Sunday, March 22, 2009


Nannies Take on Extra Duties as Households Economize
Along with child care, nannies are asked to do the cleaning, shopping and other tasks once done by others.

By Christy Hobart,0,7632228.story

March 21, 2009

When a nanny with 10 years of experience was let go last year after her Hancock Park employers divorced, she had a hard time finding a new job. After five months of looking, she changed her application at the placement agency from "nanny" to "housekeeper" -- and lowered her hourly rate.

It worked. Soon she was hired at a 10,000-square-foot house near Malibu as a housekeeper -- until the family's nanny was laid off. For $3 more an hour, the housekeeper began steaming the carpets -- and feeding the dogs and making dinner -- with a baby on her hip. When the family also let go its personal assistant, she took on grocery shopping, managing the gardener, directing the pool man, helping with the family business . . .

"I definitely can't say no," says the housekeeper-nanny- personal assistant, who asked that her name not be used for fear of getting fired. After all, she has four children of her own to support.

Households everywhere are looking to economize at home, perhaps switching to generic products, starting up (or letting go of) a membership at Costco or dropping premium channels from their cable service. But when these efforts don't make a material dent in the finances, they search for bigger cuts -- and that can mean the household staff. Do they really need a nanny? Or a housekeeper? And for those lucky enough to have both, couldn't the jobs be combined?

For people who went into the nanny business with a love of children and clearly defined boundaries about what they will and won't do -- yes to making the kids' lunch, no to cleaning toilets -- the recession is blurring those lines. The bosses' finances and nannies' own tenuous job security are forcing many workers to redefine not only what they do, but also who they are.

Nannies air their frustrations at the Nanny and Me group at the parenting center of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles. Gabrielle Kaufman facilitates the group, which started as a place where Spanish-speaking nannies could engage in educational play with their charges while learning about nutrition, safety and health. It's also a place where nannies can swap stories, and Kaufman has noticed more anxiety creeping into their conversations.

"Even though they're doing a lot more than they used to," she says, "they feel they can't complain. They feel lucky to have a job."

Kaufman hears of nannies offering to take on more responsibilities in an effort to make themselves indispensable -- or to squeeze another household employee out of a job.

Joanna Brody of Culver City doesn't question the motives of her nanny, who offered to take on more cleaning duties while her toddlers napped.

"She likes to keep busy," Brody says.

Although the extra help was appreciated, it put Brody in a difficult situation as it became clear she didn't need twice-monthly cleaning service. Now the service comes just once a month.

"I feel bad for Philip," Brody says of the owner of the cleaning company she's been using for more than a year. "He's a hard-working entrepreneur, and he's always done a good job. I don't want to take work away from him, but it just doesn't make much sense to keep them both."

Katie Vaughan, head of Westside Nannies, a high-end placement agency whose clients might seem recession-safe, has found lately that families new to the service have been asking for workers who can combine jobs.

"They'll ask for a nanny who can do some cleaning or, even more," she says. "They're looking for a nanny who can take on assistant duties, like buying groceries and gifts, writing thank-you notes, party planning and secretarial work."

Realizing they need to compromise to get a job, prospective employees are more flexible than in the past.

"The typical English nanny or governess used to roll her eyes when I'd ask if she'd be open to cleaning," says Claudia Kahn, owner of the Help Co., another placement agency. "Now they're all saying, 'Send me on the interview.' "

During these tough economic times, a nanny may agree to take on household chores to keep her job, but there are risks to asking for too much, says Lindsay Heller, a psychologist who consults on family and nanny issues and who runs the Nanny Doctor, a service aimed at improving relationships between the two parties.

"It's tempting, financially," she says, but as a result the nanny may feel resentment. "You might see some passive-aggressive behavior," she says, such as showing up late for work.

Heller, who was a nanny for 10 years, warns that employers also could offend a nanny or housekeeper by suggesting that the positions are interchangeable. They are professional roles, she says, and should be respected. Not every nanny is a good housekeeper, and not every housekeeper can take on child-care duties.

"If not done properly," she says, "the child is at risk."

A housekeeper who has children of her own, she adds, is not necessarily qualified to become a nanny. Driving record, language skills -- these become important as soon as duties are expanded to include transporting and caring for children.

"The nanny's role is to provide a healthy and safe environment for children," Heller says. "They work out routines and schedules and arrange play dates and activities."

If you have to ask an existing employee to take on more responsibilities, Heller recommends being honest about your reasons. If you're not, she says, the change in job description could be seen as a demotion, and resentment could build. The employee should know if the change is short-term or permanent. And though some adults may consider household help interchangeable, children rarely do. Having a beloved nanny or faithful housekeeper change positions or leave a household can be emotionally difficult and requires conversations with the kids.

Above all, Heller says, if you're going to increase an employee's responsibilities, make sure to increase his or her salary accordingly -- or by as much as you can.

The housekeeper who saw her job expand to include nanny and personal assistant duties actually can muster some compassion for her employer's family. "I understand the economy is very bad," she says. "Maybe when the economy is more stable, they'll hire someone to help me."

Until then, however, it's hard for her to see the three luxury cars in the family's garage, the new landscaping going in around the pool and the media room under construction. She's not sure which would be worse: keeping this job or looking for a new one. Until she decides, her résumé is back on file at the placement agency.
Copyright 2009 Los Angeles Times


Anonymous said...

