Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

The Secret Nanny

A few weeks ago my mother-in-law, who hasn’t worked since the birth of her first child some 35 years ago, cheerfully announced that she thinks mothers these days are terrible whingers, complaining about how difficult it all is. Especially disgraceful are those who compare working to parenthood: I mean, their jobs can’t have been very taxing, can they, if hanging around with a baby is just as hard!

For many of her generation of mothers, there was a very clear divide between paid work and early motherhood that meant that the two occupations rarely had to be squeezed into one life at the same time. Nowadays, of course, things are very different and the unique challenge of balancing a career and a family means that parents now have to factor some kind of childcare into their daily lives. Not only do paid work and parenthood now co-exist, you also have to pay someone to share the work of parenthood some of the time.

No wonder then that many parents struggle with the social, emotional and financial etiquette of hiring someone to look after their children. It could be the first time you have hired anyone to do a job for you personally, apart from a plumber, and you might feel horribly uncomfortable being an employer and having ‘staff’. It might mean letting a stranger into your home and family, or sending your baby to a stranger’s home. And once you have gone through the hassle of finding your perfect carer, how do you hang onto them?

I worked as a live-out nanny for several years on and off. I looked after children from 18 months to 5 years old, with families in different circumstances and environments. I am not trained, just someone who really enjoys taking care of little ones. I am also not a parent, so can’t really empathise with the potentially agonising process of negotiating the childcare minefield. But let me offer a few thoughts from the nanny’s point of view, that might just help you find and keep a nanny who will genuinely be an enrichment to your child and your whole family.

What do you want your nanny to be?

Before you even meet a potential nanny, really think about what you want for yourself and your family. Do you want a fully-trained, registered Mary Poppins-type with a magic technique for cracking potty training and a perfect Heimlich-manoeuvre? With a whiff of TV’s Super-nanny about her, all crisp, matronly cotton and uncanny insight into your child’s psyche? Sounds lovely, and a good agency may be able to find her for you. But what if they don’t? Because, in reality, many candidates will have a police check, basic first-aid, and that’s about it. I had neither of those things. Maybe what really matters is less quantifiable than that: a natural empathy with your child; a genuine love of play and nurturing; lots of patience and smiles; the feeling that you can trust them and that they will put your child’s safety and wellbeing first. Perhaps this is why, according to the annual Nannytax survey, almost half of families base the decision to hire a nanny on a recommendation from a friend: there’s no certificate for being lovely.

Now, I am in no way suggesting that childcare qualifications are not important: they are and if you aren’t lucky enough to be given a trustworthy recommendation, what else do you have to go on? Indeed, there is a limit to how far you should rely on your instincts: I was once hired in a café by a mum I got chatting to while with another of ‘my’ kids. Impressed by how comfortable the toddler was, she asked if I was looking for more work and took my number. Incredibly, the next day I found myself out alone with her kids in central London with no further vetting at all. She didn’t know my surname, address, nothing. I could have been anyone!

Assuming you want to be a little more discerning than that, how do you make sure? The best families I worked for spent at least two full days with me and the kids together. This is a chance to ask questions, see the nanny interact with your child and get to know them better. And it works both ways: I turned down a job once after spending a day with a family who spent most of the time listing the tasks I should perform and taking no notice of how their daughter felt about me. So don’t forget, the nanny is interviewing you too. Be really clear up front about what you expect from your nanny, and be prepared to negotiate on it: so you want ironing too? Cooking? Shopping? Babysitting? Someone to remember your auntie’s birthday? Be realistic: this is childcare, not household staff or a personal assistant.

Once your nanny starts, do keep an eye on things, but don’t over-do it. Make sure everything is fine: I have known of nannies who were, essentially, secretly doing two jobs at once and some who were taking kids to run their errands all day, so don’t check out entirely. But also bear in mind that some of the toughest times for everyone – nanny, parents and kids – are when the boundaries of who is in charge are blurry. One of my mums worked at home, so would reappear unexpectedly and invariably at an awkward time while I was trying to apply some discipline or halfway through dinnertime, often prompting chaos. Most annoyingly, her 5-year old would sometimes object to my decision on something (snack, raincoat etc.) and run upstairs to mum complaining, usually successfully.

