldest child and to be honest, I let some things slide for the greater good. They were minor for the most part. For example, she was late quite often. Not enough that our jobs were on the line but enough to be an inconvenience some mornings. But I didn’t say anything because she was caring for my kid and did an overall great job with that. She was teaching my baby sign language, getting him to eat solid foods, taking care of him when he was ill, using cloth diapers when he had diarrhea and diaper rash – being 15 minutes late could slide because she did the other things well.

    So no real answers really. I couldn’t apply the same rules that I did for people I manage at work. They don’t use my bathroom, they don’t see me cry in the morning when I’m overwhelmed about everything that needs to be done. They are entrusted with data entry and not the care and development of my offspring. The same rules don’t apply.

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    1. Book Lover

      I do the same in terms of little and big stuff. I have fifteen minutes between when my nanny is supposed to arrive and when I am supposed to leave. She is almost never on time but always arrives before I am supposed to leave and is safe, reliable, does a good job.

      It isn’t worth it to me to push about the exact minute when she arrives. On the other hand, I did talk to her early on about not being on the phone while she was watching my daughter, and that was important to me, was received without an issue, and done.

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    2. Michael Scarn

      Yes! I was thinking of that part from Bossypants when I read this post! Tina Fey’s solution was to wait for her daughter to grow old enough to tell the nanny to change her behavior…haha!

      Reply
  11. Masha

    Over time, we have had a few in-home nannies for my two kids. I understand the awkwardness of the pumping situation, but think of the nanny as a nurse. What you’re doing isn’t particularly intimate, you’re making food. It’s part of your shared role of feeding the baby.

    Regarding the “part of the family” question, I always invited the nanny over for the kids’ birthday parties and shared anecdotes about weekends and my extended family and friends. I am now good friends with a former nanny, but would have felt more awkward about it if she was still my employee.

    Reply
  12. EA

    I nannied all through college. I am still friends with many of the families, and didn’t ever really feel like an employee. This is something that developed over time.

    Maybe this isn’t something I should admit on a work website, but I don’t think you really need professional boundaries with a nanny, especially in your situation. I think it would make it weirdly formal, when being a nanny is intimate and not formal at all. Just because you become friends with, does not mean that you can’t have a performance conversation with her, it just means that it would be more difficult. If you think the possible friendship is worth the risk of awkward, I would do it. You can tell by now how things are going, and it doesn’t seem anything super serious is likely. You probably are not going to employ her forever (I am assuming), so getting a friend out of the situation could be worth it.

    Reply
    1. flibbertyG

      The only caveat I would add to this (and generally I agree that this is a unique employment relationship and most common rules of professional etiquette likely don’t apply) is that the OP should always keep in her mind that she has more power in the relationship. It’s easy to downplay when you’re the one with the upper hand. But the nanny won’t want to jeopardize their position and so they may not feel able to push back against you quite so easily as an ordinary friend or family member does. Try to keep certain things – I’m thinking it’s probably their compensated working hours – sacred. Don’t ask them “as a friend” to do you extra favors without compensation in the same way that you would do of a friend. They may feel unable to say no in a way you don’t realize. What to you may feel like a harmless invitation or request – she is probably thinking “would I sour my income if I decline this?” Signed – someone who has worked for bosses that think we are friends.

      Reply
      1. aebhel

        Exactly this. I think you can generally have a very friendly, casual working relationship with someone you pay, as long as you always remember that there is a power imbalance there that will affect how willing that person is to push back on behavior they don’t think is appropriate.

        Reply
      2. GermanGirl

        Yes, this is important.

        Because of the power imbalance it’s perfectly ok if she says she’s going to see the new StarWars movie with some friends and would you like to tag along. But if you say the same, she might feel that she has to accept even though she’s totally not into StarWars.

        Once you’ve gone to the movies a couple of times together and you’re sure she knows she can decline, you can start to suggest going to the movies as well, but absolutely let her make the first few steps into any extension of your relationship and only assume that that is what she wants when she has done it a couple of times.

        The point is that if she didn’t like going to the movies with you (say, because for her taste you talk too much during the movie), she can just stop inviting you and you won’t put her in a situation where she has to actively decline going to the movies with you. But if you are movie compatible, she will probably ask you a second and third time and then I think you can assume that she likes your company at the movies and invite her as well.

        Reply
  13. TCO

    I have some experience working for a nanny placement agency and I agree with the others that you’re doing a great job. Nanny-family relationships are inherently different than office relationships, and it’s okay to want to establish a personal relationship with your nanny. You’re doing a good job of thinking about what boundaries would need to be in place for you to address performance issues should they come up. That boundary will be a little different for everyone, and it’s possible for a thoughtful manager to both like their employee personally and address discipline issues.

    In an office job, your employees aren’t so intrinsically linked to your personal life–sure, your job impacts your life outside of work, but your employees aren’t taking care of your most beloved family members, hanging out in your home daily, or doing your family’s laundry. That’s unavoidable with a nanny and that’s okay. The intimacy required for you to feel comfortable with this person in your home and caring for your child is a little different than the intimacy required for you to feel comfortable with your employee managing a meeting. Your nanny, too, probably feels a deep connection to your child and appreciates being treated as a valued member of your family’s caregiving team. She’s a professional and you can trust her to manage these relationships well. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      it’s possible for a thoughtful manager to both like their employee personally and address discipline issues.

      It’s also possible for an employee to both like their employer and respond well to the addressing of discipline issues.

      Reply
  14. Noah

    As long as both she and the nanny are comfortable with the situation as she describes it, she is doing nothing wrong.

    Reply
    1. Maria Wagstaffe

      This. I would just suggest checking in with your nanny every so often, lightly and say, if she ever feels that something is a bit “too much information” , it’s okay to feed that back.

      Reply
    2. Fiennes

      Agreed. This is a situation where personalities are going to play a large role; two people may bond like family, while another two may maintain a more professional distance. (I’m think of the classic upper-crust English nanny role, though I wonder how much it survives in the present day.) If LW and Eloise feel comfortable with this — and it sounds like they do — then this is a good arrangement for them.

      Reply
  15. Lucky

    Can you reframe your relationship to think of Eloise as part of your family’s team, rather than a subordinate/manager relationship, or even as a vendor/independant contractor providing a service to your family? Poor example, but we paid our plumber to re-plumb our house. He worked alongside my husband and they became friends, but I could still tell him that, no, I didn’t want a urinal in my bathroom (true story). I guess my point is, even if you are paying her and are setting the rules for caring for your child, that doesn’t have to mean that you’re the manager and she’s the worker.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      This. OP, realize that you have the final say on everything. This balances the idea that you need her to take care of your child. Kind of a level playing field. There is a give and take as you go along, there has to be because of the closeness of the work.

      My friend helped me with repair projects around the house for about two years. While not the same as pumping breast milk, I had my own version of blurred boundaries. I accidentally left out some financial information, he overheard messages on my answering machine, some mornings I was in my robe and slippers and there was a time I was in the bathroom vomiting violently. Because there was so much to do I had to confide in him a little bit about my financial picture. And he saw some pretty severe problems in my house. It’s a position of trust, I had to trust that he would not relay financial info/details about the seriousness of the problems here/ the messages on my answering machine and so on.

      People chose these jobs BECAUSE of this intimacy. They may feel that their lives are richer because of being included in our lives. Or they may feel that this fills their need to give back something meaningful in this world.

      Back to the power of final say. I wanted my friend to keep showing up and keep helping to fix this house. I was very much aware that I needed to keep him happy so he kept working. Our conversations took a collaborative tone, more so than regular workplaces, running the background was the fact that I had final say. There were times where he had to strongly recommend a project I did not want to do, he would give reasons as to why and help me to understand the importance. Where possible he would show me the problem. I agreed to the projects. There were a few projects that I asked him to do that he felt were a waste of time/money. He did them anyway. So there is this back and forth, it’s way different than what you see in a workplace.

      Had my friend not been working on my house, he would not have seen/learned many things about me. With the privilege of being invited into someone’s home to work comes some heavy responsibility. Some people find that type of connection through work to be very meaningful to them. I think that if you act detached too much it will come across as very odd.

      I chose an “as we go” method of handling things, as things came up we talked about them. Not a plan for everyone, clearly. But this might work for some people, sometimes.

