Confessions Of A...Nanny

photographed by Nicole Maroon.
Jude Law, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Ethan Hawke – all these actors are alleged to have had an affair with the woman employed to care for their children. The idea of the ‘hot nanny’ has been much played-upon on screen – a marriage-threatening mixture of good looks and appealingly maternal nature. The Nanny Diaries, a 2002 novel written by former nannies Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, exposed life as a ‘caregiver’ through their lens. Set in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the book satirised wealthy, snooty parents and the poor treatment of their children’s nannies. The story obviously captured readers’ imaginations, as it was swiftly adapted into a movie starring Scarlett Johansson in the lead role. But what is life like for the average nanny, warts and all? What’s the best way of dealing with spoilt children, and what are the working hours like? One nanny with decades of experience reveals all…
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How long have you been a nanny?
I’ve been working as a nanny for over 25 years.
What are the best things about the job?
The children. I can honestly say that working with kids is the best thing ever.
Is there anything about being a nanny you don’t like?
The biggest thing is knowing that you can help children grow and develop but not being allowed to by their parents. Other downsides vary from job to job. Cooking a family dinner while not being allowed to eat their food? In some cases, not being treated like a human being. And working hours are very long.
What’s the weirdest part of the job?
Living in or spending a lot of time in someone else’s home but not actually being part of the family.
How many families have you worked with and do you have a favourite?
I’ve worked for nine families and yes, I have two favourites. I think all nannies have at least one favourite family they’ve worked for.
Is there a ‘typical’ day in your job?
There are no typical days, really. Nannying isn’t like any other job – there are live-ins, live-outs, full-time, part-time, night nannies, day nannies, share nannies, etc. Working with children will teach you that there is nothing typical and no two days are the same, ever! This job requires stamina, experience and a lot of patience. It’s not for the faint of heart.
What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with as a nanny?
The hardest thing, by far, that nannies deal with is having to leave their charges. No matter how this happens it’s utterly heartbreaking. You’ve bonded with the children you look after. You have loved them, you have helped them grow and develop, and then the time comes to move on and it’s the worst thing ever.
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Have you ever been hit on in your job?
I haven’t. I’ve certainly been in some odd situations over the years, but I have never been hit on, nor have any of my employers flirted with me or made me feel uncomfortable.
Do you have an example of one of those ‘odd situations’?
Looking after kids in a house with ‘nanny cams’. One employer had not one, but three, cameras. They said the cameras were for security – either way, you feel self-conscious, and I hate the lack of privacy.
Have you had to look after any spoilt kids over the years?
Yes, of course.
How do you deal with that?
I listen to them and work through issues with them. They know where the boundaries are and they know what the consequences are. Children who are respected, loved and feel secure will soon become your best allies, and the most well behaved kids. It sounds simple but trust me, it’s not! Personally, I believe in discipline, that kids need routine and benefits should be earned.
Have you ever been treated unfairly by the parents of the kids you look after?
Sure, but I don’t feel I can talk about it.
Do you know of any nannies that have been poorly treated?
I know of a lot of nannies being treated poorly all over the world, every day. Some are not paid at all – or not nearly enough to survive. Some are treated like slaves. Some work crazy long hours without breaks and the families are still not happy. It’s also a known thing that nanny sites are targeted for human trafficking purposes.
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What is the pay like, and does it differ a lot from family to family?
Pay seems to vary enormously from family to family, from city to city, from nation to nation. This is a very hot topic in the nanny world; some of us are really fighting to make things legal. A lot of families don’t want to pay taxes, and therefore don’t pay their nannies legally. I know of a nanny who earns $250 (£177) per week for 47 hours with a 3-year-old and 2-year-old twins. And a lot of that pay goes back on stuff for the kids, anyway. Because you get attached to the kids it’s hard to leave, though. Often underpaid nannies aren’t protected as they don’t have contracts – so no benefits or security. Generally, pay depends on different factors: experience, training, location, hours, number of children.
Does your job interfere with your personal life?
Sometimes, but then I guess many jobs do. It’s hard to plan things if you’re the main caregiver and the parents travel, for example.
Do you go on holiday with the family you’re working for?
I do.
How does that work?
It is their holiday not mine, so it’s basically a normal working day for me. The scenery might change, but my duties remain the same. There is a big misconception out there that nannies are on holiday when their family takes them on holiday. We are most definitely not!
How many children have you had to look after at one time?
The most I have had to look after for one family has been three. But if you think that at times they all had a play date or two at the house at the same time, the numbers add up quickly!
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Have you witnessed any terrible parenting (and said anything about it)?
I think that we all have our own views on childcare. Have I disagreed with some of the parenting styles? Sure. I try to interview only with families who have the same philosophies as mine at this point in life. When I first started nannying I wasn’t as savvy, so I did pick some families who I would definitely not pick now. Sometimes, you can do something about it, and other times you just can’t. Parents are quite ‘touchy’ – and rightly so – about their parenting style, so they generally don’t want to hear what you think they could do differently. Having said that, some parents welcome your input and feel that they have an ally on their side.
Have you worked with any super strict parents?
No. Most parents I have worked for have been working parents who relish the time they can spend with their children. Not to say that the choices they make are the ones I would make, but the children are theirs and not mine.
Have you ever thought about quitting – or actually quit – a job?
Yes, often! Being a nanny takes its toll, we give 110% of ourselves to the children and their families. We are there when the children are sick, when the parents are sick, when the children are having a bad day and when the parents are going through particular, difficult situations. We take emotions to heart. Some families are more demanding than others. I have left all of my families for one reason or another, not because I did not love them but mostly because I did and I knew that I did not have much more to give them.
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