You may want your nanny to be Mary Poppins, but remember that she was both fictional and weird. Your nanny is real: at the end of a likely 10-12 hour shift looking after your kids, just like you she will be knackered and will have struggled with the exact same things you have when you get to the end of the day. If she still has a smile on her face, you’re onto a winner.

What does your nanny want you to be?

One mother I worked for would regularly ask me to take her kids on playdates after school. We would get the bus to someone’s house and then she would meet us there and usher me out, leaving me stranded across town without my bike. Another would think nothing of asking me, during my 45 minute break in a 12-hour day (during which I also cooked dinner for later), to run out to the shops for her. Yet another saw me as some kind of mobile nursery and would expect me to turn up at 9am during the summer holidays, remove her 5-year old and 3 year-old from the house, and not return with them until 5pm, regardless of the weather. As a nanny, I would expect that my job looking after your kids is afforded respect and empathy: would you think it fine to not sit down for 12 hours? Or to be out and about in the rain with two kids for 8 hours straight without a rest?

I have always been willing to help out around the house where I can, and cooking and cleaning up after the kids is part of the job. But I do not expect to be treated like housekeeper, secretary, au pair, waitress or general dogsbody. Apply the self-test: if it seems like too much for you to do in one day, then it is too much for your nanny (and probably your kids!).

Remember that, ultimately, this is a job for me. It’s fantastic when your nanny feels like part of the family, but don’t let that spill into neglect of their time and energy: the average working week for a nanny is 51-60 hours, so let her go promptly. Several mothers I have worked for have come to feel that I am their friend, and loved to chat and even confide in me. This can be lovely and genuine, but remember that your nanny has her own family, home and life to go to at 7pm (mind you, a nanny should be flexible where possible- that’s just the reality of family life).

And…What do your kids want your nanny to be?

Well, that depends on both your kids and your nanny, of course. But for me, I found that being a nanny meant being something between parent and playmate. Firm and fair when necessary, but always energetic and playful when possible. Sometimes a child behaves differently with their nanny, and that could be a good thing. They may make up stories, tell secrets or just reveal different aspects of their personality, both good and challenging, all of which is surely healthy. I felt real, lasting love for some of the kids I’ve looked after and found that they were all happy to soak up affection whenever possible. But I am not their parent and a nanny is no competition for mummy or daddy, so try not to fret over the affection your child will hopefully return to their part-time carer. A good nanny is a bonus for them, an extra grown-up in their lives to lavish care and attention. Don’t expect anything less.

Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice – Baby Jumble’s north London charity partner

noahs_ark_logoNoah’s Ark is very proud to be Baby Jumble’s charity partner in North London. We receive 25% of all takings on the door and also any unsold stock at the end of the event, which is always great quality and enables us to raise vital funds to support our work with families across North London.

Noah’s Ark is an expanding children’s hospice service, seeking to serve an estimated 900 children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions, and their families, living within the communities of North London, specifically the boroughs of Barnet, Camden, Enfield, Haringey and Islington. To date Noah’s Ark has worked with 200 families.

Our aim is to support these families in a flexible way – responding to their specific circumstances with services that encompass the whole family enabling them to live positive lives and face the future with hope. The services provided range from practical and emotional support, outings for the family and, in some cases, end-of-life and bereavement care. Our service provision has grown in direct response to the families’ needs ands we have created an innovative range of services with them in mind.

Noah’s Ark currently has a very active community team, providing vital support to life-limited children and their families. Through initiatives like our Play Scheme, Siblings Support Programme, Family Support Volunteer Service, Family Days and Specialist Carers, we are able to offer families support where it is most needed, filing gaps in areas not supported by other service providers.

With land now acquired, this community work will, one day, be complemented by additional services within a hospice building. With a building, we will be able to offer overnight respite care and end-of-life care for those families that need it.

Noah’s Ark’s aim is to help families enjoy their lives together while their child is still alive or undergoing stressful treatment and go on to face the future with hope if their child dies. Our services have developed over time in response to the requirements of our families – we aim to provide what families say they want, when they want it and in a place of their choosing.