      Reply
    2. JG

      I agree. I feel like the letter writer might have a healthier perspective if she considered herself to be the nanny’s client, rather than manager.

      Reply
  16. A Martin

    You’re doing great. The fact that you are thinking through these questions at all shows that you are being a considerate, upstanding employer. She will likely take her cues from you. If you are comfortable, she will be comfortable. I have had a nanny [in my home for 6 months and then we moved the operation to her house due to allergy reasons (dog) for the past 4 years]. All individuals are different, but I have found that if I addressed concerns matter-of-factly, they were handled quite well and we moved on. It was the times that I was nervous about if I was overstepping or under-communicating that she seemed uncomfortable. I think our nanny takes her cues from us…and we do the periodic “check-ins” that you’ve been doing which have put us both at ease that we know where we stand with each other. Keep up the good work!!

    Reply
  17. MommyMD

    This isn’t the office. It’s great you set up everything very professionally regarding the position. Your nanny knows she is in your home and expects you to act like you live there. Breastfeeding or pumping for an infant is a normal new mom act. Just be respectful on both sides and bring up issues between you when they are small.

    Reply
  18. Fictional Butt

    When I was growing up, my family had a nanny (similar to your situation–she didn’t live with us but she was there several days a week). She is basically a grandmother to me. My family treated her like part of the family. I can see why you’d want a bit of formality in the relationship, but I don’t think you should stress too much about maintaining a strict employer/employee relationship. This person is going to have a big impact on your child’s life and upbringing, and on your family life. Treating her like a corporate drone will be weird for everyone–especially your child.

    Reply
    1. Zathras

      I was going to post something similar – having a close personal relationship with this person is actually a huge plus. We had a nanny a few afternoons per week so my mom could work, she looked after us for many years and was basically a third grandmother. We got to know her family and later, her grandkids (much younger than us). That’s a best case scenario. I am 30 now and we still visit or take her to lunch occasionally.

      I think Fictional Butt is right, you can’t approach this the same way you would a normal employer/employee relationship. You’ll have better luck with a less formal management style, something closer to the way you negotiate stuff with your family members. If you need to ask for a change, think about how you would ask a close cousin or sibling to change their behavior while a guest at your house, and do a straightforward-but-kind version of that. Your nanny sounds great and conscientious so probably that will do it 99% of the time.

      I think in this type of relationship there is also more of “well, she’s overall great so I can live with X flaw” rather than trying to manage the person to perfection. Maybe she always replaces the toilet paper roll the Wrong Way, even though you’ve told her a few times to do it the other way. If she’s otherwise great it’s not worth firing her over toilet paper, so maybe you figure you can live with just turning the roll around when you find it like that and let the subject drop.

      Reply
      1. Fictional Butt

        Yes. I get what other commenters are saying about needing to maintain boundaries so that you can discuss problems with the nanny, and so that you don’t mistreat the nanny. But it’s also important to keep in mind that your child will probably view this person as a family member, so you’ll want to model more compassionate, cooperative behavior than you probably would with an employee.

        Reply
    2. Krista

      I agree, and in fact think sharing more about yourself and your views/values could be good, especially if it seems the nanny agrees with you on them. It’s perhaps tough to be certain before you reveal, say, “I belong to X political organization” (though maybe some of those things are obvious in your home!), but if the nanny’s views and values are similar, she might feel emboldened to talk to your kid about those issues, thus reinforcing things you care about.

      This is a super low-stakes example, but if your nanny is really into commuting by foot and bike, and it turns out that your family is also trying to be less car dependent, she might feel able to talk about that with the kid–“look, baby, all those cyclists are going to work, just like your mom does on her bike!” or whatever. I think it makes sense to share some of yourself, perhaps within reason. (I can imagine some things that would be off putting, but I dunno–why would you want someone with your kid 30 hours per week whose values are totally different from yours?)

      Reply
  19. Dzhymm, BfD

    I own a small business and I have had to deal with the employee-versus-friend thing quite a bit. With my first employee, our friendship did get in the way of our professional relationship in that I let her get away with a lot of things I shouldn’t have, and in the end I had to let her go because the professional relationsihp was beyond salvaging at that point.

    As for my current team, every one of them came to us through either personal connections or shared interests and so we hit it off really well on a personal level. That said, I have had to be much more conscious of where professional boundaries lay. There are times when, friendship or no, I have to put on the “boss” hat and deal with an issue in a dispassionate manner. There are other times (such as when someone suffered a serious loss) where I take off the boss hat and give them a hug. In cases like this I make it quite clear what mode I’m in so there is little confusion.

    This is in a retail/workshop environment, though. In your case you have the complication that being up in your personal business to a certain extent *is* part of their job, so you don’t always have the usual professional detachment. You, being the employer, should keep the notion of employer/employee boundaries in the back of your mind in all your interactions even if you’re being friendly and treating her as part of the family.

    Reply
  20. anon4now

    Just going to add to everyone here and say everything you’ve done is completely normal. I was a nanny for a family during school and have remained in touch over the years. They hired me at sort of a difficult time and become very important friends to me. You are involved in such an intimate part of their life and see them through many challenging things, it’s hard not to become close.

    Reply
  21. Rachel - HR

    Being looser in boundaries is natural for this type of employer relationship. However, please be very careful about still following the law. In my state (NYS) there are special protections for domestic workers including in the area of sexual harassment. I don’t think the breast feeding is a problem especially since you asked permission but I would avoid the discussions about your former women’s sexuality group and other sensitive topics. Whether it’s your home or not, you can still be held liable for employment laws because you are the employer.

    Reply
      1. Government Worker

        Seriously. Anyone who works with infants in a professional capacity is used to being exposed to breastfeeding and pumping. I dealt with a slew of medical and care providers in my twins’ early months, and they all considered being around nursing and pumping to be a normal part of being involved in infant care.

        Reply
        1. Woah

          Women’s sexuality, membership in a group about this subject, and normal conversation about membership in said group this is not sexual harassment and is nowhere near any type of topic OP would need to regard as “sensitive”.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth H.

            Agreed, the mere fact of membership in a women’s sexuality discussion group is almost something I would mention at work (granted I work at an art school so it’s a little different. Like I was telling my manager the other day how I like pornographic art . . . not pornography, but pornographic art . . . it came up in the context of discussing a student exhibit that included pornographic art and our thoughts on the exhibit, so it was 100% in context to say). it’s personal but as they say on NPR, it basically acknowledges the existence of sex and nothing beyond that.

            Reply
  22. Aunt Margie at Work

    This is your first child and your first nanny. You are swinging without a net; you have nothing to on but your own experience, skills and instincts. You came here to ask for tangible advice and some clear guidelines/instructions because you want to do everything right. Ok, here it goes. You are running a business with one employee Keep doing what you are doing.

    Reply
  23. Book Lover

    Everything you are doing sounds really typical and like you are being very thoughtful with your relationship. The only comment I would make is to always have a slight degree of separation – if a friend or family member were watching the kids, I wouldn’t complain about screen time or them eating junk food. For an employee, you want to have the ability to let them know when you have concerns or want changes. It sounds like she is a great nanny, but if you ever find yourself hesitating to say something when you have a concern, there may be an issue that she is too much a friend and not quite enough an employee. I hope that makes sense….

    Reply
  24. JB

    As a former regular babysitter, I commend you for establishing and maintaining professional boundaries. Please remember that this is a job for her. This is how she makes her living; she is not doing it out of the goodness of her heart. Of course, she should enjoy her work and her work environment and the relationships that she forms at work (and those relationships can be very deep and even intimate), but at the core, this is a business relationship, not a familial one.

    I say this because family relationships are very different: the expectations are different. You make sacrifices for your family, you do things for them even when it’s not good or healthy for you, you carry their emotional burdens without complaint. That’s just not fair to do to an employee, even one who lives in your home.

    Also, claiming that a caregiver is a member of the family is like, the number one way that people get away with abusing their employees (“of course you’ll should stay later than we agreed, we need you and you’re family. Oh, I can’t afford to pay you this week, but you’ll stick around because you love us so much”). It doesn’t sound like you do this; I’m not suggesting that you do. But for a professional caregiver, this experience. is very common.

