Most nannies do not start their careers with parenting experience under their belt. The majority of us started out babysitting and slowly gained our momentum through the years. Although much of the practical knowledge and experiences surrounding a nanny’s career are similar to that of a parent’s, it’s clear that being a nanny is very different than being a parent. But how? Without firsthand experience as both a nanny and a parent, those differences aren’t always as clear as they seem. Thankfully, J, my former nanny, turned mom friend agreed to share some of her insight with me.
How did you get your start as a nanny?
I’ve always loved working with children. I was the 8 year old kid “helping” in the nursery every week. When I was in high school, I lived with my cousin, and then started nannying her kids. From there I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
How long were you a nanny before becoming a stay-at-home mom?
In your experience, what are some of the biggest misunderstandings surrounding a nanny’s career?
There is a lot of misunderstanding around what a nanny does, what is appropriate to expect of a nanny, and how to compensate a nanny. A lot of employers want a high-end nanny at babysitting costs and a lot of “nannies” want to babysit and be paid like a high end nanny. As a nanny, I’ve found it to be highly beneficial to know my value, prove my value and stand up for myself. A nanny is a caregiver, educator, parenting supporter, coordinator, and sometimes even part parenting coach. When fulfilling these, and sometimes additional roles, it is appropriate to be compensated at a professional level. If you want to pay someone a babysitting wage, you can expect them to show up, pop some popcorn, throw a frozen pizza in the oven and put on a movie. Both nanny employers and nannies need to understand this.
What was your favorite thing about being a nanny?
I loved that it allowed me to be an educator, but to also watch the kids grow up over the years. I loved that I could facilitate healthy, happy, balanced family lives for working parents through my words and actions, as well as by keeping up with things around the house, so that they could focus their time at home on their kiddos and not things like dishes and laundry.
What was the most difficult part about being a nanny?
Asking for time off. I was never made to, but I always felt guilty about it. It’s not a job that you can just call in sick to. It’s a snowball; someone HAS to be there.
Before becoming a mom, did you ever feel mom-shamed, less-than, or excluded by moms in the community who knew you were the nanny?
I wouldn’t say I ever felt mom-shamed or less-than before becoming a mom, but as a nanny you are not a mom, so it is unreasonable to expect to be treated as one. You can have great friends that are moms, but when they need support from another mom, it shouldn’t be a nanny. The role of nanny and the role of mom, while they may look very similar from the outside, are actually very different.
Your most recent nanny-family allowed you to bring your son to work for the last nine months you were with them. How did that affect your nannying? Your parenting? Do you think it was beneficial to have your son at work?
I brought my [first] son to work with me for nine months and it was great. It was wonderful for him to have “big brothers” in his life and it was great for them to have a baby in the house. They all learned a lot from each other and got along really well. I can’t think of any specific ways that this set up changed my nannying, but I think it definitely made me a better mom and allowed me to teach valuable life lessons to both my nanny kiddos and my son by having them all together on a regular basis.
How is being a parent different than being a nanny?
I call the shots now. There’s no one to say, “Yes, give him Tylenol,” or “No, he’ll be okay.” This can be really amazing for the most part, but parenting is full of choices that don’t have a right or a wrong answer, so I miss having someone else make those calls sometimes.
I get to dress my kids in whatever I want.
I can change my plans last minute and I don’t have to explain that decision to anyone.
You don’t always get to sleep through the night and you don’t always have time to yourself to get ready in the morning. And then there’s the obvious – you don’t go home at the end of the day.
Were you prepared for those differences?
I was. Being a parent and being a nanny on the surface have a lot of similarities, but also A LOT of differences, but there hasn’t been anything (so far) that I wasn’t expecting when it comes to differences from nannying.
Do you think your experiences as a nanny helped your parenting? In what ways?
Absolutely. Being a nanny is like practicing for being a parent. You don’t have ALL the responsibilities of being a parent, but you get a pretty good feel for what raising kids is like. It definitely gives you a head start on understanding what you are signing up for as a parent.
Are there any ways in which your nannying experience actually hindered your parenting?
When I was a nanny I had a lot more energy to do things like crafts and holiday activities. I still love doing them, but there are times that I feel really guilty that I don’t do more of them with my kids, and I feel like I should be able to since I did it before. So in a sense there’s an added place for mom guilt.
It’s also very easy to get used to living a lifestyle that isn’t a reality for you. When I nannied, I had memberships to everything in the area, gas reimbursement, and unlimited funds for eating out and taking the kids to activities. Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom we certainly live a very good, very comfortable life, but we do have a budget, and it doesn’t include eating out at farm-to-table restaurants one to three times a day.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’m so grateful for the many years that I was able to spend loving and caring for other people’s kiddos. I’m beyond grateful for the moms and dads that let me do that. I’m absolutely a better parent to my own kids because I’ve had so many years of practice with theirs.
J has an insight into nannying and parenting that most people just don’t have. It’s enlightening to have her perspective when it’s impossible to completely understand how either a nanny or a parent feels in their role. Like J said, although on the surface a nanny’s job is very similar to that of a parent’s, they both carry a different weight and hold their own merit.