Nanny Boundaries: How Close is Too Close for a Nanny and a Family?

Lisa A. Flam, Contributor
Articles> Nanny Boundaries: How Close is Too Close for a Nanny and a Family?
nanny hugging child

Tobi Kosanke was sitting on the couch one day when her nanny nonchalantly showed her a lump in her breast and said she didn't have money to see a doctor.

Her full-time nanny, Jean-Marie Jones, had no health insurance or family support, and was too proud to ask her boss for help. Kosanke, of Hempstead, Texas, who had grown close to the woman who had cared for her only child, didn't hesitate.

"I told her you have to get this biopsied and I will pay for it," Kosanke, 46, says of that day in 2007. She spent $3,600 on testing that led to the discovery of a malignant lump in each of Jones' breasts. Through her illness, Jones worked off all but $800, which Kosanke forgave.

Kosanke was clear that she could not afford Jones' expensive surgery, and urged her beloved nanny to find a job with health insurance for employees with pre-existing conditions. Jones, 63, did just that, had surgery and is today cancer-free.

Kosanke acknowledges that her employer-employee relationship with Jones was blurred. But she was moved to help because she cared deeply for Jones, who had become like a grandmother to her charge, Jemma, now 6.  

"So when this scare happened, it wasn't like it happened to an employee," Kosanke says. "It happened to a dear friend who had nowhere else to turn. For lack of a better explanation, I love the woman."

Jones, too, realized she was in a special situation, calling Kosanke a lifesaver. "She is not a typical boss," she says.

Though their experience has a happy ending (Jemma is now in school, and Kosanke still hires Jones periodically), Kosanke says such situations can be complex, and employers should be prepared to have regrets.  

"It could be a minefield," she says. "You have to evaluate your own sense of feelings about the person. You know whether somebody is worth your time and effort to help."  

What's at Stake?

Employers may one day find themselves being asked a favor they feel they can't refuse, or a nanny may have to listen -- uncomfortably -- to deeply personal details of her boss' life. It's enough to make you wonder, how close is too close a relationship?

A nanny and her employers need each other, and a healthy, drama-free relationship benefits everyone, especially the children. Experts suggest firm boundaries and clear expectations so that neither side feels taken advantage of or resentful, which could lead to the demise of the relationship.

>   Get tips on creating a good relationship with a nanny

Too Much Information

Although a nanny may be privy to personal details of her boss' life -- like marital discord or financial problems -- that doesn't mean a nanny should be the employer's go-to person for help, says psychotherapist Robi Ludwig, Parenting Expert at

"It's important to know the nanny is not your therapist and you are not her therapist," Ludwig says.

That doesn't mean you can't support each other. But before either side wants to spill juicy details, Ludwig suggests first asking yourself if you'd discuss such an issue with a regular co-worker.

It's the employer who should set the example for what's acceptable to share, Ludwig says, adding that things like your sex life should always stay off-limits.

"If you're going to be inappropriate, that's going to send a message to the nanny that the same is OK for her," Ludwig says.

It's true, too, that nannies don't want to hear about their employer's problems. Nanny Expert Neysa Richardson says she's happy to know that a family had a great weekend outing, but if the couple was fighting, that's too much information. Ditto if her employer is having, as one boss discussed with Richardson, bowel issues.

"Unless it directly affects my job, I don't need to know," Richardson says.

And when it comes to a nanny's personal life, a family should be aware of a big issue in her life, like a divorce, but not actively involved to preserve the separation between her job and her personal life, Richardson says.

Money Matters

Just as an employer shouldn't rely on a nanny to be a life coach, a nanny shouldn't view her employer as a bank. Nannies frequently ask for money for car payments, student loans or credit card debt, says Richardson, who disapproves of the practice. Nannies sometimes feel entitled to the money and don't pay it back, she says, putting employers in an awkward position.

If an employer does want to help financially, experts recommend putting everything in writing to increase the chances that the agreement will be followed. (Learn more about writing a nanny contract.)

"If there's a written contract that says 'I don't want you to feed my kids cookies,' they're going to be a lot less likely to feed your kids cookies," says Texas Supreme Court Justice Debra Lehrmann, a former family law judge.

An outright gift is one thing. But employers who loan their nannies money should be prepared for the possibility that they won't get it back, Lehrmann says. Even if an employer sued a nanny and won, a judgment may be hard to collect.

