As a 16 year old I knew that I wanted to work with pre-schoolers, I was always interest in the early years. In year 12 a lady came to our school as part of a careers information session. She was from The Nanny School in Brisbane. She spoke about The Nanny School, being a nanny, what it involved and the possibility of working overseas, I knew then that is exactly what I wanted to do. So I worked part-time and saved to be able to go to The Nanny School, prior to this I had studied and completed a Certificate Three in early childhood. I went straight into a Nanning position after graduation, I was there for 15 months before moving to London with my boyfriend who was a professional rugby league player. We moved to Leeds and lived there for a year I was working in a Montessori nursery, still knowing that I wanted to go and Nanny in London. When we came back to England from Australia for another football contract in Leeds, I said to him I am going straight to London.
I have always gone through a nanny agency, they do all the screening and they know how to match you. They ask very specific questions eg. Do you drive, will you travel with families, age preferences. From this I was in a job for just under a year, the mother only need someone while her husband was away from home – he was an actor. This family referred me to a friend that needed a nanny for 2-4 weeks, while their permanent nanny went home to Australia. This was perfect for me as I was about to go travelling with my boyfriend who was playing in the Rugby world cup. I knew the children that I would be looking after as their nanny and I were friends and would have play dates with our children. One week and the mother said to me “we have spoken more in this week, than I have spoken to the other nanny in a year. Having you here has made me realise what a nanny is meant to be doing.” She went on to say that she wanted me to come back to her and nanny and live in the converted flat upstairs, after I had travelled with my boyfriend. She told the permanent nanny not to come back. So I ended up staying with them for 3 years. This was until the father wanted to be a stay at home dad, and also because I was getting too expensive as they now had three children. The third child I looked after from birth until she was two. Still to this day I call her my baby. They have four children now and I have been appointed guardian if anything was ever to happen to the parents.
The next family I went onto I was with for a year, they had two children and I did not bond with the boy child or the mother at all. From this I ended up working in Turkey as a summer nanny, even though I never wanted to nanny outside of London. But the money was so good and a friend who was also a nanny was going on holidays and her children needed someone. I knew the children, because when they would come to London we would meet for playdates with my children. I was there for the summer with three housekeepers and a driver only one of them spoke English so the eight year old would translate for me.
While I was in Turkey there were agencies in London deciding which jobs they would allow me to look at. This is how agencies work, based on experience and qualifications they usually gave you about three to look at. I was told that I was highly sort after in London based on my experience and qualifications, and serving time as a nannies helper and moving quickly onto sole charge. I was sitting on the top pay scale, which at the time was about 390 – 400 pound a week about $1000 Australian. I only worked for families where the parents were at work all day. I refused to work for someone that wasn’t working herself, as I felt if you are not working you need to be looking after your children.
I worked 12 hour days with the children, I usually had one on my hip, one at nursery, or school. We would have a strict routine. We would drop children at school or nursery and the baby and I would do our morning activities, maybe meet up with other nannies. Come home feed them lunch, put them down for a nap and then go and do pick up in the afternoon. Nannies really do have the best social calendar, you do not want to be stuck at home all day. I would have sole charge of the children, I would not clean or do general housekeeping, I would only do child nursery duties; cleaning their rooms, cooking their food and their laundry. Occasionally even on my days off or after I had signed off for the day I would still be with them, I loved them and loved just being with them.
As a mother everything that you have just said makes me want to cry. Everything you have said is what I did as a mother with my boys. These mothers must absolutely love and trust you immensely to be with their child like this.
You are right and I totally understand how you feel, at one time I had an au pair helping me with three children and when I would see her with my children, playing with them or showing the affection and I would become so jealous.
I said to the best friend of the lady I was working for “I admire and respect you and the women that work and have nannies – purely for the fact that you are willing to share your child’s love with someone else. I understand that is a choice, I mean the women that I worked for were high profile, extremely successful women, family orientated women. They had worked very hard for years to get to where they were. They loved their careers but also wanted a child. It meant that they need to work out the best balance for them emotionally and of course they still had mother guilt and had to learn how to deal with the social pressure from other women.