    Reply
    1. rathermarvelous

      YES. My good friend is a nanny and you would not believe the number of ads she saw that said something like “you should love our children as much (or more) than we do!!!” when she was looking for a new family. Creepy.

      Reply
  25. Woah

    On the pumping front, I’ve seen most everyone I work with who ended up nursing’s chest area at some point or another. Nonprofit world, small offices, baby friendly culture, and just a general respect for the whole feeding another human thing. Everyone knew to check in at the beginning, just like you did, but otherwise it wasn’t a big deal. I’d honestly be worried about a nanny who was so uncomfortable with you pumping that they had you go pump in the bathroom!

    Reply
    1. LizB

      I am currently sitting in my shared office (which is one of the few rooms in our small nonprofit’s building that locks) reading this post. My coworker is also currently sitting in this office, at another desk, pumping to feed her baby. I would go work elsewhere if she wanted me to or if I were uncomfortable, but it’s honestly not a big deal for us.

      Reply
    2. LNZ

      i feel like the asking is a big part of everything staying ok. Like as the non pumping person you are obligated to say yes cause you kind of look like a jerk if you say no, and the pumping person is obligated to ask even though it’s something they have to do. The little formality dance of asking and saying ok is such an important part of everyone in an office not hating each other.

      Reply
  26. Shalom Bayit

    I highly recommend you (and others in this situation) connect with Hand in Hand (http://domesticemployers.org/), a network for domestic employers to navigate exactly the questions you’re struggling with as ethical and thoughtful people, and in solidarity with their domestic workers. It sounds like you’re already a number of steps ahead of many employers, but I think you might find good solidarity in this group.

    Reply
    1. Woah

      Love your username! My husband and I yelp “Shalom Bayit!” once a week or so and agree to abandon a topic.

      Reply
  27. Tag_atl

    One thing that strikes me as different about this arrangement is that the parent is a client of the nanny. My boss is my boss at my office and my clients are my company’s clients. I provide services to my clients that I don’t/wouldn’t provide to my boss. The boundaries are different in the two relationships. I can vent about a client to my boss but not about my boss to a client.
    So, with a hybrid, I’d suggest navigating it as both and in some areas the boss rules supercede and in others the client rules apply. And for some topics you have to have flexibility to switch back and forth as appropriate and signal that a switch is happening.
    Also, you are a client of nanny services, which includes some of everything including healthcare like services. So I’d say body parts in a nanny-appropriate situation are totally appropriate. She might not need to see your pubic area , but a doula or a waxing technician might. It’s ok because of the appropriateness of the context. You might be overthinking the “boss” aspects a bit and missing out on the valuable benefits of the appropriate intimacy available when engaging such services.

    Reply
    1. tag_atl

      FYI, the TV show Blackish has an excellent episode about the challenges of navigating the boundaries with in-home care providers.

      Reply
  28. Dina

    My sister and I both actually had live-in nannies (it’s a cultural thing). My parents ended up not liking mine but we all love my sister’s former nanny and she’s quite literally become a family member. You’ve let this person into your home to basically help raise your child. That’s pretty personal. This isn’t the most normal professional relationship, and considering how much time she spends in your home, you’re really not going wrong by learning about her, being friendly with her, etc. Wouldn’t it be more awkward if she did all of the above and you showed absolutely no interest or attention outside of “Thanks for taking care of the kid, you can go now”? I think you’re doing just fine.

    Reply
  29. Shirley Keeldar

    I was a nanny too (briefly) and I have to disagree a bit with the people here who are saying that you don’t need to keep up professional boundaries. I think you do, a bit, although it’s definitely different from the boundaries you’d keep up in the office. One of the reasons my nanny job came to a bad end was that my employer was uncomfortable acting as such. She didn’t want to tell me what to do because that felt “bossy” and mean, but as I result I didn’t know what she wanted me to do! And I was young and shy and new to the work world and didn’t realize that I could speak up and ask for clearer directions.

    So I want to applaud you for creating a job description, having regular check-ins, things like that. This kind of structure can be hard to create with someone who is right there in your house, but it’s to the employee’s benefit even more than yours.

    Others have addressed the pumping and I agree, it’s part of your life as a mom and part of her job as a caretaker to be sure the kid gets fed. And the conversations–I think it’s natural to talk about things at home more freely than you might in an office, as long as you’re sensitive to what might be uncomfortable for her. If you were political opposites, for example, you might want to stay away from that. But it sounds as if your relationship is just evolving naturally to be a friendly one as well as a work one, and that’s okay….maybe once your kid is too old for a nanny you’ll become hang-out-outside-of-work, meet-for-a glass-of-wine friends, and that would be nice too, but it’s not the relationship you can have with her now.

    Reply
    1. DArcy

      I think it’s a mistake in wording: people (hopefully!) mean you don’t need to keep to *normal office-oriented* professional boundaries, not that there are absolutely no professional boundaries to keep to at all.

      Reply
  30. azvlr

    On a related note, how do you go about setting/negotiating wages for in-home caregivers/housekeepers? (I am the caregiver for my SO, so I find that having someone help me with housework is big plus).

    I try to pay well, but find it’s hard to retain people when I only need them occasionally. That seems to be the biggest factor in keeping someone, but I can’t afford to have anyone regularly enough to make it worth their while. I’d love some advice on this! Thanks.

    Reply
    1. Is it Friday Yet?

      If you don’t have to have the same person, there are usually companies you can use for this type of thing with set rates. This way you can schedule it as needed.

      Reply
      1. JessaB

        The nice thing about people you get from a service is they handle all the legal rigamarole regarding taxes and immigration forms, etc. Also you can still get someone long term from them. AND some agencies have arrangements for short term coverage if your employee is ill. Obviously you have to research the agency, to make sure they’re not breaking the law with immigration or pay and all, but it can make it a whole lot easier. But it can be so much better if Dan or Donna calls off ill, that the agency can call you and say the caregiver is ill, but they’ll send Wakeen for the day, so you can still go to work.

        Reply
        1. azvlr

          My biggest factor for not going through a service is that I wanted a consistent person so they can become familiar with our needs. I hadn’t considered that a service might send the same person each time.
          Has anyone used care.com? It is sort of a hybrid between a service and self-employed. Maybe I’ll try that.

          Reply
      2. Fiennes

        While I recognize the usefulness of such companies for many, the employees are often treated unfairly–or, at minimum, with a lot less respect. Housecleaning services are notorious for underpaying/penalizing cleaners for minor infractions. If you can afford to contract with a person individually, do so.

        Reply
    2. Manders

      For occasional housekeepers, this might be a time to use the gig economy to your advantage and try out some of the apps that send people to your house to clean and help out with tasks for a fixed fee per hour. For in-home caregivers, you’ll probably have to call some agencies and explain your situation. You might also want to look into organizations that provide respite care, since those groups are set up to handle the occasional caretaker’s day off.

      Reply
    3. blackcat

      How occasionally is occasionally? When I was in college, I had a standing “Every third Friday of the month” babysitting gig. The regular schedule made it much easier for me. I had that job for 3 years. So if you can commit to a once a month schedule, that might be enough to get someone regularly.

      Reply
      1. azvlr

        Yes. The ideal is twice per month. I’ve still had trouble retaining people, so I wonder if my rate is fair.

        Reply
        1. Rookie Manager

          Just my experience but I pay my cleaner almost double the lowest quote I was given. However, she can do more in 1 or 2 hours then I could do in a whole day! It might be worth examining local ads/speak to agencies to find out what the going rate is and make sure you are competitive.

          Reply
  31. Falling Diphthong

    On the nursing half of the question, I feel confident that you are fine. Asking her just in case was the right move, but it is very likely that someone intimately familiar with childbirth and infant care is going to be relaxed about visual reminders of this aspect of infant care. Sort of like, this is someone with whom you can discuss the consistency of your baby’s poop, and it is actually an appropriate and perhaps important topic.

    Reply
  32. OP-Nanny

    Hi Everyone,
    Thank you so much everyone for your thoughtful feedback! It helps to hear from people who are nannies or who have been cared for or employed nannies in particular and know that I’m not off-base. I feel a lot more confident that I’m on the right track.

