The Shit No One Tells You About Looking After Other People’s Kids

Aug 21, 2020 | The Shit No One Tells You

Lots of people dream of having a nanny to look after their kids outside of school hours and help run the home. Yet working with children in such an in-depth way really builds relationships with them and often, they become de-facto family. In this blog, a nanny gives her views (and scoops!) on what it’s really like looking after other people’s children.

This is a guest post, written by an author who has chosen to feature on EatWeepMumRepeat, and not Lex (the usual blogger). 

‘The Shit No One Tells You About…’ series will follow a whole host of parents sharing their unique parenting experiences and stories. If you’d like to take part and write, get in touch at eatweepmumrepeatAToutlookDOTCOM or slide into my DMs on Instagram.

For professional reasons, the author of this blog will remain anonymous. The author has been a full-time Nanny for many years and looked after a variety of children and families. Her role’s scope is much broader than just childcare, and there’s too much to go into for just one blog, but hopefully this will give you a good overview! 

Introducing… Sweary Poppins.

“I have been a full-time nanny for twenty years. In that time, I’ve helped raise 23 children, from literally hours old right up to pre-teen. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve weaned, toilet trained, educated. I’ve taught children to tie shoelaces, ride bikes, to climb trees. I’ve baked endless birthday cakes, seen no end of nativity plays, shouted encouragement at sports days, held tiny hands during dentist appointments and cuddled during vaccinations. There’s a whole bunch of older children and young adults out there with my accent, my mannerisms, my taste in music… but none of them are actually my children. 

Let’s get the first lesson out of the way quickly, before the big stuff.

You CANNOT be squeamish. 

You will spend a large portion of your working week covered in several other human’s bodily fluids. Mainly excrement, to be honest. I’ll leave that there.

You can’t prepare for the attachment – and the later sense of loss.

Even if you don’t think it when you meet them, you’ll love these small people like they’re your own. Day in, day out, for years, you are their ‘third parent’. In some sad cases, you’re actually their main adult, thanks to aloof, uninterested parenting. How could you not fall in love with your charges? Yet for all the patience, kindness, care and love you give them, all the times you’ve gone home from work and not stopped thinking about them or worrying about something for them, ultimately, it can all be taken away in a heartbeat. Parents need to relocate the family? Bye, nanny. Kids all in full-time school so childcare no longer needed? Bye, nanny. Parents decided they’d rather use before and after school clubs instead? You got it. Unless you get a truly lovely family to work for, you’re “just the nanny” and that’s the end of your employment – and the end of your relationship. It’s genuinely like a break-up! It can be such an awful, gut-wrenching experience handing in your notice too; often because once a family’s needs change, so do your hours. Nanny jobs can go from full-time to part-time quickly, and with a mortgage to pay, nannies are often faced with juggling several part-time jobs to make up a wage, or moving on to something full time. The guilt at leaving ‘your’ babies is awful, and not something many people understand. Somehow this has never really been “just a job” for me. 

Childcare training teaches you the practical stuff; routines, sleep training, first aid. But it doesn’t prepare you for the horrors.

Remember those bodily fluids? There was one day at work where myself and my three charges had all come down with a bug. I’m sat on the toilet with a bucket on my lap, with the bathroom door open, so I can keep an eye on one kid that’s vomiting into a measuring jug, while another is stood helpless and horrified as his nappy overflows down his legs (while the family dog licks it up). The image will never leave me… or you, now. 

Caring for other people’s children sometimes involves a lightning quick reflex catching a puke tornado in your bare hands because it’s the only option. Sometimes a day at work will mean discovering a random nugget of poop on the floor and not knowing who the culprit is. And some days… well, I’ve hosed plenty of crap out of hair. Once, even my own. And it’s always fun following a trail of turd footprints around the house to find the little one who reassures you that they’ve “cleaned up my accident!”. This may be par for the course for parents, but let’s not forget: these aren’t actually my children.

Careers in childcare affect your relationships with friends and family. 

Spending 50+ hours a week using up every last scrap of empathy and patience you have on hoards of small children really can make it difficult to drum up a little more enthusiasm to give up a precious Saturday to spend time with… more children. Friends with children that have been out at work all week look forward to a weekend filled with their kids, and I definitely don’t. I’m sorry! Switching off is hard – if a niece or nephew is acting up it takes a hell of a lot of tongue biting and silent judging, because sometimes all you want to do is ‘nanny’ them into next week. 

It can be hard maintaining friendships with people from backgrounds with office hours too. Nanny hours are long and often inconsistent. The amount of dinner dates or cinema trips I’ve missed because I’ve not made it out of work on time, only to eventually stop getting invited to do stuff in the week because I’m “unreliable” or always tired, I can’t even count. Just going to the pub or meeting people at a party is different when you work with children. The second a parent or grandparent you’re chatting with realises that you’re a nanny, they suddenly want a full debrief on toilet training, or behavioural techniques, or activity ideas. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind being asked for advice, but sometimes I’m trying to have a child-free night just as much as you are!

Working with children can put you off having your own family. 

I know plenty of nannies that have gone on to have their own families, even successfully still nannying in their original jobs with their own kids in tow. But there’s a handful of us that have seen WAY too much in our careers to want to do it all for free! I’m happy to admit that I’m selfish – I want to travel the world, pay off my mortgage before I’m 50, and not share my husband with offspring who will fight for his attention. My work is amazing and really fulfilling, but I don’t feel any maternal needs once I’m done for the week. (Though saying something like that when you’re a childcare professional gets you a lot of stick, trust me.)

Raising other people’s children can be a thankless job, emotionally, physically and mentally exhausting. 

People assume you get paid to do part of what many stay at home parents do day after day as a matter of course. But underneath, it’s so much more than that. You take on a whole extra family; you look after the parents too, the pets, and help run the household – you are the silent matriarch that keeps everyone and everything ticking along… and just as you’re running out of steam and gagging for that gin along with all the other parents on a Friday night – you get to go home and start all over again trying to run your own life! 

Some employers follow the “nannies are just a commodity” school of thought.

At one point I was juggling two part-time nanny jobs – a three day job with shifts and overnights, followed by a two day job with 9pm finishes. For almost 18 months I barely even saw my husband as I tried to make the jobs work, just so I could keep on a family of three boys that I’d been with for 7yrs, not wanting to let them go. Yet I don’t think I heard a “thank you” once in that period. I was expected to miss funerals, skip holidays and give up family parties to be at their beck and call. I was once docked pay for taking two hours off after my mother was raced to hospital with a suspected heart attack. That was a bleak moment in my career!

But the best shit you’re not told? How young and gleefully childish nannying keeps you.

It’s indescribable how much joy it can give you to be such an important part of a small person’s life, how incredible it feels to be a huge part of someone else’s family, household, life. I’ve had previous charges be my bridesmaids. I’ve been to 18th birthday parties of children who’s bottoms I’ve wiped (as babies, of course). I’ve watched children go off to university and cried with pride. I’ve joined children on family holidays, sat with grandparents at christenings, been on the lash with parents once the kids are in bed. When you get a great nanny family, you never really leave them. They’re your family too.

I’m proud that I can juggle a group of four tiny terrorists on my own, whilst simultaneously baking cupcakes and teaching one child how to do the macarena, while teaching another one all the names of the alter egos if superheroes from the DC universe. Nobody tells you just how awesome it can make you feel to raise someone else’s children… and give them back on a Friday and crack open a cold one.”