Definitions: In-Home Positions Defined

There are no across the board, standard definitions for household positions. (Except for Au Pair which is legally defined and regulated.) These are working definitions based on my experience in the field. Of course know that every individual position will customize the position to meet the needs of the family.

Important Notice About Certifications
Babysitter
Mother’s Helper
Au Pair
Nanny
Night Nanny
Newborn Care Specialist
Baby Nurse
Postpartum Doula
Family Manager / Family Assistant / Household Assistant
Cleaner or Cleaning Service
Housekeeper
Other Positions

Additional Reading
What’s the Difference Between a Nanny and a Babysitter?

Important Notice About Certifications
Lots of household staffers tout certifications in their specialty. However it’s important to know that there are NO standardized, generally accepted certifications in the household staffing industry. That means that every certification needs to be individually evaluated to determine its value. Let’s look outside the industry to better understand what that means.

Imagine a nanny has her CPR / First Aid certification. If a nanny takes her training through the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association, we know she’s taken a 4 to 6 hour class and has passed an evaluation by a qualified trainer before receiving her certification. Both of those organizations are accepted, well-known authorities in their field and have strict and transparent training and competency guidelines in place. If another nanny takes her training through Acme CPR, we don’t know what that means. Did she take an in-depth class similar to the Red Cross class or did she take a cheesy 30 minute online class? Although both nannies have been certified in CPR / First Aid, what those certifications mean in real world situations are completely different.

So when you’re presented with a certification from a nanny, infant caregiver, housekeeper or other household staffer, look at the issuing trainer and her expertise and requirements to determine its worth.

Babysitter
A babysitter is a caregiver that cares for a child in the child’s home on an infrequent, causal basis. Her job is to provide custodial care; to keep the kids safe and entertained and to clean up any messes she makes. The stereotypical Saturday night babysitter is right on the money in this case.

Although babysitting is an easy gig, caregivers should still have a basic understanding of feeding, diapering, and caring for kids and have some hands-on experience. And while most of the time nothing goes wrong, there’s always the chance that a sitter will be faced with an emergency so every babysitter should have the knowledge and maturity needed to handle things like chocking, a kitchen fire, or power outage. An American Red Cross babysitting class is the perfect primer for young sitters.

Mother’s Helper
There are two different schools of thought on what defines a mother’s helper.

Some use this term to refer to a young caregiver who is just starting her babysitting career and isn’t ready to be left alone with children yet. This mother’s helper is supervised by an at-home parent and supports the parent by being a second set of hands to entertain kids, help with meals, and do simple household tasks like picking up the play room or folding laundry.

Others use the term to refer to a caregiver looking to bridge the gap between babysitter and nanny. This mother’s helper provides hands on childcare and child related tasks under the supervision of an stay-at-home mom or full charge nanny. She works both independently and alongside the parent or caregiver. This gives the mother’s helper the opportunity to learn on the job and have someone available in case she has questions or runs into a situation she’s not sure how to handle.

Au Pair
An au pair is a male or female foreign caregiver that is part of an official cultural exchange program overseen by The US Department of State. An au pair is 18 to 26 years old, proficient in spoken English, has a secondary school diploma, has taken a basic childcare training program, and has passed a background check. She provides up to 10 hours a day or 45 hours a week of childcare. She’s also allowed to do some tasks directly related to the children like children’s meals and straightening up the play room however, she’s not allowed to do any outside tasks like family grocery shopping or family laundry. She can stay in the United States for 1 to 2 years.

Many people refer to any foreign, younger caregiver as an au pair. However being an au pair as a very specific and legally defined role. Those younger, foreign caregivers are simply babysitters or nannies, depending upon the job they’re doing.

Nanny
A nanny is a full-time or part-time childcare professional that cares for a child in the child’s home. She’s doesn’t just provide custodial care; she’s responsible for caring for the whole child. She creates a safe, engaging environment that supports and promotes the social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development of her charge (the child in her care). She’s also responsible for child-related tasks such as a child’s laundry, meal preparation, and straightening of the child’s bedroom and playroom.

Most people assume there are some basic requirements for working as a nanny. Unfortunately that isn’t true. There are no legal minimum standards for nannies meaning they’re not required to have any training before taking a job nor do they have to complete any continuing education during employment.