    I’m glad I started things out very professionally (and Eloise mentioned she appreciated things being very clearly communicated as well) so that it’s easier to move into more of a personal friendship with some of the expectations already established.

    I agree with everyone that the pumping/breastfeeding is not a big deal (i love breastfeeding in public); when she first started I really wanted to make sure she felt welcome in my home and I wanted her to know that she could tell me if something like that made her uncomfortable.

    Since she’s started there’s been a number of awkward things: once my dad came up and hugged her while she was changing baby’s diaper thinking it was me; once my partner walked in on her going to the bathroom; once we left the door open accidentally to bathroom when partner was showering (closed it right away!). All of these things she’s handled with grace and understanding.

    The comment about not trying to spend time together outside of work is helpful too. I have invited her to a couple of family birthday parties but always stress that it’s totally fine to say no. And I think that, though I’ll continue to develop a friendship with her casually during our usual daily interactions, I’ll keep the limited time outside of work as a good boundary for now.

    Thanks again and I’ll continue to follow this thread!

    Reply
    1. OP-Nanny

      I should clarify, I’ll still invite her to family events like birthday parties, and will still let our relationship develop as a friendship, but I’m going to be ok with taking that slow since I know I’ve struggled with being oeverly friendly with employees in the past.

      Thank you everyone!

      Reply
      1. OP-Nanny

        I also really appreciate the comments about the power dynamics. That’s something that (as someone who has worked in nonprofits/social justice sectors) I definitely keep in mind. That’s part of the reason I wanted things to be clear and professional from the beginning. I pay above living wage (grateful that I can do that) and offer paid sick leave. I think the boundary of friendship and employer (yes, this is still her livelihood!) is still a bit blurry, and yet seeing all these comments helps me feel like I can navigate that much more confidently.

        Reply
      2. Jessesgirl72

        I have gone to family birthday parties as a Nanny and my husband invited his childhood Nanny to our wedding- and we exchange Christmas presents with her every year.

        Just as you’re learning to trust your instincts as a parent, learn to trust them in this too. :)

        Reply
      3. MemoryLane

        Hi, OP,

        Not much to add to other people except the experience of a child with a caretaker on occasion:

        There is a lovely woman who played babysitter (and maybe outright nanny?) to my cousins. They are much older than I am (>10 years). But she was close enough to my family by the end that when we moved to the same state as my cousins, my mom knew she was trustworthy and hired her to look after me as well, several times, including just for regular babysitting when I wasn’t old enough to be left alone. I don’t believe I ever had another babysitter.

        Even once I was past that age, she was invited to every major family event–at least all the ones I was at, I always expected to see her–like religious holidays and formal birthdays, along with second-cousins and close family friends, and almost always came! There was definitely a class/power dynamic issue when she was working, I’m sure (I was too young to realize), but she was much loved and greeted with enthusiasm and affection every time she was around. And respect, too: she was always Miss Garnet to me (name changed). I would still climb into her lap for years. She used to ask after me all the time, and sometimes saw my mother outside of those gatherings, too (and would ask after me). This continued even as her health declined and she finally passed. I was really upset and remember her still.

        So, just don’t be afraid to let it develop naturally, and while the more in-home events like walking-into-rooms oopsies are definitely harder to navigate, I hope the weird feelings about affectionate greetings go away soon. As long as your boundaries shift naturally and you in mind how pressure works, and remember to always give her respect and teach your children that same respect, I wouldn’t worry too much. I think you’ll be just fine.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      OP, have you had your extended family (e.g., your dad) formally meet your nanny? It might be helpful to have her around during a small family event (e.g., folks coming over for lunch) and to introduce her.

      I imagine the boundaries around things like walking in on her or leaving doors open will get reinforced as you storm/norm together :)

      Reply
    3. Sal

      With all possible love and formerly-pumping-mom-cameraderie and respect: Girl, you do not need to pump in your own bathroom. Ever. Ever ever ever ever.

      Reply
    4. OP-Nanny

      Just wanted to check back once more to say thank you to everyone that shared your experience, perspective and advice. Thanks in particular to those that reminded me to trust my instincts.

      What I’m taking away from all of this is that I will continue to err on the side of being more professional when it comes to anything that might impact Eloise’s role as an employee (ie, her hours or her wages); I think that is important in particular because of the power imbalance in the relationship. I’ll also be sure to talk to her about anything that might be bothering me while it’s small and not let things fester. I feel pretty good that we’d have a positive conversation if that sort of need arises.

      I’ll continue letting our more personal relationship develop naturally, but keep a few “boundaries” in place like limiting the time spent socially outside of work to appropriate functions like my child’s birthday party, etc. I enjoy keeping her updated on things happening in our family, especially when they might impact her, but otherwise will probably keep more personal things private (and hope that someday when she’s no longer our employee we can be more friendly and social). I feel very comfortable with our relationship now and your comments have affirmed that I’m on the right track.

      Lastly, I just wanted to give a shout out to all the breastfeeding advocates out there. Glad to see you commenting in full force! I love breastfeeding and I’m not embarrassed about pumping or my miraculous food-making breasts. I only mentioned it as a way to gauge if I was missing something that might be important for an employee in one’s home (and no, I’m not pumping the bathroom at home or elsewhere – I don’t remember what I said exactly to Eloise so just used that as an example and forgot that bathroom pumping is so triggering!). I’m pretty comfortable in my skin these days, and am not terribly modest about nudity, so sometimes I have those moments where I’m doing something not-so-modest and I realize “oh, &%$@*, maybe this might not be ‘normal’ for others???” so decided to ask AAM about it. Eloise hasn’t batted an eye about any of it. Thank you everyone for your support and affirmation on that. I hope that anyone else that comes across this thread that might be less confident about feeding/pumping will be heartened by the support for lactation anywhere and everywhere (except the bathroom!). :)

      Reply
      1. OP-Nanny

        (And yes, I hope that, after she’s no longer employed by us, Eloise will keep in touch with us and be part of my child’s life as long as she’d like. I appreciate the ideas of taking photos of them together, etc. Thank you!)

        Reply
  33. Nanny

    The formality of this arrangement seems so odd and unnecessarily complicated to me. Hiring, yes, I agree that it is smart to go through all the steps. But now, when the person is in your house with your kid, it would be very awkward to try and draw “office professionalism” lines there.
    I was an au Pair for a year where I lived with the family I worked for and then I was a live-out nanny for another family for several years after that. And now we have a nanny coming to our home for our kids. So all of this has spanned some 16 years and nothing ever even came close to the level of “professionalism” the OP is describing! The Au Pair family was friendly and welcoming and I was invited to all Sunday dinners at Grandma’s house and welcome to family movie nights, etc.
    The family I nannied for has “adopted” me (think “I made too much food, would you like to take some home” when I was a struggling college student) and now we have an ongoing relationship even though their son is almost 16. They came to my wedding; their son stood up as a “bridesman”. We (me, my husband and kids) are invited to their family events; I know their entire extended family; they have hosted my parents in their home when they were visiting from abroad; they babysit our kids! We are family. And I try to emulate that relationship with our current nanny. She’s only been with us for several months so far, so we are not that close to delve into personal conversations, but that is because of a natural course of relationships, not because I view her as an employee (she is, I pay her, but she is also not doing data entry or cleaning my house; she is providing love and care for my kids! That’s a job requirement that regular “professional” jobs do not have and I think that’s what makes this different). I’d say let the relationship develop as it would and don’t overthink it. The dynamic is too different from an office environment for the same norms to apply.

    Reply
  34. babblemouth

    I’m a former au pair. I was fully living with the family, and my feelings about the experience were mixed, because I kept getting mixed signals – the parents told me I was present as an educator and not a babysitter/personal assistant to the kids, but their behaviour indicated otherwise. They told me I was part of the family, but the moment they wanted to be parenting their kids, they turned back to treating me like the hired help (which wouldn’t have been a problem if they hadn’t specifically told me that it wasn’t how they saw me). They told me to never hesitate put the kids first and to let them call the parents at work whenever, and then berated me for not keeping the kids busy and happy enough that they didn’t feel the need to call their parents at work.