Ludwig suggests employers learn how to "say 'no' with options." That means turning down a request but offering to help in another way, as Kosanke did. Here are some examples Dr. Ludwig gives of how you can help - on your terms:

  • Car trouble. Your nanny's car needs $2000 of repair or she can't get to work. If you have a no-loan policy, offer extra hours or a salary advance. Or, offer to split a car service or bus pass for a temporary time period.
  • Home issues. Your nanny is fighting with her husband and thinks she should move out of her home, what should an employer do? Ludwig says it's usually not necessary for a family to open its doors, but such an arrangement could be OK if a family really loves its nanny. But, she said, many nannies have deep connections to friends and relatives. "You always want to go with a nanny following support systems she has first," Ludwig says. "You can say, 'I'm so sorry to hear. Do you have good people you can stay with during this tough time?'"
  • Personal favor.  You have a great job and your nanny asks if her daughter can be your intern. Does this put your reputation on the line? Ludwig says that an employer shouldn't recommend someone she doesn't know, but shouldn't hesitate to help if she knows the young woman and would be proud to recommend her. "Don't just do it because you love the mother," she says. "Meet the daughter and get a sense of her." She might not have to be your intern, but perhaps there's a department where she can help out.

Remember: Close is Okay
Over time, a nanny may start to feel like one of the family, and that's not a bad thing. But the employer can't get too close or her sense of authority may be lost. "You can love this person but all relationships require healthy boundaries," Ludwig reminds.

>   Read more ways to set up nanny boundaries

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(40) Comments
Sharon R.
Sharon R.
Yesterday I was told I cannot seat at my bosses table or kitchen to have my breakfast because the oatmeal was not from a jewish place .there was no dairy in the oatmeal just plan water and brown sugar, I sat on the floor , felt l8ke an illegal dog today I seat at my table.....thank God those things are not forever.....moving forward
April 3, 2015 at 10:13 AM Member Care Member Care
Hello Connie, I'm a Member Care Representative from, any feedback you give us is greatly appreciated!

We believe that nannies and caregivers should always be paid the wages they deserve. I would recommend checking out our pretax calculator to figure out how much you should be making when accounting for taxes:

Additionally, if you feel you're not making enough, you should ask for a raise. Here are tips for starting the conversation:
May 15, 2014 at 2:12 PM
Connie G.
Connie G.
My current employer found me on this site. It's been great and we do well together. She unfortunately used the pay calculator for my wage....I have cared for twins since 4 weeks and they'll be 1 in June. I have no benefits of any sort and make 15.00hr which is squat after my taxes and needs. They really are great to me but it's exhausting. I work on average 9 hrs a day with no break unless the babies nap. I'm looking at surgery for my hands due to the fact that the babies are big...25 pounds each and my whole job requires picking them up. So anyway the job calculator isn't correct and advice to employers needs to be more clear and direct.
May 4, 2014 at 3:23 PM
I was a nanny for a little girl for almost two years. The parents were always fighting. And they would drag me into it ..."tell him I want a divorce" "tell her she's spending too much money" I quit without notice but worry about their little girl in such a volatile home
April 19, 2014 at 4:07 PM
Are nannies expected to clean a car that was originally filthy so the owner can sell it the following day?
March 21, 2014 at 12:32 PM
Arlene S.
Arlene S.
I found parts of the article insulting to nannies. Are nannies really perceived as people who are so eager to latch on the the resources of their clients?

I certainly do not see my clients in such a way and would never perpetuate such an unprofessional relationship. Most nannies would not.
January 30, 2014 at 5:05 PM
Arlene S.
Arlene S.
How interesting. As a babysitter, I would NEVER consider, asking a client for loans, nor would I ever intrude on private matters in the family.

I found several bits of this article par
January 30, 2014 at 4:59 PM
I am a dad who works from home. We have very few boundaries with our nanny, it was on purpose, and she has become one of my best friends. I did not appreciate though the extent to which this could look like a mini-family to my wife, who goes to the office. There is always a fine line and our nanny (I really do not even like calling her that) has no issues with all of us walking it. But I would caution husbands out there to recognize what your wife is seeing, and I would caution wives to be aware going in of the ways you can interpret things. A "boundaryless" nanny relationship can be extremely valuable, I think, but it takes work - it takes everyone being aware, committed, and communicative, and ultimately working toward the same end...the well-being of the kids.
August 2, 2013 at 9:40 PM
Deborah M.
Deborah M.
Hi , I just finished almost two years with a family who's mother admitted she could not be a stay a home Mom . When I met her we clicked right off the bat, she was hiring me for her second child to watch along with her one year old. Boundaries? The woman bought me a I phone for Christmas, a bed in the spring before the baby was born, she would tell me she loved me and hug me when I left we would share stories, had Easter together at my home, it felt like a family. I don't have but two family members in Chicago and they had none. Things were great I'd clean, do the wash, even did her windows when the almost 2 year old slept. I went in with her to see the sonogram and then she had the birth of her girl.
Here is the kicker all of a sudden I wasn't let near either child for weeks and was even unsure I had a job with my"family" After a few weeks she tried to pull back my pay as agreed for the summer. I put my foot down and said a deal is a deal I should have had a contract . After 8 months of watch this woman morph from a kind wonderful fun pregnant Mom to a woman who could not take care if her child for a half hour till her husband cane home who was a slave as I had become - then right before the little girls second birthday im talking a week. She and her husband let me go, no notice and hardly a severance pay- I haven't seen the bbs which upset me terribly to the point where I can't be a nanny again at the age of 54 . Very sad and very scary this woman became they told me that I was still part of their family but they had hired someone already that would work 12 hours instead of my 10.5 hours - house cleaned, laundry done , 3 meals even one for them and that was how I was treated so lady's look hard at how much space you have to work in! Ask in writing what is expect of you to do - and most of all try not to fall in love with the children because my heart is still bleeding ! Good luck and I wish she would read this oh I have a masters in education and an undergrad but felt like dirt at the end.
July 18, 2013 at 2:19 AM
Marla P.
Marla P.
A big thank you to those of you telling the real facts. If an employer doesn't want any kind of relationship with their Nanny and want it strickly employee/employer - then I suggest you stay home and raise your own children. It totally kills me, that a Nanny is treated with total disregard for her feelings or her own life. Somehow, she is "less than" because she is a Nanny? Exactly how does that work?? She is devoting herself to your family and she is still considered "the help"?? Shame on you. In reality, you should kiss the ground she walks on and thank God you have been blessed with someone who will take such excellent care of "your" children, when you cannot.
July 17, 2013 at 9:46 AM
Corina Y.
Corina Y.