The top nanny agency in London, put me forward for a job in Kensington, I went for the interview, the agency negotiated the job for me. They called me in Turkey to say that I had just topped the pay scale for them; I would be getting 390 pounds a week, a flat in Kensington and a car – a BMW X5 and my only bill being a mobile phone. Being at this level, I knew my boundaries as a professional Nanny and always demanded respect from the families, I would only work for families where our values aligned and knew we would be a good fit. I would never travel with the families, dynamics change, and routines change. I was a professional nanny, so when the parents went to work I started work, when they went home I finished work as a live in Nanny. If you travel with them you are at their beck and call. So there are girls that are specifically holiday nannies. They only do travel with families and some only do high profile families and couldn’t think of anything worse than my position where I was stationary in London, doing the same routines everyday was their job from hell.
At the end of the day I just love being around the children under five, I love being with them and having play dates, developing a bond with them, I get so much satisfaction out of watching them grow. I loved for example the chaos and busyness of eating dinner with a table full of under-fives. It was crazy and loud and I loved it. When I moved back to Australia and would be sitting at the dinner table with my husband and it was quiet and civilised I found it boring and I suffered from what I think is empty nest syndrome. For 12 years I had a child on my hip or under my feet from when I was eighteen and I stopped when I was 30. At the end of my time as a nanny, I was just so tired of leaving families, I would just get so attached and I would end up being an absolute mess.
One of the challenges of Nanning is living in a house and living with the dynamics of a husband and wife. Working and living with a family you are dealing with them on a professional level and also an emotional level. Living within a family there is such a personal level of the job as well. The family that I worked with the longest I called her my mum away from home, and to this day we are still in contact with and I have just been invited to go and visit them in Sydney.
My biggest thing especially with under-fives is always to sit and eat with your children and eat the same food. This is so important because: children do not innately know how to eat dinner at a table and food does not motivate children under five. The only thing that motivates a child under five is fun. If they are at a table just being told to eat they are not learning, they learning by copying you. The very first thing I did as a nanny would be always to sit down and eat with the children. The family I was with the longest named me “two dinner Edwards”, because I always ate with the children at 5pm then would go out and eat with friends later. The last job I was in the little boy refused to eat vegetables, but within two weeks of me being with him, he was eating vegetables. The mother said to me I don’t know what you’re doing but keep it up, because her son had a new favourite food of broccoli. The food behaviour in the home changed because I made fun out of it and boys are motivated by challenge, so I would challenge him. “I would say to him you can’t eat a tree”. And of course he ate the tree. Eat with them, eat the same food as them – because they want to be the same as you, they role model you. So do what you want them to copy and feeding children under five needs to be fun. Do not ever clean a child up at the dinner table, let them get food everywhere, on their hands, on their face. Let them feel the food, clean them up away from the table. Let them explore it. Another tip when you do go to wash their face, don’t smother their face with the face washer. They will pull away and bat their hands. Be gentle, lean into them with a soft and soothing voice and clean off one part of their face at a time, explain what you are doing, they will relax and lean into you and let you do it. Be soft and delicate.
Routine. I had a really strict routine. It got to the point that the children could predict what was happening next. This created a sense of calm in them. If children don’t have strict boundaries they don’t feel safe and secure and they can act out because they are feeling disconnected from you. If you are consistent they always know what to expect from you and again they feel secure. Routines and consistence is the key.
Communications with under-fives is so important. Especially over the age of 3, they become much more reasonable. Appreciate that they know more than you think they do. They understand more than they can verbalise. Explain things to them, it’s not fair to dictate to children, explain why you are doing something, this brings understanding and they will be so much more reasonable.
If you want to distract, motivate or engage a child, music wins every time. Make it fun and sing, it captivates them. I spoke to a music teacher about this and she agreed with me that music changes the dynamic and a great way to distract, motivate or engage a child.
Get down on the ground with the children, go to eye level especially with boys. It’s not an innate awareness for parents to get down to eye level. Some parents have an instructional, dictator relationships with children. If they see them at eye level they have a serve and return interaction with their child. For example sit and eat with them at the dinner table, sit with them a do an activity with them.
Start with the end mind, think about how you want them to act not as babies, but as older children. Speak to them with proper words, use appropriate language. That is one of my biggest tips for parents.