    You are doing NONE of this. You are setting clear expectations, and have defined boundaries that you are respecting. Yes, the nanny job by definition deals with a lot of very private things, but that’s only a problem if you don’t trust the person working for you. That also doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

    If you want to feel more secure, you can lurk a bit here: https://www.reddit.com/r/Nanny/ and see what are typical Nanny pet peeves. Hopefully you won’t recognise yourself in the horror stories :)

    Reply
  35. Amber Rose

    As far as addressing performance issues, have you ever had any disagreement ever with a friend or family member on how they did something? Like a friend who damaged a book by folding page corners or someone who moved stuff around in your house without telling you. It’s not weird to mention it to them like “hey, could you not do thing, and do other thing instead. Thing is a problem for me.”

    So being friendly/semi-family with your nanny doesn’t seem like it should be any more of a bar against talking about problems than it would be for anyone who was doing something you didn’t like with personal stuff.

    As a side note, it sounds like your kid is pretty lucky to have such a great nanny. I didn’t have a nanny but I did have a couple of amazing babysitters, and when I got slightly older (four/five) I became a sort of mascot for the neighborhood teenagers, who would take me with them everywhere. It’s good for kids to form relationships with people other than mom and dad and same-age kids, I think.

    Reply
  36. BB in NYC

    We’ve had a number of childcare workers look after our children over the years: picking them up from school and looking after them until we’re home at 7:30 0r so. Inevitably, several have become like members of our extended family, and we keep in touch long after they no longer work for us. That’s a good sign that you’re treating them well. But never let your friendship cloud the fact that you should be a scrupulously good employer. They are not your friend so don’t ask them for a favor to stay late – make sure they are available to do so, and make sure you pay them. You may be looser with your friends about money, but always be clear with your nanny about money. Talk about expectations and don’t assume. You may be friends, but you are still the boss and have a power advantage over them you should be careful not to forget.

    Reply
    1. JessaB

      Oh, and regarding paying them, if they take your kids places to entertain or educate them, make sure they have money not only for the kids but for themselves. This is a business thing, they shouldn’t be out of pocket for ANYTHING to do with your kids. Which includes for instance eating out when taking the kids to the museum (when they’re old enough for that.) And you should give them the money in advance, never presume they can lay out money and wait for reimbursement.

      Reply
  37. Suzannah

    Oh, my goodness – she sounds wonderful! LW, maybe you are over-thinking this a bit? She’s not an office direct report, she’s your nanny. That changes the employer-employee relationship and makes it more intimate. Yes, she sees you in private home situations, just as a tax attorney knows a heck of a lot about how you spend your money. She’s taking care of your children – that makes her a (sort of) part of the family. What you’re really saying is that if things go south, it may be hard to fire her or impose some kind of discipline, and that’s true (also true of a housekeeper, who may see your soiled underthings). But it sounds like she’s a dream. Don’t worry; be happy.

    Reply
  38. Molly

    I have just one comment based on almost-personal experience: When you feel it’s time for Eloise or any nanny to move on, please be thoughtful about what kind of relationship, if any, you might invite her to continue to have with your kid(s).

    I live with someone who was a nanny in an earlier life. Among other jobs she spent several years working with one family and developing an attachment to the kids, which you’d expect from most people who choose to be nannies and see the kids through multiple phases and all sorts of activities. The parents were not warm people, and when they decided they were ready to not have a nanny anymore, they never made any space in their lives or schedules for her to visit the kids she’d helped raise. She understands boundaries and didn’t expect to see them often, but being cut off completely broke her heart.

    Eloise may or may not have similar feelings, but assuming you continue to think the best of her even when you no longer need her, you might invite her to the occasional gathering or outing, or at least send her photos of the kids from time to time.

    Reply
  39. Jerry Larry Terry Garry

    Informality is good, but I would keep the regular check-ins so you both feel comfortable bringing up issues. If you find yourself not saying anything when something bothers you, that’s a problem. And same for her- I would revisit specific things once in a while- asking if the level of flexibility in your schedules still works, that kind of thing so she feels comfortable raising issues.
    It’s an intimate thing but fraught- this is her livelihood, and your child and your livelihood(ability to leave and work).

    Reply
  40. kzkz

    I literally read this while breastfeeding my newborn in front of my cleaning people so I’d say the pumping is definitely fine! The other boundaries are more gray. :)

    Reply
  41. Sami

    Check out Nanny Care Hub (dot) com. They also have a great Facebook page.
    It sounds like your hiring process was very professional, which is great. My question is: do you have a contract with your nanny? Although not common in the vast majority of American workplaces, it is a smart way to spell out the duties, responsibilities, guidelines, etc. for both you and your nanny.

    Reply
  42. Girl Alex PR

    We have an in-home nanny and I consider her a friend. I LIKE that aspect of our relationship. She feels comfortable enough to tell me what’s going on in her life, which I feel is important since we know outside factors can affect ones work. I also like knowing because if there is something I can do to make her life easier, I want to do it! I want her focused and happy enough to provide the best care possible for my children.

    Reply
  43. Jessesgirl72

    I think this is difficult mostly because so few of us have personal household employees like this- and it gets so uncomfortable.

    The thing to keep in mind is that she’s not just like a direct report in an office, so it doesn’t make sense to treat her that way. Acknowledging the difference helps. A nanny has to love the child, and to a certain extent, you. Yes, she’s going to know a lot more intimate things about you. I’m sure she’s learned to ignore/forget everything she sees (unless it would harm your child!) Once that baby gets verbal, she’ll know even more than what she sees with her own senses. ;) I have heard many a story from a talkative child that their parents would be mortified about. I do my best to forget them all! Just commit to being honest with her, and allowing her to be honest with you. The regular meetings is a great idea- you’ve started out great here. Just keep on, and trust your instincts, while listening to what she’s saying for cues that she’s uncomfortable.

    I think this might be good for everyone, OP- you need to be able to maintain boundaries with friends and families too, and sometimes have “Please don’t do this” conversations with them, too. Getting more comfortable with having them, despite a friendly relationship, can only lead to good things!

    Reply
  44. Government Worker

    It’s funny, I mentioned on a thread a couple of years ago that I wasn’t sure if having hired and managed a nanny was ever appropriate to bring up in a professional context (“I’ve never managed anyone in a professional context, but I’ve managed a lot of volunteers and I’ve also hired and managed a nanny in my home” as a way to talk about being ready to become a manager at work), and I was pretty firmly told by the commentariat that experience with in-home employees is irrelevant.

    I’d say it sounds like you’re doing just fine. My sense is that for most nannies, the boundaries that are important aren’t necessarily the information-sharing and part-of-the-family vibe, but things like being granted time off easily, paid sick leave, appropriate notice of and ability to decline overtime, prompt reimbursement or advances for expenses incurred, appropriate handling of snow days or weather issues, being paid on time, etc. Basically, be conscious of the fact that this is Eloise’s livelihood and however much she enjoys it and however much she loves your kids, she isn’t there only out of the goodness of her heart.

    I remember reading something a while back about the status of governesses in England in centuries past, and how they were in a kind of awkward middle ground where they were above the rest of the servants in social status but weren’t considered part of the family. This kind of dynamic has been tricky to navigate for a long time. Also, I know a lot of families with nannies or au pairs (I’m on some twin parent listservs and facebook groups, and a nanny is often cheaper than two daycare spots for infants in our metro area), and a *lot* of people feel a little awkward about the relationship. So don’t worry that you’re doing it all wrong because it feels a little awkward!

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it’s not that the experience is irrelevant, but that it’s similar to how planning your family’s travel or organizing your own wedding isn’t experience you can mention either. Partly it’s because it’s normal for people to manage various types of household help in their lives (if not nannies, then babysitters, lawn person, or whatever it might be), and partly it’s because you weren’t accountable to anyone else when you were doing the work. I agree that managing a full-time nanny is *more* relevant than managing a monthly lawn guy, but it still feels too much in the realm of that category to mention it.

      Reply
    2. CR

      Your second paragraph: so much yes. I didn’t care if I saw my boss’ breasts while breastfeeding. I cared if she expected me to work Christmas Eve!

      Reply
  45. Althea

    We have an au pair living with us. The person at the agency who oversees these things said that it’s a combination of having a niece come stay with you, and having an employee. Sometimes you have to bounce in your head between the two, but they can’t really be separated.

