Chantelle O’Neill is an Australian Nanny living and working in London, below is her perspective on Nanny life in the UK. Chantelle is also the owner of: http://ourfullhouses.blogspot.co.uk
London life on most accounts is amazing, moving here from my lovely sunny home town in Australia was well worth it. Albeit it slightly (actually, seriously) cold and grey for 10 months of year, it is one of the best cities in the world. I travel when I want, within 3 hours I can be almost anywhere! I have met the most wonderful new people, worldly and ready for adventure. The parks are big, the houses are small, the skies are grey, the pubs are full, the children are spoilt, jackets are a serious staple and I am still, 8 months in… in total awe. In awe of all things including the nanny and family life… children’s and adult’s social schedules are over flowing and separate, nannies have it easy and ‘housekeeper’ is a general term.
Nannying in London (London specifically, not all of England) is a whole other ball game, a rather extreme scenario. It is a far cry from the life of shaving cream play on windows and running around the sprinkler in your undies. A world where it is more than normal to have hired help if not a fully staffed household. I have been a nanny for 8 years on and off and never have I ever… ever experienced what I do here. I love my job, I really do. I feel privileged to be apart of creating little humans with big hearts and courage beyond belief. This just isn’t the way I would choose to do it. This is London… well some parts of it. Not all of course but being that this is a major hub of the world the above is something you would frequently hear about or witness first hand.
In a lot of scenarios those that are hired to help do not become part of the family as much as they do at home, from what I have witnessed. Mainly because other things tend to come first. Maybe to some degree you can, however if you work for a professional family in London you are usually just considered an employee. I in no way want to put these families down, love is ever present in all of these homes and life is indeed wonderful just very, very different and a total adjustment for many Aussies nannies. Especially if you, like me are used to being not just the nanny, but almost another family member. For me this was a huge adjustment, and something that has changed my views on my role to a certain point. This to me is not at all a personal offence in fact it is just the difference in culture for British and other nationality families. We Australian’s are quite soft, affectionate, open and inviting, sometimes a little too much and this I haven’t found to be as strong in many of the other cultures I am experiencing here.
Since I have arrived here, there have been so many moments that have made me go “really?!”. Here are the biggest differences I’ve spotted, between Nannying in Australia and Nannying in London.
Forget about 8:30am-3pm school days 5 days a week… an English student from the age of 8 will attend school from 8am-6pm up to 6 days a week. You must have above average marks and boarding school is very common. I am telling you a child’s life here is more intense than an adult studying their masters. The life of a 1 year old consists of attending classes… the weather here does not always permit you to enjoy the great outdoors so inside it is. Use their energy where you can, or you’ll regret it. We go to music, gym, art, cooking, football, tennis. We shuffle from activity to activity, rugging up and out sourcing as much as possible. I’m telling you their schedules are much more packed than mine… social and otherwise! You attend nursery school from the age of 2 and then continue into school at the age of 4. Nursery school (Kindy) doesn’t run from from 9-2pm… they are a morning or an afternoon child and play for 3 hours. Between this and children ‘having’ to be walked in and trying to find a parking space in London to drop them off the need for a nanny when you are a working mum is a must!
Now this isn’t so much a cultural thing but so much a weather and space related issue. A birthday party at home would be rare due to space and one in the park would be out of the question unless god himself promised sunshine! I’m thinking this is a positive. In winter the only way to run the children out of energy is by letting them run up and down the 6 floors of the house or taking them to an indoor play centre. Swimming classes… when it’s cold. Yes ! Well it’s cold most of the time and everyone has to learn how to swim. Thinking of swimming even if it’s heated makes me feel uneasy. The sun is up at 8:30am and goes down again at 4:30pm in the middle of winter! Not really something that suits children! It can be so cold I couldn’t send a text! My hands were too cold. I once took the children out to the park and they went home with purple lips… I totally underestimated the cold … in SPRING! Whoops. Something I imagine those reading from America can understand.
I am constantly caught out on these ones… not exactly easy to change what you say after 25 years of saying Zucchini. Here are some that are a must learn;
Flip flops… not thongs!
