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What to say when parents make your job more difficult

Emily Starbuck Gerson
Aug. 31, 2018

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.”

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 the 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 percent 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.

Read next: Is this family right for you?


I work for a mom who works from home. I care for twin boys, aged 22 months. I usually have to tidy up the kitchen before I even start to prepare the boys' breakfast due to dishes in the sink from the night before, and the center island is always full of clutter and mail, which I don't touch. I will empty and load the dishwasher and wipe counters and the table, as I like to leave the place neater than when I arrived. But I don't do any laundry or other cleaning. Since I make good money ($20/hr) I don't complain about the condition of the kitchen. My new concern, however, is that in December a new set of twins will be born. How much extra can I expect to earn if I must care for all 4...?

Tom Breedlove
Sept. 4, 2014

Hello Cynthia. I'm Tom Breedlove, Director of Care.com HomePay and I'll be happy to help with your question. I would always recommend families and nannies have an employment contract in place because it helps set expectations for what the job will consist of and get both parties on the same page. There's a Sample Nanny Contact on Care.com that you can take a look at for reference (https://www.care.com/a/sample-...). To address your other point, yes, you should have taxes withheld from your pay because you are indeed a household employee. In terms of the wages you are paid, it's tough to say whether it's too low or on target because if you work 20 hours per week, it's $20/hour, but at 40 hours per week, it's $10/hour. The point I'm trying to make is the family should really offer you an hourly rate (and some states require an hourly rate) so you understand how your work is truly being valued. A flat rate can also get the family in trouble because if your hours move into overtime (more than 40 per week), the family risks dropping below federal or state minimum wage laws. At $400 per week, you can only work a maximum of 50 hours assuming the federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour. I would speak to the family about adjusting your wages on your nanny contract to reflect an hourly rate.

Sept. 3, 2014

When I first meet a family of whom I may take on a position , is it proper to ask for a contract up front so every thing is spelled out on duties, etc and salary?

Sept. 3, 2014

II am now just getting back in the child care field. I have had a couple call me, we basically just touched base on a few things. We are meeting up next week. My one main question is are taxes usually withheld from my pay since I am a household employee? So, if I was offered $400.00 a week for Tues through Friday , she has a 5 year old and a 8month old, does this seem too low or is it on target? She said whether I work 20 hours one week or 40 hours a week, that amount ill never change.

Aug. 16, 2014

Hi I just started taking care of a 11 month old and working from 8:00am -5:00pm plus doing extra stuff like laundry,dishes and getting paid 350 does that sound right/

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