    Reply
  46. Jules the First

    Many of my friends have nannies for their kids and while the majority of them are warm and relaxed, there are definitely a couple that have gone for the very formal strictly professional relationship (one nanny is even a proper, trained and certified Nanny who wears a uniform and everything). This doesn’t mean, of course, that the nanny isn’t loving and present for the kids, just that her relationship with the parents is very employee-employer (ie you and your boss). So it can be done successfully both ways…but if you want to be friendlier, a good way to think about it is that you’re not the nanny’s boss, (she’s her own boss) you’re her client – which means you get to express preferences and set boundaries about what is up to her professional judgement and what has to be done your way.

    Reply
  47. Scotty Smalls

    I work in people’s homes as a behavior therapist. Not exactly the same but the professional boundaries do have to be maintained. The only thing that stood out to me is that you know her political views. It’s probably better to not talk politics with her even if you tend to agree. Especially in this era of political divisions where a lot of people feel ” How can so and so call themselves a __________ when they believe ___________”. Obviously, you can still watch Fox News or MSNBC when she’s at your house. Just don’t discuss it with her. I think that helps keep her from feeling that she has to agree with you.

    Otherwise everything else sounds like a normal part of having someone work in a home. Maybe a good way to keep conversation topics appropriate is when it relates to her personally, ask questions you would ask of a coworker . When it relates to your child more personal topics could come up. But that’s just my suggestion.

    Reply
    1. Jessesgirl72

      I absolutely want to know that I have similar political views as the person who will be spending 30 hours a week with my impressionable toddler. If they aren’t similar, then I need to make it clear that there will be no watching of Fox News or MSNBC while she is in my home or taking care of my child.

      Reply
      1. Scotty Smalls

        I think the nanny should be professional enough that her political views should never enter into it. She shouldn’t be discussing it with the child or parent. I was saying OP can watch whatever she wants, but shouldn’t discuss it with the nanny. I don’t believe it’s the Nanny’s job to inculcate political beliefs.

        Reply
        1. Government Worker

          Well, sort of. But if my 3 year old twins were with a nanny right now, they’d be doing all sorts of outings in our very diverse urban area. And preschoolers ask tons and tons of questions, about everything they see. I have to trust that the person caring for them will give answers that I would feel comfortable when they encounter homeless people, protests, political signs (even post-election there are tons of non-candidate-specific yard signs in my neighborhood), street preachers, people in military uniform, people speaking other languages, people in a variety of religious clothing, climate change activists, provocative street art, newspaper and magazine covers, etc. That doesn’t mean the person has to agree with me on details of policy, but I have a hard time imagining employing someone to take care of my children for large chunks of time who was diametrically opposite me in their entire world view.

          Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            Yeah. That comes out in a myriad of ways, and the person who is teaching my children things can’t be that opposite of my views.

            Reply
  48. MCMonkeyBean

    I think it’s okay if you really *want* to keep up this level of professionalism, if it makes you feel more comfortable. But you seem to feel like you *have* to keep up this level of professionalism, and I don’t think you do. I mean, with pay and taxes it’s certainly good to be, but when it comes to talking with her I think it is 100% okay to develop a more personal relationship with this person that is spending so much time in your home and with your child.

    It’s okay if you want to be friends with her! You do of course have to remember that you are paying her and you don’t want to put here in a position where she feels like she *has* to be your friend, but if a deeper connection is naturally occurring you definitely don’t have to pump the breaks and put up a wall.

    Reply
  49. Former Retail Manager

    As so many others have said, this isn’t a traditional employer/employee relationship. You’re expecting this person to raise your child and function as a de facto third parent. Quite frankly, I believe that maintaining the level of “professionalism” that you are is very odd. Your child’s nanny should feel like a part of the family and should be treated as such. I could maybe see your behavior with a new nanny, but Eloise sounds like a seasoned professional who is fantastic at her job and understands the nuances unique to her role. I think it’s okay to let your guard down and embrace Eloise as a family member and friend, unless and until she gives you reason to impose stricter boundaries. And congrats on finding what sounds like a wonderful nanny who will take great care of your child.

    Reply
  50. Lisa

    My comments may already be mentioned by others above, so I apologize for that – I don’t have time just now to read them all but look forward to doing that after work as the ones I have seen are great!

    First, I have worked as a nanny and it is a-ok to have more of a “trusted in-home help you really like” relationship that can transition to honest-to-goodness friends/family one day when the employer/employee relationship is over. This is great and makes the job way nicer day-to-day.

    Second, as others have said, keep in mind the power dynamics and not intruding on her personal time. i.e., it’s awkward to tell your boss you really don’t want to go see a movie with her and have other plans, or don’t want to join her book club, or what have you. Because you want her to like you and know you like her, so for some people who struggle with that line it’s hard. Now, I think you can totally say “Oh, we’re having a BBQ Sunday with a bunch of folks, very casual, and obviously probably the last place you want to be on your day off is where you work BUT you are totally welcome if for some reason you don’t have plan or would like to stop by.” That’s fine. That’s easy to refuse, or easy to come in and feel like a guest.

    Third, for the intimacy/info/privacy stuff, wealthy employers of in-house staff almost always include an iron-clad non-disclosure/privacy contract as part of employment. So like yes, you work for Beyonce and Jay-Z and might hear family arguments go down, but NO WAY is that ok to disclose to your hairdresser or mom or whoever. Family and emotional and financial stuff is sacred. I WOULD lay that out if you haven’t as there are a lot of different levels of comfort with sharing and someone might innocently vent about a hard day or share how sad some family health thing was without understanding that should be confidential. I would include a contract stating everything is confidential, basically, unless explicitly discussed. I don’t want a nanny or house keeper off handedly mentioned how mad her boss is at her supervisor and then that going through some weird channel back to work, you know? I would also be explicit about when/where/how/what kiddo pictures are ok to share with whom.

    Overall though your relationship sounds super normal and really nice for a nanny. You’re doing great!

    Reply
  51. Solo

    FWIW, there are plenty of families with dysfunctional communication styles where asking a close cousin or sibling to change their behavior while staying with you is a Road Fraught With Peril. If that’s the case for the OP (or anyone else reading these comments for advice), it might very well be that her workplace communication style is her most functional communication style! That’s not a bad thing, but it is totally OK to warm up the tone without appearing unprofessional, and to understand that different boundaries are applicable for different relationships (for example, your relationship with your doctor is a professional one, yes, but if you’re not comfortable talking about bodily functions then you’ll miss out on some really important medical care).

    Reply
  52. MD

    An “outsiders” point of view (in that I don’t have any kids, so I can only go off observations on how my siblings/friends work with their nannies, and my own memories of my nanny growing up): ultimately I think you need to treat the nanny in the manner that’s most beneficial for your child, and NOT necessarily what’s best for you personally). So for example if you plan to employ her for several years, then she will become a de-facto aunt from your child’s point of view – as my nanny was for me and my brother. And so should be treated as such.

    Reply
  53. Jesmlet

    Don’t get caught up in professional norms, people who work in your home can and should have a different relationship with you than other employees. Part of what my company does is domestic staffing placements and while in more formal homes with 5+ staff members there may be a boundary, the vast majority of clients want someone to become part of the family. That doesn’t stop them from sitting the nanny or housekeeper down and providing constructive feedback. On top of that, the best nannies we find have references that tell us they’re like family coming from very different backgrounds. This is someone who’s spending 30 hours a week with your child, you want them to look at your child like their own and for them to be comfortable in your household.

    Reply
  54. Fifty Foot Commute

    Have you asked what she wants in terms of boundaries? Yes, you’re the employer, but you’re also two human beings sharing a huge responsibility. You don’t have to go along with what she wants, but that seems like vital information to have when deciding what is and isn’t appropriate.

    Reply
  55. DrSpacemenMD

    Commenting from a different perspective: that of the child. I formed a really close bond with my nanny when I was younger, and although she stopped working for my parents when I was 12 and my younger brother was 4 (she started her own family at that time), we are still in touch 15 years later. My parents hang out with her and her family and I see her periodically when back in my hometown. I’m not sure if there were ever situations that needed to be “managed,” but I do know that when you find a good nanny, it’s not a normal boss-employee relationship and it can be extremely beneficial to everyone involved to become real friends (unlike in other boss-employee relationships).

