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What to say when parents make your child care job more difficult

Whether you're dealing with a tardy parent, unexpected extra tasks or a parent shifting to work from home, here’s how to discuss and resolve these issues before they become problematic.

It’s bound to happen at some point: The family you’re working for continually does something that impacts your working style. Maybe the parents keep coming home late, or the “one extra task” keeps adding up — but you find yourself in a compromised position, needing a way out.

Having candid conversations with your boss about workplace problems is difficult for anyone. It gets extremely sticky when your work revolves around someone’s home and lifestyle. But sweeping the issue under the rug will only worsen the situation.

“I think everyone hates confrontation,” says Kellie Geres, who’s been a nanny household manager in the Washington, D.C., area for nearly 30 years and has had many difficult conversations with parents. “But it’s not personal, and it’s not about putting blame on a parent or making them feel like they’ve done something wrong. It’s for the betterment and for the quality of the work environment and the care of the children.”

“It’s not personal, and it’s not about putting blame on a parent or making them feel like they’ve done something wrong. It’s for the betterment and for the quality of the work environment and the care of the children.”

— kellie geres, nanny household manager

While every nannying job is unique, certain problems arise more, such as tardy parents, unexpected additional tasks or a parent working from home. Here’s how to start the conversation with your employer and resolve these issues.

When the parents are always late

Parents frequently arriving home late is an issue countless child care providers face. But it’s important to recognize that parents likely aren’t late on purpose — they want to be home, too, says Marcia Hall, founder of Nanny Coaching Team and executive director of the International Nanny Association.

If you don’t have any flexibility for late arrivals, Hall suggests making it clear to your employer by saying something like: “Look, I understand that you aren’t always able to be home at 6 p.m. I can respect that, and I realize you don’t like that as much as I don’t like it — you want to be home with your kids. What can we do? Is it possible that we can have a babysitter come in every day at 6 to be there until you’re home?”

If there are only certain days when tardiness is an issue, Hall suggests starting that morning with this: “I have something I have to be at at 6:30 p.m. today, so this is one of those days where I really need you to be on time. Would you like me to send you a text at 3 or 4 in the afternoon reminding you of this so you can make sure you’re leaving a little early today?”

When you’re expected to do extra work

Whether you’re explicitly asked to do additional chores or are more subtly being given extra work (like dishes always being left for you in the sink), many nannies find themselves expected to do household tasks not originally agreed upon. Geres suggests keeping track of these instances and starting the conversation immediately. The longer it goes on, she says, the more the family will expect you to do it — and the more you’ll resent it.

She suggests saying: “Listen, I’m starting to notice that you’re leaving these dishes out; are you expecting me to do it? I’m happy to do it this one time to help you out; however, it’s not in the scope of the job description, so if this is something you’re going to want on a consistent basis, we need to have a discussion about that.”

Having a detailed nanny contract you can point to that has outlined specific tasks and responsibilities will help in these conversations. If you’re willing to take on additional tasks, this could be an opportunity to ask for a raise.

To reduce future scope creep, Hall recommends having reviews every three to six months during your first year. She suggests approaching it like this: “I’d like to sit down and talk about how you feel I’m doing in this job and what things we need to look at and add to the job description. Because I’ve noticed that you’ve asked me to do a couple things that weren’t in the job description, and I’d like to make sure that we’re 100% on the same page about expectations. I want to be able to do those things for you, but I need to talk to you about what’s a realistic expectation of me and then what the compensation for that is. I want to be realistic and not get burned out, and I want to be able to give your children the best care possible because, ultimately, that is my biggest goal.”

When the parents work from home

As telecommuting booms in popularity, Hall says more nannies are encountering parents at home during the day, creating uncertainty about roles and responsibilities.

Hall recommends nannies ask the parent’s goal in working from home: Is it to avoid a commute, or to spend time with their children during the day? If the latter, you should devise a plan with the parent, Hall says, but it’s important to express that it’s for the child’s sake, not yours.

She suggests this way to start it: “That’s so wonderful that you want to have that time with your child! I think it’s going to be a really great experience for everyone. Now, I need to know when that’s going to happen because every child needs to have a structure and something that they can count on.”

It could be that the parent spends a set time with their child each day, or the parent texts you whenever they have a 15-minute break and are coming by. In other words, set up a defined way for you and the child to know “this is now time to be with mom or dad,” Hall says. For younger kids, she suggests having a magnet or card that can be flipped when it’s parent time, then giving a warning when it’s coming to a close so the child can be emotionally prepared.

Hall says it’s also key to ask what should happen if the child cries or is upset. Does the parent want to know what’s going on and be there, or are they comfortable with you handling it? Getting clear on these expectations will make the situation more comfortable for everyone.