When Nannies and Parents Come From Different Cultures

In the May, 2008 The Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology published a study entitled, “What happens when parents and nannies come from different cultures? Comparing the care giving belief systems of nannies and their employers.”

The June 2009 issue of Be the Best Nanny Newsletter discusses the findings in the study in detail.
The differences between the American mother and nannies that were raised in other cultures were:
1. Requiring a baby to go to sleep “independently” vs. holding the baby to prevent crying as he or she falls asleep.
2. Requiring a child to do things for himself vs. helping him by doing them for him.
3. Talking to a child as an equal and negotiating with her vs. telling her what to do based on adult authority.
4. A more relaxed approach to dressing a baby warmly enough vs. bundling a baby warmly for protection from the elements.
5. Learning from experts and books vs. learning from the personal experience of a respected member of the family.
6. A mother’s devotion to personal achievement and multitasking vs. a mother’s single-minded devotion to her maternal role.
7. Adults guiding children’s play in educational directions vs. child-directed play.
In each of these seven contrasts, the first practice or belief is of the American mother. In contrast, the second practice or belief represents the nanny.
Have you experienced any cultural differences between you and your parent/employers?


  1. I read the issue on this topic last night and what I found I could relate to is the nanny from Central America (I think she was from Central America) who would pick up the toys when the 3 year old threw them on the floor and the mother doesn’t want her to do that. The mother not only wants her child to be responsible for his actions (pick up after himself when he makes a mess) she did not think it was fair to the nanny.When I start a new job I often start by picking up all the toys, making beds, and so on. But, not long after the parents want the children to learn responsiblity.I would not say it’s a cultural phenomenon for me. I do the picking up after the kids because at first I think it is my job.I prefer working for parents that want to teach children to be independent and responsible as do most American mothers according to the survey. I can see how that would be a difficult adjustment for a nanny who has been taught to serve the children where she was raised.

  2. This is so interesting because I was raised in America and only worked in America and I find these issues to be problems for me and the mothers I have worked for.For example, why do parents today allow their kids to “talk back” to them so much? Never in my wildest dreams would my parents allow me to “talk back.” If I say even nice things the kids want to argue. And I am not only talking about teens (a time you would expect some disrespect of authority).I don’t get why my current charges are allowed to negotiate all the time. It is disrespectful and I feel that way even growing up in America!!

  3. I just wanted to let you know that I truly enjoyed the article on Nannies / Parents from Different Cultures. I found it interesting, informative and a conformation of other information I have gather and learned over my years as a nanny. I have also worked for a family that employed multiple nannies all with different backgrounds and cultures … it made for some interesting times ;)I have found it to be hard to change from receiving printed material to the new and green “techie” way of life, therefore a great article was helpful to me personally.C.J. A Nanny and subscriber to Best Nanny Newsletter

  4. I have experienced all of these issues at some point in my 20 year carreer as a nanny. It is amazing how we really do just think the way were raised is the way to raise children. Nsnnies and au pairs do get insulted and take it personally when parents value the way we raise children differently then we do.The example of children speaking disrespectfully to their caregivers is a huge issue with me too. I prefer children learn to sleep independently, but wouldn’t care if the parents had a family bed. I prefer when kids clean up after themselves but would swallow my criticisms if told to. But when children speak to me in a tone they wouldn’t be allowed to do as an adult — makes me so annoyed!I really do not agree with children being treated equally or speaking to adults as equals. They are allowed to express fellings and opinions but when I say to put on your coat, but on your coat!

  5. Stellar issue! Great topic for all parents, au pairs and nannies! Must read. So many nannies and parents get so emotional and personally insulted when parents and nannies have different styles in raising kids. It is not WRONG just DIFFERENT!! Such a great topic, even for people from same country!Larissa, Darien CT

  6. This is interesting because as an American working for an American these topics have come up for me. I don't like the way the parents put their kids to sleep; I don't like their disrespectful tone of voice sometimes when speaking to me; I don't like when they don't pick up their toys themselves;I get angry when kids won't wear jackets when I ask them too (more of a lack of respect thing); I think learning from books is overkill where I work and the kids need more free play; and I think the mother should spend more time doing the busy work I do for her with her children. Again, I am an United States citizen and these issues have come up at my jobs and I have been outright angry and complained about the way the parents handle these issues. And, I'm an American.Deeper issue: why are parents allowing kids to be so disrespectful these days and allow the kids to be served and waited on hand in foot by their nannies? Hmmm…. spoiled generations…

  7. I spent six months in Italy, working for a family in which the mother was American and the dad was Italian. Although mom was American, they were living in Italy and the Italian relatives were nearby and more involved, so the children were being raised mostly in the Italian style. The things I remember are how much the Italian grandmother spoiled the toddler, like bringing her some little toy or new clothing every day when she arrived to take the toddler for an outing, laughing it off when the toddler slapped her in the face, and feeding her junk food. The other thing that made an impression is that compared to America, there are almost no activities for babies/toddlers. At least that's the case where I was, in a small seaside town. Maybe it's different in large Italian cities, but as far as I could see, there were no music or gym/dance classes, no playgroups, very few playgrounds…..there was nothing for these kids to do. Momboss said that it's the Italian culture, kids are simply kept home and spoiled till they're school age.I also spent two different stays in Australia, the first time working for an American family that was transferred there, and the second time working for an Australian family who were friends of the Americans. The Australian culture encourages getting outside and being active, and that includes the kids. On weekends and holidays, you'll see whole families out together walking, swimming, biking, rollerblading, or just playing on the grass. They have tons of activities to choose from, just like in the USA. For the most part, I'd say Australian children are encouraged to be independent and self-sufficient.My experiences in Italy and Australia were very different, and the two countries definitely have different attitudes toward raising kids.

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