    Reply
  56. Noobtastic

    I’m glad that you want to keep your relationship professional. This is not an office, however, and an employee in your home is definitely going to have a somewhat different relationship with you than an office-mate.

    As for the milk-pumping, you said you offered to use the bathroom. But would you expect any of your female co-workers to do their pumping in the office bathroom? No? Didn’t think so. They get to use a specific room designed for it, or a conference room, or an office, or something like that. This is YOUR home. You get to use the room that is most comfortable for YOU. As for her seeing you, well, if you’re uncomfortable with it, send HER to the bathroom (or the nursery! Tell her to cuddle the kid for the next half an hour. Or for a walk. Wherever she needs to go to give you privacy). Or don’t worry about it, and consider that any woman who goes to the women’s locker room in a gym is possibly going to see a woman’s breasts. Very, VERY few gyms have such private lockers that no one is ever to be found undressed outside of a changing booth. Usually, there is at least one person who feels fine going from shower to locker completely naked, and nobody says anything, because it would be rude to “notice” it. I used work at a company that had a company gym, and yes, I’ve seen some office co-workers completely naked, and they have seen me, but since it was in the context of the gym locker room, it wasn’t even a thing. This, in your own home, pumping milk for the baby she is minding, should not even be a thing, either.

    As for her knowledge that you used to be part of a discussion group, I don’t see how that should be troublesome, either. You were discussing a topic. You weren’t actually participating in an active orgy, were you? Just discussing the topic? It’s OK to talk about things, and no one with any sense will think less of you just knowing you discussed a topic. Now, if they know WHAT you said, they might think less of you, but just the fact that you said stuff, in general, on a topic should not be a worry. So the question is, did you tell her what you said, or just that you said stuff? If you told her what you said, was it stuff of a problematic nature, such as “Women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, and anyone who does is a shameless hussy!” or other anti-woman things? That could, indeed, be problematic. See the racial-slur letter above. If so, apologize to her if you’ve offended her. If she agrees with what you said, then don’t. It sounds from your letter that you don’t need to apologize, so unless you’re worried about possible future blackmail (are you planning on running for office, someday?), don’t worry about this.

    It’s good that you’re doing everything properly, with the legal/pay issues and basic HR stuff. It sounds like you have a good attitude about working with her, while recognizing that while she is very important in your family, she is not “family” who you’ll stick with come hell or high water, and help hide the bodies. She can be fired. But then again, family can be cut off (if they ask you to hide the wrong bodies), too. Recognizing that possibility, and being prepared for it, with a proper procedure set in advance, will go a long way to alleviating your anxiety on that issue. The hardest thing about cutting off a family member is knowing how to go about such a rare thing. But firing a bad employee (or even a good employee who made a ghastly mistake) is done all the time. Find the procedure that will work for you, and know how to put it in place, and then don’t worry about it, until/unless it actually needs to be used.

    There’s nothing wrong with being her friend and thinking of her as your child’s aunt, but there’s nothing wrong with keeping things strictly professional and never chatting except about the child. And there’s nothing wrong with finding a place in between, where you both feel comfortable. Just remember that professional does not equal cold, even if it might include distant. Warmth is VITAL in a home-employee relationship, especially when there is a child involved. Whether she is “Aunt Mabel,” or “Mary Poppins,” whether you call her “sister” or “employee of the month,” you need to be warm with her, and always treat her fairly. Do not ask her to do more than she is contracted to do, unless you ask it as a special favor and offer special extra remuneration for it, and accept the possibility that she may say “No,” without penalizing her for it, since it’s extra. That’s fair. Fairness and warmth and legality are really all that are required here. Beyond that, it’s up to you to find your comfort level. And let your child find her own comfort level, which will probably be quite different from yours.

    Reply
  57. Anon55

    I think you’re doing just fine, LW. My husband and I have a live-in housekeeper and she is very much a valued and special part of our family. We did have her sign an NDA before she started for privacy’s sake and I was worried it would start things off on a less-friendly foot, but it didn’t. Taking care of your child is as personal as it gets, so I don’t think a boob is going to weird her out!!

    Reply
  58. Mildred Lathbury

    You are doing a great job. In my work, I am privy to many people’s personal financial data. We just received a household budget today that read like this:
    Nicor
    Comed
    Comcast
    Nanny’s Name

    The heading for this category was “Utilities”. Ugh. I would hate to be the nanny for these people.

    Reply
  59. Gloucesterina

    When I work with fellow college instructors on their teaching, I sometimes talk about the value of shifting from the language of setting boundaries to the language of setting expectations between teacher and student. “Boundaries” suggests that signalling that you are closed off, or that you prefer a formal, icy type of professionalism (a valid choice, in my book); whereas thinking in terms of “expectations” can open us up to thinking about specific behaviors or attitudes you want to encourage within the relationship for specific goals. For instance, I want my students to feel comfortable enough with me to disclose if they are having medical issues that prevent them from turning in work on time, but I also commuicate that they they do not have to disclose any specifics about their condition. Since my goal is to help students learn (and part of successful learning is sticking to deadlines), I need to know enough to help them myself or direct them to other resources, but I don’t need to be all up in their business, either, for both our sakes.

    Could this shift in language help out in this situation? Obviously a student-teacher relationship is different from a parent-caregiver relationship but there might be some connections or resonances here that I’m not thinking of at the moment!

    Reply
  60. Jubilance

    As a breastfeeding mom who is also pumping, I just came to say don’t pump in the bathroom! And especially in your own home! Eloise has already said she’s cool, but even if she wasn’t, the bathroom isnt an acceptable location to pump food for your baby (but I’m sure you already knew that). I’m super sensitive to this stuff now – I myself was told to go pump in the bathroom when I went to a play.

    Reply
    1. OP-Nanny

      I have never pumped in the bathroom and don’t plan to. I don’t even remember if those were my exact words, I just offered to pump elsewhere. I forgot that pumping in the bathroom can be so triggering! :)

      Reply
  61. Alice's_tree

    As a former nanny, I understand the need for both parties to maintain some professional boundaries. However, those boundaries are very different from the ones in a typical workplace. In fact, in some ways, it’s extremely helpful for your nanny to know you very well on a personal level.

    For a successful working relationship, you and your nanny need:
    1. to respect one another’s time
    2. to communicate clearly about business matters (wages, hours, time off, expectations)
    3. to establish a shared approach to child rearing

    It’s that third point that is really helped by knowing one another very well. If your nanny really understands who you are as a person, what you value, what choices you’d make, then s/he will have a much easier time making the decisions you would want him/her to make for your child when you aren’t there.

    Your nanny doesn’t (and perhaps shouldn’t) need to feel like a member of your family – that is a recipe for heartbreak when s/he inevitably has to be separated from your child. But your nanny should be someone who you relate to in a friendly way, and who likes and appreciates you as a person enough to want to always support your parenting choices.

    As for the breast issue, you wouldn’t feel your relationship with your doctor was any less professional if they saw your breast, would you? Because that relationship requires it. This professional relationship requires the nanny to be in your personal space, which could mean anything from seeing your choice of underwear when switching the laundry to hearing personal messages as they are left on your answering machine. It’s part and parcel of the job, so don’t worry about it.

    Reply
  62. PM Jesper Berg

    I recently was binge-watching a campy but endearing TV series from the 1980s called HART TO HART. It is about a high net-worth power couple that moonlight as amateur detectives. They have a curmudgeonly live-in domestic servant/butler/executive assistant named Max, who they can’t live without. And the point is that Max isn’t just another employee; he is almost a member of the family. It seems to me that nannies and butlers and the like aren’t like other employees, and that you’ll inevitably have a close relationship with them if they’re doing their job well. Alfred in BATMAN is another great example of this.

    Reply
  63. JGRAY

    I have been really lucky in regards to childcare for my kids. Right now my three year old son goes to a home daycare and I am actually really close with provider. My son is one of three full time kids and it’s in her home so it’s not like a larger day care center. Other than the fact that I take my son to her house I would say that I have a very close relationship with her. We know a lot about each others lives and honestly this is what you want with someone watching your kids. I think there are certain boundaries you don’t cross- like don’t talk about intimate moments with your spouse because this is an employee & those discussion are best left with girlfriends that you aren’t paying. I think you are off to a great start and keep the lines of communication open.

