What is a nanny?

The term nanny has been used in one form or another for centuries. Wet nurse, governess, child minder and mother’s helper are just a few of the alternate names for a nanny. In today’s culture, a nanny is hired to provide child and home care that varies widely from one assignment to the next. Some nannies live in the home with parents, while others report to work each day on a regular schedule just as they would any other job. There is no single definition for the term nanny, but there is a strong, common foundation among all care providers that fall under the nanny umbrella.

The Nanny

In the United States the term nanny is commonly used to refer to a full-time care provider who lives in the home at least part-time. The nanny is often responsible for housework, food preparation, light cleaning and childcare. Duties may include teaching young children basic ideas like colors, numbers and writing.

Nannies may be dedicated to one family or shared between multiple families. Nanny share is a program some families use when only part-time care is needed. The families share the total cost of full-time nanny employment and the nanny works part-time for both families.

The Childminder

Childminding, also known as day care or nursery care, is generally used in the United States for children of pre-school age. Some childminders also provide before and after school care for older children. Childminding can take place in a private home or business setting, as is the case with licensed day care facilities. There are often legal limits on the number of children childminders can care for at any given time. If the number of children exceeds legal limits, additional care providers are often hired.

The Governess

The governess is an educational nanny. The term is not commonly used in the United States, but it has been a part of United States history for many years. The governess, nearly always a woman, was responsible for her charges. A charge is a school-age child. She was not responsible for the day-to-day physical needs of the child, rather she taught children or tutored them from home. Boys were typically given a tutor when they reached a certain age, but girls stayed with the governess.

The Mother’s Helper

A newer brand of nanny is the mother’s helper. Young children tend to still be at home, but mom is also around to tend to children. Mothers who need help balancing household duties, childcare and other personal activities hire a mother’s helper to essentially take up the slack. There are very few differences between a traditional nanny and a mother’s helper, though the mother’s helper may not live in as often as the nanny.

No matter how you define the term nanny, the premise is the same. A nanny provides care for children as a full-time job. Nannies generally care for children in the parent’s home, though in some countries where childminders are more prevalent, care is provided in the home of the provider, sometimes for extended lengths of time.


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