What is wrong with earing more money than $15.00 an hour. Just because someone is a caregiver doesn't mean they have to settle with a lower wage expectation. Yes, Hawaii may be expensive, but so are other areas. If you can earn more why not? It doesn't mean the person is not appreciative. Some of us are great at what we do. May care for the family, BUT still need to make enough money.
June 1, 2013 at 9:23 PM
Joann T.
Joann T.
I think to close to a family pose a problem. I am very giving person who generally gives the extra mile. I believe all children are miracles and charish each one I am responsible for. I am a women with curves and older and life is not as fast as the younger generation. I am learning to adjust my opportunites for job applications. I have been realizing a contract with my employers is a must. We all think we are the same page but everyone looks at things differently. I suggest a contract, with your hourly pay or salary written down an a definition of what is expected of you on daily basis for a six month period. When six months is up revalute the job. If you decide to stay make changes with notes that you have written down over the last six months of changes made. I have been burnt to much with life in general not have some thing in writing with the families I work for. I was let go recently due to my overall demenor. I was very frustrated as a care giver
it showed. It was extremely hot summer and the days inside became long and longer and outside was murder. I had injured a wrist that was not healing to
all the lifting of a baby. I was in pain and emotional wiped. I was hurt but
after leaving I realized it was best for both of us. I miss this family.
October 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM
Valerie D.
Valerie D.
@ Maria S. You were getting $20. an hour as a nanny and expected to NOT do extra chores? I am a 54 year old mother of 2 now grown children with many years of nanny, babysitting, housekeeping, cooking, shuttling, etc. etc. experience, who feels grateful to get anywhere near $15. an hour to do all of the above. AND I live in Hawaii, where the cost of living is through the roof. Why do I do it? Because I love being a caregiver! I understand that my salary has to come from somewhere; and it wouldn't make sense to expect more than what the parents can reasonably afford. I know that I make significant contributions to every family that I work for, and earn every penny while I'm at it. Too many young people these days seem to have this sense of "entitlement" that really needs to be earned before it can be "expected" from a prospective employer.
That being said, the next time you sign up for any job, get everything in writing, so you and your employers will all be on the same page.
September 27, 2012 at 8:51 PM
Rebecca R.
Rebecca R.
I agree with many of the comments herre. When we feel appreciated, we do a much better job. as for the "boundaries" issue, I can uncomfortably say that my last job left me feeling more like a family shrink as opposed to a caregiver. When I would arrive at work every morning, I would always ask about the little boy I watched, especially if I was coming on after a holiday or a weekend... But it never failed. I know more about their personal life and the personal lives of their friends and family than I care to know.... So of course I pulled back, even mentioned that I did not think it appropriate for me to know that, especially about their friends.. When the summer break came on, I was flat out lied to about the job ending for one reason, only a month later to find an ad by the same family, bad mouthing me in the ad.
August 14, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Maria S.
Maria S.
I had a horrible experience with a family in Tiburon Ca. Thank God I only worked there 3 weeks. I remember once showing up to a local park and all the other nannies were starring at me. One of them came up to me and asked me how long had I been with this family and I said 2 wks. She then started telling me the last nanny who was working for this family had QUIT after one and a half year because the lady took advantage of her and was very rude. Then other nannies came to where we were and started telling me more horrible stories about this lady . This lady wants it all in one and pay just the Nanny Rate $20 an hr. and the Nanny has to COOK everyday, Clean the HOUSE once a week and we are talking about a HUGE house !!! Run Errors, and take care of the Child. On top of this use my own car. I felt taken advantage of. I also had cameras all day long on me watching my every more in that house. Well after hearing all those horrible stories about her and seeing how she actually treated me. I told her it wasn't working out for. But in the little time I was there the little boy love me. It was sad when I said by to him he didn't want me to leave and I had only been there 2 wks.
To make a long story short I had worked 43hrs for her and she paid me only 35hrs and never reinbursted me for my GAS and we all know how expensive gas is she owed me about $40 in gas. I had direct deposit done so when I saw what she had paid me I realized I did the right thing at the right time. She is very evil and I feel sorry for the next victim that works for her. I just wish parent would understand that this is very hard work. We earn every PENNY that we work for and all we want is to feel appreciated. Maybe once in a while they could throw an EXTRA $25 just to say THANK YOU FOR YOUR HARD WORK ..... or a simple little thank you giftcard. That's what makes us Nannies want to do an even a better JOD. when we feel appreciated.
May 16, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Arlisa A.
Arlisa A.
I WANT A NANNY RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
May 6, 2012 at 1:05 PM
Donna E.
Donna E.
Boundaries are very imporatnt in an Employer-employee relationship. It is also very important that you have a written agreement of what the employer expects of you. Basiclly a detailed job description. I have been providing personal care services for families since April of 2000. I am a very hard working, punctual,respectful and is commited to my services.