Courgette… not zucchini
Pants … not undies
Vest … not singlet
Trousers…. not pants
But we love to throw some lovely Aussie slang in there to see their faces!
Now this is a touchy subject… I do not at all want to offend anyone or put anyone in a basket here. More houses in London have 2 working parents than I am used to seeing, often for the reason that it is an extremely expensive place to live and an amazing place to work in your field. This often means that the children see very little of their parents and when they do, get everything under the sun. So be prepared for a harder job. I think working here has been one of my hardest gigs yet. And after having 4 children previously that is pretty hard to beat. Holidays are more frequent but so seem to be holidays without your children, something I find constantly hard to swallow. Nanny’s, weekend nanny’s, maternity nurses, night nanny’s, housekeepers and other members of staff are frequently seen in a family home especially in central London, another part of life here I do not quite understand but certainly accept. In fact I quite like the company and the friends I have made from this. Thinking as a mother now, yes sleepless nights are not high on anyones list however I can’t imagine handing my little tiny one to another for 5 nights a week, this is all apart of the process of choosing to be a parent, is it not?
A NANNY’S LIFE
The life of a nanny here is simply logistics, coffee catch up with other nannies (I couldn’t do that!) and that is almost it (of course, teaching, love, feeding and all the above are included). Most families have a house keeper either full or part time. You would never cook for the parents and sometimes not for the kids. Admin is taken care of by a PA or you. Some families ask you to do more but this can be quite rare. I do have a job that people find hard to believe, our housekeeper does all of the washing, groceries, purchasing, cleaning etc. Our PA deals with all admin and is almost a liaison between us all. And the rest I am not permitted to share, however if I did your mouth would be on the floor. We have someone for everything and plenty of luxuries. I do however want to say I have plenty of friends who work in much less staffed households and hold more duties than I do.
As for Nannies in London, I see so many who are not what I would want my nanny to be. Who sit on their phones while in a children’s class, have head phones in while at the park. A lot of families hire internationals and pay them next to nothing to clean their home, care for their little ones and anything else. This means the nanny is often not quite a nanny. Instead of doing this job because they love children and want to help create little humans they do it to earn the little that they do. At home you would never hire someone that didn’t have a genuine interest in children and put all of their efforts into teaching these little beings, specifically for those children who are quite young. I meet nannies who are amazing and I attach myself like glue… then I meet the nannies who are entitled and believe they are the most important because they show up to work each day. I am told by my boss that my attention to detail is wonderful, that my effort with the children is wonderful, encouraging them to use words rather than grunts… I am grateful for the compliment, I truly am but it made me wonder why is this seen as wonderful? It should be normal. In my opinion I do not go above and beyond, I do my job.
NOTES FROM OTHER NANNIES…
“I hear from so many others that children don’t attend events or socialise with their family friends until they are old enough to take care of themselves. I once heard someone say about a 2 year old that they had never met them however were their aunty and lived in the same city. The same city! My mind was completely blown.”
“I have become part of the family now, maybe because the children are older but it is lovely. In saying that it is never to the extent that I was at home. Gratitude is never as openly shown here. There seems to be a lot more logistics involved here with school drop offs and the amount of homework school aged children receive. Their schedules are packed full!”
“Being a life in nanny can be uncomfortable but you get used to it. I just had to realise they have had several live in nannies and are used it. I now just help myself and make it my home.”
“The children think some things I say are hilarious! And I them! I made them try vegemite and to my surprise they loved it!”
“The mums are from a whole other world… the hair and make up for a parents meeting was incredible. There I was with all the other nannies who were standing in, in my gym gear.”
I am still yet to figure out if it is a cultural or class difference, or maybe it is me. But there are many things that I haven’t yet experienced and can’t imagine experiencing with an Australian family regardless of their ‘class’… or maybe we just have totally different values. I can say that the financial climate and the freezing cold climate will all play a part in the differences between here and home. Here’s hoping I don’t get too used to it!
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