In order to achieve our aim, we need to raise £1.2million every year to maintain our existing service. Our dedicated fundraising team do this in a variety of ways, from community events to applications for grants and corporate support. We also have 3 successful charity shops in Barnet, Finchley Road and Borehamwood. Children’s items are always good sellers so the donations received after Baby Jumble sales are really valuable to us. If you can’t make it down to the next sale, pop into one of our shops for some great children’s wear, toys and kids furniture!

The Pox

‘Chicken Pox’. The word ‘chicken’ makes it sound quite cute, as if someone, somewhere back in time decided to take the edge off and make it sound appealing to its usual victim – children. And in some respects it does because although it’s never pleasant, it’s usually less horrific on children. But when you get it as an adult it’s not cute. It’s medieval. It’s THE POX.

It started with an itch. And then some lumpy bumps on my face. Around about day two the strange new look my face was worthy of a selfie. Then it became more and more unpleasant until the night of day three when all of the redness and lumps gathered forces and marched north to my scalp where they settled into a pulsing, agonising itch that drove me absolutely fucking insane.

While my son – the deliverer of the gift he picked up from the germ pool also known as nursery – slept soundly nearby, I itched and scratched on the sofa all through that night. TV failed to distract and a 3am viewing of ‘Sweat the Small Stuff’ had me feeling that life was no longer worth living.

The grim news from the NHS website (still more appealing than Grimmy) informed me that I had one of two things: Hand, Foot and Mouth (1 week) or Chickenpox (2 weeks). And so I settled in for the long haul…

It’s nearly nine months since all this happened and looking back at the daily photo updates, I’m reminded of the incredible changes – horrific and hilarious in equal measure – in my appearence over the following few days as the spots took over my entire body. What I remember less well is just how unwell I felt those first few days: feverish, roaring temperatures and exhausted.

By now looking like a fully paid up lepper, I pulled on a hat as low as I could without losing all vision and headed to the doctor.  She visibly shuddered, confirmed it was chicken pox, then shrugged and prescribed me some pills with the admission that they’d almost certainly have no effect. This wasn’t strictly true. Whilst they didn’t have the effect of curing me, they did give me powerful hallucinations. Fun for the first day or so – I remember flying with a swarm of bees – but the drugs quickly began to really addle my brain and so I knocked them on the head.

Meanwhile the outbreak of spots had levelled off to a state of utter carnage and I was begining to warm to them as they had clearly warmed to me. Could this have been Stockholm Syndrome on top of Chicken Pox? By now I was a week in and settling into a homeopathic routine of cool baths garnished with a heavy splurt of Aveno lotion followed by concerted hours of watching Wimbledon on the TV. It worked.

The insanely irritating itching had only lasted the first few days. The fever another couple of days. And then it was just me and the spots. Spots which initially threatened to crush my morale but by day ten I felt I was cultivating them like a proud farmer growing tiny, crusty radishes all over my body.

It was two weeks before I felt the compulsion to pick them. Naughty I know, but with the greatest will in the world, there will always be a place or two where a little scar won’t do any harm. Picking and sitting, no longer itching, the third week was one of feeling much, much better, interspersed with visits to the bathroom where the mirror reminded me that I still looked absolutely ludicrous. Will it ever end?

It did end but slowly. Spots and scars remained for some weeks yet as did an inglorious beard and an unwelcome lesson learned. Until my brush with the pox, I’d been dismissive of the reports that delightful young children could become carriers for far from delightful illnesses. Especially – I thought – my little Fred. How wrong I was. And I’ve got the photos to prove it.'s not pretty!

…it’s not pretty!

There is a postscript to this story. Poor little Fred – the cute carrier – who had had a small dose of the pox himself before passing it onto me, clearly hadn’t had it hard enough to build up the antibodies. So while I was on the mend, he was breaking out in a vigorous new batch of spots which eclipsed his earlier outbreak. And as his constantly down turned, sulky and sad bottom lip reminded me of the shitty feeling of the pox, I wished – far too late – that we’d just got him vaccinated in the first place.