I find it very disturbing on some of the things that I have experienced as a nanny. Please provide your Nanny with a decent salary. So that this person is commited and mostly likly will provide long-term services. When you decied to remodel your bathroom that you just remodeled last year for $15,000 and is doing it again for $25,000 this year. DOn't get upset because your nanny has decieded to find another family cause you want bother to give them half of their weekly salary when you go out town for the two and three times a month. For a week at a time.

You may not think so, but we work hard for our money and deserve every cent of it. Its very insulting that you only want to pay $10.00 an hour not to mention nothing extra if you are 15 minutes late.
April 25, 2012 at 4:44 PM
Grandma S.
Grandma S.
Let me first say that I really, really like my daughter's nanny. My daughter has 5 children with three of them 3 and under. She is a stay at home mom so spends a lot of time with the nanny. And the children are involved in many activities and the older ones school so it really does take two adults to do everything most of the time. Recently, however, I have begun to be concerned about their relationship while questioning my own sanity. So let me give a few examples of what concerns me. 1) My daughter and her husband bought the nanny's home because it was being foreclosed upon a while back and they rent it back to them with the intent to resell it to them once their credit clears. 2) My daughter is planning a trip to my parents home several hours away in June. I didn't give her an immediate answer as to whether I would go and help with the little ones so she asked the nanny to go. When I said I was thinking of going she basically talked about several reasons why the nanny should go rather than me to MY parents home with MY grandchildren. 3) They appear to be accommodating the nanny's preferences for her schedule rather than working around my son-in-law's schedule (an M.D. working shifts).4) My daughter and the nanny scheduled a spa-day together. 5) the nanny constantly talks about money problems and the work status of her husband which is basically that he is not working now but started going to school. My daughter is going to hire him to repaint her bathroom and do odd jobs.

So the deal is, I am feeling very left out and only get called to be a part of the family to help out when the nanny has a conflict or is sick or on vacation. I work full time and have limited time that I am available but I have always jumped in and helped out when the nanny is sick or not scheduled, or whatever.

At the same time, I feel my spontaneity in talking the grandkids to my own home sinking along with decreasing self-confidence and deepening depression. I am trying to make sense of this but I think it is related to feeling needed and, I guess used, if that makes sense, for child care but not wanted as a mother. Needless to say my relationship with my daughter is becoming strained. Again, the nanny is amazing but it just seems things are becoming extremely blurry and I am feeling more and more like a back-up nanny rather than a grandmother and family member. I thought as nanny's you might have some insight. Thanks.
April 1, 2012 at 5:21 PM
Crystal L.
Crystal L.
Michele M.: You NAILED it. I've been a nanny for over 9 years, hold a degree in Early Childhood Education and have been employed as a lead teacher in two different 3-star-preschool and child development centers. I'm shocked and AMAZED when a family offers such a lowly wage for child "CARE". What do they think we're doing all day?- Popping Bon-Bons? At times, I'm BAFFLED after I waste (yes, I said, "waste") my and THEIR time going through an extensive interview and all they offer is 9.00 or 10.00/hrly.
Bottom line: If you can't afford excellent childcare, resist your urge to dial an excellent nanny and call up a young teen next door! Hmph! ;)
March 3, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Eva S.
Eva S.
Many of the comments have been very insightful. Thank you to all. I also was impressed by Ablis K. comments.
February 21, 2012 at 1:47 PM

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