Consider this my public statement about what’s been going on. Cause I’m getting tired of splainin’ it over and over.
I moved from Kentucky to Atlanta at the end of July. I started a live-in nanny job, which I found great because I didn’t have to worry about rent or food and the weekly pay was mostly fun money. The family was nice enough. Mom, dad, and two girls, ages 2 and 6. They were Catholic/Presbyterian, but they didn’t make a big deal about my atheism, and I wasn’t asked to do anything religious. It wasn’t a big deal except for a ghastly magnet on their fridge for kid’s soccer that featured a quote about only being truly Christian once we’ve died on the cross like Christ. Seriously, WTF? The rest I could ignore. I lived in the basement, next to the father’s office. I worked 40 hours a week, helped out with some community chores like dishes, and often ate dinner with the family. The kids were not hellions, but they were not easy. The two-year-old was of course, two, and in the thick of potty training. (Translation: poop. Lot of poop. And not just inside her pull ups or in the toilet. I’m talking in the tub, on the carpet, and on her clothes. And on me.) The six-year-old was polite and creative, but was very emotional and often dealt with issues by yelling and then melting. The parents were very much child centered. They rarely watched anything on tv that was not animated or geared towards school-aged kids and below. In the car it was lullabies and Strawberry Shortcake videos. The mother on a number of occasions scoffed at family movies that contained humor or references aimed at adults and parents who were “too hip” to not play nursery rhymes all the time. The kids had two playrooms with toys pouring out from every shelf. The closets were similar, packed so tight with clothes it was difficult to hang up clean clothes. And there were more packed in boxes. The parents often admitted the kids had way too many toys and outfits, yet they often got more every other week or so. They lived quite comfortably.
Before I took the job I looked specifically for nanny gigs for several reasons:
- I like kids. And I enjoy reading and learning about Positive Discipline.
- Most jobs were live-in, so I got a place to live and a job all in one. No worrying over rent or food budgeting, because that was included. And living with a family had the perks of cable, internet, and access to other services I normally could not afford.
- It was a quick ticket to Atlanta.
My visions of working as a nanny often starred me as the hip nanny wearing fabulous thrifted dresses, jetting about town with the kids to cool sites and teaching them all about the world. I would live comfortably and enjoy my work. I would put into practice everything I had read about PD and problem solving with kids. I would go to playdates with my mommy friends in Atlanta and it would all be just great.
If you’re seeing cracks in the plan already, you’re way ahead. See, I have a tendency to idealize things and overlook gritty details, such as poop. And tantrums. And Dora the Explorer. When looking at nanny gigs and interviewing, I didn’t take a hard look at the hours and job duties and then really think about if I wanted to do them. I was stuck in my glossy cool nanny dream. And obsessed with just being in Atlanta already. Here’s the reality: there would be no time for all these adventures because I mainly worked on weekdays after the kids came home. You can’t jet off to the zoo or art museum and still do dinner with the family, homework, and have a bath all before 8 pm. So my days were mostly spent at home. My typical day included picking the kids up from school, playtime, getting the six-year-old ready for afterschool activities, feeding, bath time, brushing teeth, reading a story, and putting the kids to bed. It was a daily routine, not the various adventures I had planned for. Already my hopes were dashed, but I could have seen it coming if I had considered the details.
Another thing I should have spotted was the consequences of living with your boss. Even though I had specific hours, it wasn’t like any other job where I clocked out and left. Even after I was done, I was still there, among job. I left the house whenever I could because I never seemed to get away from the job. I constantly felt on edge and watched whenever I was in the presence of the parents. And even when I wasn’t on duty, I still felt like I was obligated to clean or keep an eye on the kids or do something. Even my room wasn’t totally private. The dad worked from home and during the day I could hear him clacking on his keyboard, and I’m sure he could hear me too. To make phone calls I had to step outside because there wasn’t a private place in the house. Towards the end of my stint I once cut a call short because I was being eaten up by mosquitos. I was livid that I had been reduced to such measures just for a private phone call. I was constantly stressed out during my time off, to the point of tears and muscle aches, and I should have been using that time to recharge and relax.
What really put me over the edge was discipline. I thought that I would do well and I still think I did okay. I never smacked a child and walked away if I thought I was going to burst. I tried to assume positive intent and validate feelings. I let both girls tantrum and cry as much as they needed and was there to talk when they were more calm. But even then, it sucked. Big time. Every day I could expect battles. Battles over eating, leaving the house, putting on shoes, putting away toys, and getting along with siblings. The sibling battles were probably the worse. Often the six-year-old wanted to set up something elaborate and play by herself. Then clambers in the two-year-old, knocking everything over, screaming, “Share! Share!” Meltdowns ensue. At the end of my shift I had a pounding head and neck ache. It happened every day. And it wore me the hell out.
As my friend Kelly put it, I was doing all the grunt work without any of the payoff. I didn’t love the kids. They weren’t my babies. I didn’t raise them or have hopes for their futures. I wasn’t emotionally invested, therefore all the work was without meaning for me. Parenting and discipline are long term processes, and I wasn’t in it for the long term. There was no payoff for me. And so I quickly learned that I had no interest whatsoever in disciplining other people’s children. Maybe for a short amount of time as a babysitter, yes, but not as a full time figure. I learned I would much rather interact with kids on a shorter amount of time, on a more limited basis. I don’t want to a major part of their lives, that’s their parents’ job. I’d much rather be teach a kid something and relate to their interests than be their nanny. I think I’m much more suited for short time babysitting and education. I realized it was that same disinterest that made deaf camp so hard this year. I was running around telling kids no and getting them on their schedules. I did more discipline than anything, and it sucked all the fun out of it. So yippee mistakes! I learned something about myself and where I want to go in my career.
Oh yeah, how did this all end? About 3 weeks into the job I was already miserable and looking for other jobs. I’m sure the mom caught onto this. She mentioned I seemed really frustrated, might not be right for the job, and that we’d wait and see. (Of course, she never gave me any advice for handling her children, so I think it was more of an advanced warning then a genuine “we’ll wait and see”.) I wanted to wait till I had something else lined up before I left the nanny gig, but she beat me to the punch. About a month after I started the job, she sat me down and said this was my last day of work. She said she would give me time to set something up, but that I should leave sooner rather than later so as not to confuse the girls. Translation: Get out ASAP. Naturally I wasn’t going to stay in an unwelcome house. It would have been painfully awkward. So I packed up my stuff that night and left for a friend’s house. During this discussion she also suggested that I shouldn’t work with children in the future and that had she known better she could have seen from the start that I was all wrong for the job. That was tough to hear, however wrong she might be. Yes, nannying for this particular family was not right for me, but that doesn’t mean I should never work with kids in the future. It just means I couldn’t bear hers in that specific capacity. I do intend to work with kids, just never as a nanny. Like I said, I don’t want to be all up in their business. I still look forward to teaching at a local homeschool co-op in late October. So stick that in your juicebox and suck it!
Anyways, more to come about what happened next and what is going on now.