Some nannies add the word Professional to their title. Their goal is to distinguish themselves from less qualified nannies. Others add the term Career to their title. This is to indicate that they plan on working until retirement as a nanny. Those additions don’t change the core definition of “nanny”. They simply add additional self-defined information.

Night Nanny
A night nanny is a caregiver with extensive infant experience and possibly some advanced infant-focused education. She works the overnight shift and provides hands-on care to the baby from evening to morning. Her duties might include the night time bath, infant massage, rocking the baby to sleep, and night time feedings and diaper changes. A night nanny often comes on board once the mom goes back to work and needs to get uninterrupted sleep. She can stay for just a week or two or until the baby gets on a regular sleep schedule and begins to sleep through the night.

Newborn Care Specialist
A Newborn Care Specialist is focused on all aspects of infant care along with providing support and guidance to the parents. They don’t provide care for older siblings or take on tasks not directly related to care of the infant. They generally work a 24 hour or overnight shift. Before a decade or so ago, these caregivers were called baby nurses. However the nursing field rallied for a change because they felt the title was misleading since a baby nurse didn’t actually have to be a nurse. It’s an industry recommendation that a Newborn Care Specialist have extensive experience and additional training, however much like nannies, there are no official requirements. Anyone can claim the title.

A Newborn Care Specialist doesn’t work for one family long term like a traditional nanny does. Instead she works for families on a short term basis, usually for 6 to 16 weeks. Many NCS have their own businesses and book directly with family clients. Others work through traditional household staffing agencies. These agencies are responsible for fully screening the caregiver including confirming her education and experience and making sure she have exceptional references.

Baby Nurse
Back in the day baby nurses were professionals that helped affluent mothers care for their infants from the day they returned home from the hospital. Baby nurses often stayed until the baby was one to three months old and a full charge nanny was hired. Although there wasn’t an official requirement, baby nurses were generally trained and registered nurses, often retired from jobs in hospital neonatal units. However as the demand increased, less qualified caregivers entered the field and the nursing community rallied for a name change to protect the integrity of the “nurse” title. The Newborn Care Specialist was born. Some agencies haven’t updated their vocabulary and are still using the term baby nurse. However the Newborn Care Specialist is the correct term.

Postpartum Doula
This caregiver provides support and care for the new mother and the family for the first three to six weeks after the birth. Unlike a Newborn Care Specialist, a postpartum doula isn’t focused on the hands-on care of the baby. She helps with baby care but her focus is helping the mother. This includes things like providing support for successful breast feeding, sterilizing and preparing bottles, doing light housekeeping, simple meal preparation, helping the siblings adjust to the new baby, setting up routines, and being a listening ear to the new mom. The Postpartum Doula is often described as a stand in beloved auntie.

Family Manager / Family Assistant / Household Assistant
The family assistant position is a fairly recent addition to the household staffing field. It’s a hybrid position that’s a unique mix of many other positions. When an employer doesn’t need a full time nanny, housekeeper, personal chef, household manager, or personal assistant but they do need some of the tasks from those roles on a regular basis, the family assistant is the perfect solution. The family assistant’s job description is designed to meet the unique needs of her family. That could include housekeeping, grocery shopping, family cooking, household organizing, scheduling, errands, or anything else the family may need. Because it’s a new position the industry is still using a variety of titles (e.g. family assistant, household assistant) to describe this position.

Cleaner or Cleaning Service
A cleaner is responsible for the regular top to bottom cleaning of the home. It’s impossible to define all the tasks that includes, especially in a large home, but generally when you think of scrubbing, sanitizing, mopping, vacuuming, dusting, window washing, and true deep “every nook and cranny” cleaning, you’re thinking of what a cleaner does. A cleaner generally comes in on a regular schedule to keep the house up to the required standard. That may be once a week or it may be every day. It all depends on the owner’s preferences.

Housekeeper
A housekeeper is responsible for the light housekeeping necessary to maintain a clean home between regular cleanings plus general straightening and some family-related tasks. (Think Alice from the Brady Bunch.) So she may change sheets, vacuum, mop, clean out the refrigerator, load and unload the dishwasher, wipe down the bathroom, or take the recycling out to the garage. Her exact responsibilities will reflect the needs and preferences of the home owner. She usually works directly for the family full or part time. A housekeeper may also do the job of cleaner but that’s less common.

Other Positions
There are several additional household staffing positions in the field. They are normally employed by high net worth individuals or families. They include household manager, estate manager, personal assistant, chef, chauffeur, butler, and laundress.