Ask Brooke: How Much Housework is Too Much?


How much housework is too much to ask of your nanny? When does it cross the line from being helpful to being taken advantage of? -- Anonymous

This is a tough question to answer because it's subjective. What one might deem as too much housework, another might feel is fair. That being said, I do believe there is a general industry standard when it comes to this and if a nanny is doing more than the industry standard, they should genuinely consider giving themselves a different title, such as housekeeper/nanny or nanny/personal assistant (which should include a pay raise). I've touched on this a bit in the article Wait. Am I Taking Care of Your Child or You?. Generally speaking, nannies are responsible for child related chores. Why? Well, because taking care of a kids is hard enough! Throw on top of that a bunch of non-child related chores and basically your nanny will never stop -- which is unhealthy. If you think your nanny should never stop, you should reevaluate if you actually view your nanny as a nanny or if you view them as a slave.

I'm not sure how so many parents (and nannies) have lost sight of the true definition of a nanny. So many nannies are expected to take on family/parent related chores on top of taking care of the kids. When did parents decide that this was the role of the nanny? When did nannies decide they would agree to doing these tasks? I'm not saying a nanny should never help out with extra stuff. Anyone who knows me knows that I pitch in and help with various tasks at my nanny job -- I love to help. But it's a slippery slope. Nannies must be aware of keeping firm boundaries when it comes to this sort of thing. It's okay to help out extra when you want to, but don't allow extras to become an expectation, and don't say yes to everything.

Things like unloading the dishwasher everyday, taking out the kitchen trash, and helping with pets are very typical and acceptable tasks for nannies to do -- so don't be a nanny who is above all household chores. And definitely don't be a nanny who doesn't clean up after themselves and the kids. If there are crumbs on the counter from the lunch you prepared for the kids, make sure you wipe down the kitchen counters before the parents arrive home. With that said, there are other chores that are completely inappropriate to expect of a nanny. For example, I've had numerous nannies email me feeling taken advantage of because they are being asked to (and have agreed to) do yard work, put together furniture, get the house ready for out of town guests, prepare food to stock the fridge for the entire weekend, spray bug repellent/pesticides outside the perimeter of the house, deep clean, untangle the mom's necklaces, clean out the mom's car, and the list goes on. This is where I feel that while this is a subjective topic, the tasks I just listed should not be subjective. A nanny should NEVER be asked to do those things. I understand that at every job you sometimes have to take on menial tasks that aren't in your job description, but I can't imagine how someone working in an office would feel being asked to deep clean the bathroom. There are janitors/cleaners who come and take care of that. There's a big difference between asking a nanny to do family laundry (rather than just child laundry, per the industry standard) and asking them to do yard work.

Parents get even more underhanded when they try to make it out like the chore is for the child and the nanny. Parents will say "Oh, this afternoon you and Sally can clean out my car -- she has a lot of toys and sippy cups in there". Come on -- if you want your child to learn how to clean out a car, you do it with them yourself, you don't ask your nanny to do it. Especially because we all know the 2-year-old isn't going to really help anyway and it's just a sneaky way to get your nanny to do a chore you know full well they aren't responsible for. If it's your car, you clean it! You are an adult, after all. If you want your child to learn how to do yard work, again, you can do that with them. I don't think a single nanny signs up to be a nanny with hopes and dreams of doing yard work. The thought probably doesn't even cross their mind. I mean, who in their right mind would ever even have the audacity to ask a nanny to do something like that? Apparently lots of parents based on the emails I receive. Isn't that sad?

The parents that usually tack on these tasks are those that feel a nanny needs to be constantly moving in order to be "working" and therefore earning their pay. This notion is so incredibly ridiculous, again I wonder how we even got here. So many professions have some down time while on the clock. There are times when things slow down a bit and the workload is less. When kids are napping, the workload slows down a bit and the nanny catches up on child related chores -- cleaning up from the morning/lunch and then takes a breather if they're lucky. Please note that during this breather, the nanny is still working -- if they weren't working, they could walk out the door and drive to Starbucks, sans kids. Again, I am NOT saying a nanny should be expected to do nothing (though there are plenty of nanny jobs where the parents only expect them to be engaging their children and want their nanny to rest during nap time), but keep it reasonable people!

Another important thing I must note is that California actually has a domestic worker coalition that states a nanny (aka, personal attendant) cannot do more than 20% general housework. If they do more than 20% general housework, they are not a personal attendant and are legally required to get a 30 minute lunch break every 5 hours and multiple 10 minute rest breaks depending on how many hours they are working. These breaks are defined as the domestic worker being relieved of their duties, meaning they are completely off the clock and free to go out to lunch if they want.

In sum, the best way to answer this question is to actually have you ask yourself, am I doing too much housework? Do I feel taken advantage of? Am I frustrated? Am I being asked to do lots of chores that aren't child related? If so, am I unhappy doing them? No job is perfect, but that doesn't mean you should be a doormat, willing to do any task your boss throws your way. Stand up for yourself. Say, "I'm sorry, I really don't feel comfortable doing that. I don't believe that's in my job description as your child's nanny". If you've emailed me about this very issue, it's clear you feel you are being taken advantage of and are unhappy with your current situation. If you are reading this and feel taken advantage of, do something about it. I don't mean to be harsh, but as I always say, as nannies we have to advocate for ourselves. You can professionally and kindly address these issues with your employer. I understand that job security is a risk involved in doing this, so I get why many nannies don't speak up. But here's the thing, if we all actually stood up for ourselves, parents wouldn't be able to do this to us anymore. They wouldn't be able to simply fire one nanny and then hire another because every nanny would have the same basic standard. Plus, if your current job doesn't want to keep you after you speak up, there are plenty of other good nanny positions out there. How do I know this? I've done it myself. I've left positions due to being taken advantage of (even when I love the kids dearly) and had no trouble securing a new nanny job. Nannies need to remember that we are offering a service that parents need. We have the right and power to be selective.

If you happen to be a nanny who is okay doing all these extra tasks, just make sure your title and pay reflects it. A nanny/housekeeper/personal assistant/chef is a lot of roles and should be compensated accordingly. It's important for parents to realize that a nanny isn't some all inclusive deal -- that way they have realistic expectations for when they are hiring their next nanny. For example, I have agreed to do things like parents laundry, errands, family cooking, etc. at my nanny jobs, but I let the parents know that these are not standard nanny roles and that I needed to be a nanny/family assistant and have an increase in pay. By doing so, I helped myself and I helped the future nannies who would work after me.

I'm going to end with a note to the parents who will read this and say that not all parents who ask their nannies to do these extra chores are trying to underhandedly take advantage of them. I hear what you're saying and I understand that this article might hit a nerve because you are a good person and value your nanny. You simply just need the extra help. You're super busy with work and when your nanny helps out with these extra things, it gives you more time with your kids. While I understand this, I want to be very clear that this is still not an acceptable reason to place these expectations on your nanny. You can be the nicest person and employer in the world, and it's still wrong to expect your nanny to take on all these extra roles without compensating them fairly. If you can't afford to compensate them fairly for it, then it might be better to put your kids in a home daycare (which is less expensive than a nanny) and hire a separate part-time housekeeper to take on the housekeeping roles. This way, you pick your kids up from daycare and come home to a completely clean house and can spend the rest of your evening entirely devoted to only spending time with your children. There are other options aside from overworking and underpaying your nanny.

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