While I think it's really important for nannies to make themselves valuable to their employers, I don't think a nanny should take on so much that it takes away from the quality of care she provides. When I'm dealing with clietns that want it all I ask them "If your nanny wasn't _____ (cooking, going to the grocery store) what would she be doing with your child?" The nanny doing 10 things with a baby on her hip is shortchanging that child. Not tha we don't all have days when we just have to get other things done before we can fully focus on the kids. But if feeling like you have to take care of other things first (meaning NOT the child) becomes the norm, something is wrong.

And really, if the nanny is taking over the jobs of 2 or 3 other household staff members, how badly is the family being hurt by the economy?

Anonymous said...

This isn't the only area in which employers and nannies are looking to economize. I've heard from nannies who are afraid not to take jobs that pay under the table and require them to use their own cars to transport the kids all over the place without so much as gas reimbursement. They have said that until an on-the-books job comes available through an agency, they have no choice but to take the illegal one that takes advantage.

Anonymous said...

Todays world has different demands. If you are lucky enough to have the job do every thing you can to keep it, however having said that, one must always be true to oneself. If you think it is above and beyond what you are willing to do Say so they can not read your mind, their children is the most important part of the day if and I say If you can do more for the family they will appreciate it but make it known you won"t take any heat if the toilet doesn"t get cleaned every day. If they can't pay more then suggest more perks. Rmemeber you are a professional just because of the economy don't let your employers forget it either.

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like a lot of people are using the economy as an excuse. I can say this because I am a nanny in the middle of Wall Street. Both parents that I work for work on Wall Street. Most of their neighbors work on Wall Street too and none of my nanny friends have been fired, even as the parents are losing jobs!

I am being compensated generously. I make more than $65,000 per year because of my good attitude of trying to help out in any way I can. (But, if I was working with an infant I wouldn't be able to do housekeeping of course).

I work for parents that BOTH work on Wall Street for the companies being slammed in the media. One of the parents is actually having their bonus taxed 90%. So unlike those interviewed in the LA Times we are smack dab in the middle of the recession, (some say the cause of the recession).

Other parents in town have lost their jobs but have NOT fired their nannies!

That's right, many laid off from Wall Street giants but have either saved enough to afford the nanny care and understand that they need their child care providers in order to search for another job.

My point being if I can make $65,000+ while both parents are getting outrageously taxed
and they are working for the companies being slammed in the media (their companies are being blammed for the cause of the recession) and they can keep their nannies employed I find it hard to listen about parents in LA using the excuse of trying to economize as the reason they are taking advantage of their nannies by giving them more work for less money.

It is a cop out.

I have live-out nanny friends calling their landlords asking to not have their rent raised this year due to the economy. Yet these nannies haven't lost a dime. They are working and received raises and bonuses. Some people (even nannies in this example) are using the economy as an excuse.

Nanny Bergen County NJ

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with Janice. I like and usually agree with your comments, typically. But, one-third of my salary is taxed. I would love very much to be paid under the table. I have always been paid gas mileage when I have used my own car for work whether I have been paid on the books or under the table. I don't agree with the idea that parents who do not pay thier nanny taxes will stiff the nanny in other areas too. It isn't legal or politically correct to say, but most nannies prefer to be paid off the books. I owed more than $1,000 in federal taxes this year even after more than a quarter of my salary was taxed. Why would anyone want to pay more than $10,000 in taxes? That's huge. Especially when most are lucky enough to keep all they are paid.

Re: the housework for nannies: First, all nannies clean a lot already because kids are dirty. Some call it light housekeeping but it is cleaning.

But, the nanny ought to be honest that they do not want to do added housekeeping if they do not. Of course do the work if it means keeping the job but, start looking for another job where you do not have to do heavy cleaning. Once you find the job you can leave.

Household manager and nanny
Misty, W Nyack NY

Anonymous said...

I couldn't comment on the LA Times article on their web site so I am glad to see I can comment here. In the past Best Nanny Newsletter has published an idea from Anne Merchant's "Child Care Textbook". Anne Merchant's idea is that any duties outside of child care (such as housekeeping duties) should be included on a separate contract. That way if the housekeeping duties are too much to handle or the nanny is feeling overwhelmed they can simply drop those chores and the compensation alloted to those duties. Typically nannies really do resent housekeeping. I am one that does not mind taking on any a little more responsibility right now because the kids are in school full time, right now. But during the summer a lot of stuff might get neglected because my number one priority is always the children. If we are at the pool I can't clean. But I want to also mention that it's not ok to add part time jobs to the nannies (or au pairs)without extra money. People can only do so much in a day.

Anonymous said...

Nannies should clean up after themselves and the children. Anytime a nanny is cleaning she is not tending to the children. If cleaning is not a big deal then the parents can fire the housekeepers and do it themselves.
Grafton Wisconsin

Anonymous said...

Au pairs aren't even allowed to do any housework, it's illegal. Why would it be OK to take advantage of legally working domestics? When parents lose jobs and must cut-back they just have to pull more weight around the house.
Brianna, Essex, Vermont

Anonymous said...

It is a good idea to keep working for the family even if you don't like the new chores. But always be honest. If you do not like the added work say so and start looking for another job quietly until you find a better deal. Don't quit out of anger because you need the job until you find a new one. I am lucky not to be affected by the recession YET. There have people we know who have lost jobs but no nannies I am friendly with have lost their jobs yet. Our bosses work in New York City and our brokers, in finance, and in the mortgage industry too. You would think we would be the ones losing jobs, not yet!
Rose, Westport CT

Nannies LA said...


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