What’s in a name?

Over the holidays I was fortunate enough to have spent time with not only my family and friends but several families in search of nanny help. Between the two groups, there has been one question that has consistently come up… “What is the difference between a babysitter and a nanny?”

The first thing I do is let them know that there are even more titles for all of the different roles in the childcare world! This is absolutely down right surprising to most. The following is description of the many childcare roles that exist. Where does your family fit in? What other roles/arrangements have you heard of?

Employed on a more “as-needed” basis. A babysitter tends to follow the instructions of the parents and not really contribute any professional experience or knowledge regarding child rearing. Childcare is not usually the babysitter’s career goal.

Baby Nurse:
A baby nurse is an experienced/trained infant/newborn specialist who comes into your life during the first few weeks of your infants life to assist the family with the day-to-day care of their new infant. Baby nurses work on a 24 hour schedule. They are on-call 24 hours a day. A good baby nurse educates the parents about their newborn, and assists in establishing a sleeping routine, eating routine, and often provide lactation consulting to breastfeeding mothers.

Employed full-time or part-time, can live-in or live-out and work various hours depending on a family’s needs. Responsible for “all-things-child”: laundry, food prep, snacks, shopping for clothing, toys, books, etc. A nanny is responsible for planning educational and socially stimulating outings, reading to your children, playing with your children. A nanny is essentially responsible for providing physical and emotional safety for your child in your absence. Also, traditionally, a nanny usually has a great deal of experience raising children and may even have some formal training such as classes in early childhood development or parenting.

Mother’s Helper:
A mother’s helper is someone who comes into the home usually immediately following the homecoming of mom and baby and is there to literally “help” and support the newly formed family. A mother’s helper may run errands, do laundry, assist with various tasks around the house, and directly assist mom/dad with their new baby. Usually a mother’s helper is not left on her own to care for the kids rather she accompanies and assists.

Au pair:
A young person from another country, often somewhere in Europe, usually between the ages of 18-25 who comes and lives with you for at least a year. Their previous experience is usually limited to babysitting back home or caring for family members’ children. An au-pair usually provides childcare as a way to have a new experience in the United States and unlike a professional nanny, childcare is not their final career destination (at least in most cases!). The number of hours an au-pair works per week is limited and a family is expected to provide them with a room and board, minimum salary, and allow time for him/her to take classes as well as pay for tuition in some cases.

A caregiver who, in addition to caring for her charge, also puts a premium and priority on educational activities and often tutors the children she looks after.

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