It’s a beautiful summer afternoon. All three kids are bouncing with energy from their day at camp. I’m gratifyingly worn out from running around the house folding laundry, putting away groceries, and preparing tomorrow’s lunches. What’s a lethargic nanny to do? Then it hits me. For what my nanny parents are paying in country club membership fees, we should be using that pool way more!
After what feels like hours of filling water bottles, applying sunscreen, and packing changes of clothes, but in reality was probably 5 minutes, I corral the kids into the van and away we go. If you’re a nanny you have definitely run into this situation. You’re walking into a community hub and an adult you’ve never seen before greets your nanny kids with familiarity, and looks at you, confused. There’s an awkward pause and you have to say it, “I’m Rachel… The nanny.”
I tell people what my job is everyday. Unfortunately it’s one of the first things people want to know about the people they meet in this backwards society. The tone changes depending on who I’m talking to. If it’s an old acquaintance from high school I can’t help but feel a twinge of embarrassment usually following up the declaration with some version of, “I’m planning to go back to school for teaching. This is just to pay the bills in the meantime.” It’s not healthy, I know, but being raised in such a close-knit community where everyone gossips about everyone else’s kids, combined with the blowout fight I had with my mother when I told her about my new job, it’s a tough habit to break.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where that instinct to justify my job, comes from. Because when I am at work, I never feel ashamed of my job. Every person I have met in this line of work is a complete boss and amazing role model whom any kid would be lucky to have play a role in their childhood. Also, every parent I’ve introduced myself to has treated me like nothing less than a peer, organizing playdates, exchanging numbers for carpools, or making small talk with me about how I’m fitting into the family.
I like to joke around with my nanny friends that we are a luxury few can afford. While I mean this in good fun, I also think for that reason we are a luxury few are used to. I didn’t grow up with a nanny and most people I know didn’t either. For this reason some of my oldest friends whose job it is to keep me humble have been known to make some rude comments about my chosen work. There was an exchange where I used the phrase, “I work with kids,” to which a few of my friends accused me of trying to make my work sound more important than it was. I like to share photos from my job on social media. I once shared a photo of the kids playing on the beach with the caption, “Just another day at the office.” Later that week I declined to meet a friend for drinks because I was tired from working long hours and her response was, “What are you worn out from, laying on a beach all day?”
These comments not only hurt my feelings on a personal level but they made me wonder why people whom I had grown up with seemed to have a tougher time showing my position respect than the affluent people that I interact with at work. My mother’s fear was that it would be the other way around. Her reservation was that I would be living out some non-racist version of, “The Help” where I was treated like a second class citizen and bossed around relentlessly. I don’t know exactly why it is so hard for people unfamiliar with nannies to show them respect, but here are a few rules that have helped me to overcome the hard feelings that hit when someone disrespects the job.
- Be honest: I told my friend who made the beach comment that she hurt my feelings and that I think my social media might have skewed her perception of what I do. For every relaxing moment on the beach there is an anxiety filled moment watching a kid open the front door into their own face or conversation about how everyone needs to look for a few minutes before asking me where it is. The talk went over really well and I got a kick out of the fact that this friend said her job in finance yields that conversation about looking for things before asking all the time.
- Be positive: While being a nanny doesn’t seem like the most glamorous job on paper, it has afforded me the opportunity to travel all over the world, be apart of a team of smart, hardworking, successful people, and manage a home and a family of 5 before I turn 30. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked how I afford to travel so much because of my posts on social media. People who hate their jobs love nothing more than to engage in an interesting conversation with someone who has chosen an alternative path and travelled to places they’ve always wanted to see. Sure, most days I wear what could be considered pajamas to work and often have garbage thrown at me. But when I get to talk about the experiences I’ve had and things I’ve learned from being a nanny, I feel like the most glamorous instagram star since Chrissy Tiegen
- Be grateful: The thing that makes me smile when people turn up their nose at what I do is how much more appreciated I feel as a nanny than in any job I’ve ever had. When you are a nanny, you work for real people that express their appreciation for you in a human way. I’ve heard it said that a person who doesn’t feel appreciated rarely goes the extra mile. The family I worked for in Ireland invited me to live with them so I could afford to travel more. The family I currently work for gave me 2 tickets to the Justin Timberlake concert as a thank you for the extra hours I’m working this summer. And every parent I’ve ever worked for has treated me like a member of the family. I even sat with kids that I cared for at their own parents’ wedding which was an experience I’ll always cherish.
So long story long, friends and family of nannies, just remember that the nanny in your life has feelings. They may tell their nanny kids that old line about sticks and stones but I don’t know many people that can grin and bare it when someone puts them down about the way they make their living. And nannies, people can be thoughtless and it isn’t always intentional. There’s a great line in Mean Girls The Musical, “When you feel attacked, that’s a feeling not a fact.” My sister recently reiterated this to me when I was upset about certain uneven expectations and pressures I was feeling in my family dynamic. She said, “You feel singled out, but you’re not, everyone feels singled out and very few people actually are.” So even though words can hurt just remember that they are rooted in thoughtlessness and not spite. There are so many beautiful blessings that go along with caring for a child and at the end of the day those giggles, lessons, and dance parties are all that really matter. So say it loud and proud. You’re not just a nanny, you’re THE nanny!