No Relation: The Nanny’s Heartache

The hardest thing about working as a nanny is that when it’s great, it’s a lot like living in the middle of a doomed love affair (if a bit less melodramatic). I know the good-bye is coming, eventually, but I just can’t help myself. I fall in love, hard, every time. I suppose it’s possible that one of “my” kids will stay in my life forever, but until we have settled down someplace, it’s just not likely.

I’ve been thinking of all the kids I don’t see anymore ever since I got to chat online for a minute with a mom I was close to before the family moved back to Norway. I watched her baby turn into a toddler. Several of her words are still English words, because I spoke English to her consistently (due to my complete ignorance of Norwegian). We talk about a visit to Norway, which Nathan and I would love, and they talk about coming back

I’m also thinking about love and good-bye because I watched The Nanny Diaries on TV. It’s hard to admit it publicly, since the movie is pretty terrible, but while I’m at it, I might as well also admit to having read the book. Both had me rolling my eyes and both made it hard to sympathize with any of the adult characters/caricatures. But there’s one moment in both the book and the movie that makes me want to watch/read–the first time the child tells the nanny that he loves her. She narrates something about how it’s going to make it hard to leave her job but she loves him back so she’ll say so. And she tells him she loves him, too. But it’s just that few seconds where the kid looks up with all that love in his eyes that gets to me. I don’t take the jobs with the crazy families, and I have a policy against raising other people’s children, no matter how good the money might be. (In reality, wealthy families usually pay less than middle-class families. Just FYI.) The point is this: while I don’t relate to the heartache of spending days with and being ripped apart from a child whose parents treat him like a custom-made accessory to a fabulous life, I have experienced love for a child I know I will eventually leave.

They move away, go to school, grow up, and I am not a relative. This is one reason I would like to teach in my own classroom; I didn’t feel like an auntie to the kids at the school where I worked over the summer. But who am I kidding? I would miss them; it would hurt. Still–there is something different about spending hours alone with a child over the course of months or even years. I find myself scrambling to capture “firsts” on camera and calling my husband, thrilled to tell him that the baby pointed at something for the first time or practiced standing by herself. (Pointing is a pretty major developmental milestone.) I never feel like their mother. But when the toddler I was babysitting twice a week got into a rather exclusive preschool, I beamed like a proud aunt. This news meant that I would lose a source of income; and yet, I was thrilled. It was probably a matter of names crossed off a waiting list, not even the kind of school that makes two-year-olds “interview.” And yet, I felt pride. I brag about their eyes, their smiles, their curls, their dispositions, as though I share the gene pool these traits came from. This summer, two children I love moved away and, this fall, one went to school.

I don’t want to be treated like a relative by the families I work for. Relatives have fewer boundaries and don’t have to pay me as much, if anything, for childcare. Because I’m not a relative, it would be a strange almost lie, too. Friend of the family is the best I can hope for, and I do enjoy that role. But again–friends of the family just don’t usually bond with the baby while feeding him a bottle, all alone, in a silent house.

I wonder if my desire to have a baby of my own would have taken on this sense of urgency even if I didn’t spend my workdays caring for children. I suspect that the same thing that feeds that desire is what lets me feel so close to the tiny humans whose lives I am privileged to witness for a short time. There are never any tearful good-byes in my world, because in real life, the nanny isn’t fired suddenly one morning and shoved into a waiting taxi, leaving a screaming child on the driveway. I also spend most of my time with children under three, and time exists very differently for the infant/toddler set. Most of them won’t remember me. Their complete absorption in the present moment is what pulls me into the beauty of sunlight dancing through trees. I’m being literal, here: babies love to watch shadows and light. Their despair at Mom’s departure reminds me that yes, it does hurt to see your favorite person in the whole world go, even if she will be back in a few hours. And I love them all the more desperately for not understanding that, this time, our good-bye just might be forever.


  1. Peggy Garte said:

    *tear* :(

    September 27, 2011
  2. Genevieve said:

    I know it is a small consolation, but I am still in touch with several of the line-in nannies we had when I was a kid. Even when they (or I) moved away, we stayed in touch. I’ve met their kids, exchanged Christmas (or winter solstice or season’s greetings) cards with them, and comment on facebook statuses. These were all nannies I had after the age of 4 or 5, so I remember them living with us, but these are bonds that aren’t broken. One nanny we had babysat for another family during the day, and after they moved to Vietnam, she went and visited. Also, growing up thousands of miles from aunts and uncles, these nannies were surrogate family. I still ask their advice and tell them secrets.

    You are so lucky to be a part of these children’s lives. After they go, make an effort to stay in touch with the families. You never know when these children will need another adult role model, or a shoulder to cry on, or a friend to confide in. The parents will (probably) not consider you family, but hopefully they will see that you are a part of their child’s life.

    September 27, 2011
    • Anne-Marie said:

      I know that that will be true for a few families. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even after the nightmare that ended my most recent job where the baby’s grandmother got me fired. (I insisted on following the mom’s directions and wouldn’t break “the rules” just for Grandma, especially not when they were bad for the family.) But the family I’m still working for is great, and the family that moved back to Norway sincerely invited us to visit! It’s just hard that we keep moving and the babies are so little. But now that you mention it, I am Facebook friends with the woman who ran my daycare when I was in preschool/kindergarten! We moved by first grade, but I stayed in touch with her daughter. She gave me some great advice about being a childcare provider. Even the babies who won’t remember, though–I’ve learned so much that will help me in parenting, and I’ve gotten to witness so many incredible moments. First teeth, first steps, first words. NEVER a sad thing.

      September 27, 2011

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