Although technology is rapidly changing our world on a daily basis, some things seem to remain stagnant. The definitions of nanny and babysitter easily fall into this category. While apps and services like Sittercity continue to transform the way parents find childcare, we’re still relying on century-old terms to describe someone caring for a child besides their parents.

Nanny” is a word, coined in 1795, which means “children’s nurse”. While modern definitions of this old word vary, synonyms for it are pretty consistent (and dated). Nursemaid, nurse, Aupair, and childminder are apparently other ways to describe a nanny. However, when you consider the responsibilities of nannies today, these terms are far from accurate.

The word “babysitter” is a little younger than nanny but still considered old to the modern world. It originated in 1914 and usage of it spiked during the 1950s when families moved to the suburbs (more on that later). When the word is broken in two—baby and sitter—the definition is completely different than what babysitters do in 2019. First, they are caring for more than just babies, and are certainly not just sitting with them. As we all know, there’s way more to it than that!      

What’s the difference between a nanny and a babysitter?

Some may use the two words interchangeably but there are differences when it comes to the definitions of nanny and babysitter. What’s the same, though, is they both have the big responsibility of caring for children and keeping them safe while parents are gone. 

Back in the day nannies were oftentimes servants or maids that lived with wealthy families. Their daily job included taking care of the home and many times, the children. So, when parents went out they already had live-in care. For those who weren’t wealthy, the extended family usually lived close. On the rare occasion that parents could afford to go out, kids would be left with grandma or an aunt.

Babysitters came onto the scene in the 1950s when families started moving to the suburbs, and middle-class America was formed. Moms and dads lived further away from the rest of the family and needed to find alternative care when they wanted a night to themselves. Babysitters became a temporary solution for the evening.

Today, times have definitely changed, and so have living situations. More women than ever are working, and taking care of children is a shared responsibility between mom and dad. Some families need full-time daily care for their kids while others rely solely on occasional care. That’s really the difference. A nanny is known as a childcare provider who offers daily or consistent care to a family. A babysitter is a short-term caregiver and may only be needed every so often.

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What are the actual responsibilities of twenty-first-century nannies and babysitters?

Taking care of children in today’s world—especially when they’re not your own—is hard work. Needless to say, the traditional definitions of nanny and babysitter no longer fit the role.

A nanny cares consistently for one or more children. He or she (notice that men are now nannies, too) may be in charge of dressing kids in the morning and getting them ready for the day, dropping and picking up from activities or school, homework, and a bedtime routine. Some nannies also do housework for families that can include cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. They play with the kids, read to them, and ultimately keep them safe. 

Beyond the typical job description of a nanny, many also serve as mentors to the kids they watch. Parents sometimes lean on them to advise or counsel since their nanny is around their kids so often. In some situations, nannies are even advocates for kids with special needs or disabilities.

A babysitter, on the other hand, is still considered a temporary childcare provider, working for a family when parents need extra help. They may spend a day or evening playing with the kids and tidying up the house, but they’re not a permanent fixture to the family’s weekly routine. Don’t underestimate their job, though. Coming in as the person in charge during a non-routine day is not easy. From after-school tutor to providing comfort to kids with separation anxiety, babysitters go beyond simply playing with kids for an evening.

Needless to say, the traditional definitions of nanny and babysitter just don’t fit in today’s society. The roles and responsibilities of each have dramatically changed over the decades, yet the terms used to describe them have remained the same.  

So, where do we go from here?

Who has the power to change the narrative on the definitions of nanny and babysitter? We’re no Merriam-Webster, but we do want to be part of shifting the conversation around who childcare providers are and what they do. We hope you’ll join us in spreading the word.

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