    Reply
  64. Rookie Manager

    I’ve worked as a Nanny and now employer a cleaner. There’s some great advice here already but just to wade in…

    I nannied as a summer job to 4 kids age 5 to 11, I loved it and was asked back again. I was treated brilliantly (even given a car for the summer) and while not quite part of the family I know a longer term placement would/could’ve gone that way. The only issue I had was the time they asked me to stay the whole evening (till midnight). I thought this was overtime, they thought it was a favour. I didn’t want to ‘rock the boat’ when I got a normal pay packet instead of extra that week (I’d act differently now) in case I was let go.

    As someone employing a cleaner I took the same steps you did with interviews, references, police checks etc. I like her lots and when our paths cross we are friendly (holidays, our sisters had babies at the same time) and I trust her lots; she has my keys and alarm codes (!) cleans my bathroom and has seen me sick on the sofa. But I wouldn’t dream of socialising outside of her work environment (my home) as that would blur boundaries. I do tell everyone how awesome she is and have given references for her a few times. If she stopped working for me I would firstly cry then hope we could become friends.

    Reply
  65. Elizabeth M

    I worked as a nanny for two years. My husband and I moved in with the family whose children I cared for full-time just a couple of days after our wedding. Yikes! This arrangement is not for everyone… but we came to truly love our time with the H. family. Since we lived in their semi-private basement apartment, it was very important for the four of us adults to clearly articulate our expectations for our living space and for my work from the start. I was new to all of this, so the parents took the lead in discussing things up front. I’m so glad they did. Things worked out fabulously, and years later I consider the family to be very close personal friends.

    You are already asking yourself the same sort of questions that the H. parents deeply considered before I began working for them. I can tell from your letter that you are a very thoughtful and considerate person. That’s really what matters here. In a relationship as personal as parent and caregiver, there are so many variables that you’ll need to find your own healthy balance together – it’s not something as easy to negotiate as normal office work.
    While the parents of the family and I never articulated it this way, I think they approached the relationship with a level of personal intimacy that was more like if we were friendly colleagues than if we were a boss/employee. Maybe a senior colleague to a junior colleague… but definitely that sort of tone. We chatted about the sort of things that I’d be comfortable discussing with a close colleague in the lunchroom at my office job: both the more neutral topics that you listed as well as occasionally veering into topics like politics and religion (it helps that we shared very similar views, which I think is an important compatibility issue when you are raising someone else’s children). Topics we did not discuss: I never confided in her about my marriage, nor did she. We never talked about our personal finances, other than one time near the end when I thanked her for paying me so generously because it allowed my husband and I to both finish our 4-year degrees without debt. When I asked her questions about her work (which I found to be fascinating!) she’d gladly answer, but it was rare for her to tell me how her day went or about frustrations with her colleagues.

    Because we lived in the same house, I suppose that we had more “socializing outside of work” than I’d recommend in your situation. We had a weekly household dinner when all four of us adults and the children would share a meal, either at home or at a local restaurant. (The husband is a professional chef, making this a fabulous perk of the job!). Both my husband and I were invited to holiday meals. I think all of us adults found it a little awkward to have guests over when we didn’t really want to involve the other couple, but we made it work. The balance will be different in your situation, but I appreciated being included in the life of the family – not only because I came to truly care about this family, but because it was also professionally helpful for me to see the kids in their family context and to know their extended relatives. One of the benefits of in-home childcare is continuity in the child’s life, and being involved in family life helped me to catch on to those difficult-to-articulate but important family norms that the children needed to be taught.

    With respect to your concern that becoming too friendly with your nanny can make it difficult to give critical feedback, this wasn’t an issue for us. Part of the reason is because all of us adults agreed to address issues when they are small, which makes it less of a big deal. A great initial fit between me and the family met that a lot of issues others might have to deal with weren’t a concern for us… just because you’ve needed to have serious disciplinary conversations with employees in the past doesn’t mean you’ll need to have one with your nanny. And in some ways, hearing critical feedback from someone who truly cares about me is easier than hearing it from a boss who only cares about results… especially when it’s about something as personal as caring for a child.

    While this isn’t something that you asked about (and it sounds like you’ve got it well under control!), one other thing that I really appreciated about the H. family was their open-handed sharing of their children’s affection. The mother of the family was already traveling for work three weeks post-partum, leaving me as the primary caregiver for her newborn infant and preschooler son. I’m sure this was very difficult for the mother. I quickly bonded with the baby, and there were distinct moments I can remember where it seemed like I knew ‘the trick’ to calm her when her mother wasn’t able to do so. The preschool son made a mother’s day craft for me at school and asked his mom to help him purchase a card for me. I’m sure that in these moments and others like them the mom especially could have felt threatened in her role – but I never got even a hint of that from her.

    The caregiver relationship is like none other. You are trusting this woman with the most precious thing in the world – your child! I was a little taken aback when I first moved in with the H. family and was given my own key to the house, keys to the cars, code to the alarm, credit card from the family account, etc. “Yikes!” I thought, “they are really trusting me with a lot!” And then the mother handed me her newborn and left the state… and being trusted with all that other stuff paled in comparison. It’s only natural that you would have a more intimate, trusting, and caring relationship with the person who is raising your child.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth M

      Oh, one more thing! This is totally off topic but… please take pictures of your nanny with your children! One of my most treasured possessions is a photo book of my years with the H. family, but there are very few photos of ME with the kids. If your nanny is anything like me, she’d want to have a few photos to remember these years by.

      Reply
  66. Chatterby

    I believe this is such a tricky situation because Americans do not have a culture of hiring house staff and find the concept of “servants” uncomfortable. To alleviate their own discomfort at the perceived class difference, and the danger of coming across as elitist, they try to compensate by being overly familiar and trying to become friends with those they hire, almost to the point where it feels like the staff is doing them the favor of working.
    I believe this is a mistake that can lead to abuses on both sides.
    The staff may feel guilted into providing free services, or feel uncomfortable requesting things such as raises, benefits, bonuses, or boundaries, since their employer has established that their attachment and motivation for employment must be familial or emotional, not monetary, and one does not charge family. An example of this would be the invitations to after-hours events or parties. You may think you’re being kind, but this may come across as you wanting them to watch your child at the event for free, and they may feel they cannot say no to attending.
    The family in turn may feel taken advantage of if the hired staff becomes overly familiar and encroaches into actual family time or spaces, such as if the child(ren) become overly attached, allowed liberties are taken too far (ex: They are permitted snacks from one cupboard, but begin taking boxes of treats home or getting snacks from your private stash), or the staff’s presence consistently intrudes or interrupts private matters. Over-familiarity may also lead to asking for unreasonable favors, or the inability to act should the staff ever require correction, direction, or being let go.
    The best balance would be to be friendly, but not friends.
    No matter how much you like those you hire, you are their boss, not their friend, and your relationship is transactional. You have a duty to be a good, reasonable boss and ensure your staff remains content, productive, and has all of the tools they need. The staff has a return duty to perform their job well, realize it is a job, and alert their boss to any issues.
    Both parties need to be respectful of each other’s boundaries, both professional and emotional.

    Reply
    1. Chatterby

      I also find it weird, and actually cruel, to require a nanny to ‘love’ your child. They will be fired and out of your lives at some point. Emotional devastation of both the nanny and child are surely not a desired response. Settle for fondness and rapport. Love your child yourself.

      Reply
  67. Jen

    My sister worked as a nanny so wanted to share from her experience around being invited to birthday events for the family. She was invited to the 50th of one of the parents, as a guest, along the lines of “we think of you as part of the family”, but then when at that party there arose a situation where the kids needed tended to and she was expected to be the one to handle it. She loved those kids but it was awkward – she was in party clothes, was mid socialising, was then asked to scoot away to the house to deal. So please be super clear when you get into party realm around what you’re expectations are – guest to enjoy themselves, or paid at full rate because you expect them to tend to the kids, or paid on a standby rate (if that’s legal). And act accordingly! If they are a guest, look to the grandparents or uncles and aunties to help instead of the nanny.

    Reply

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