‘I cried a lot’: the emotional pressure of being a home nanny during the pandemic

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If you had told me this time last year that I was going to spend over 130 days in near total isolation with my employers, I would have laughed in my face.

It’s such a bizarre situation it originally seemed unfathomable, but that was my reality working as a home nanny during the Covid-19 crisis.

Anyone who has ever been a nanny or employee knows that this is a complicated dynamic even under normal circumstances, facilitated by frequent outings, time with friends, and travel. But when a pandemic strikes and all of those lifesavers are suddenly banned, nannies can find themselves in a situation where you have to choose between your financial stability and your mental stability.

Family homes are usually a revolving door, parents go to work, and children go to play dates. But when you’re suddenly confined together for months on end, even the largest spaces can seem claustrophobic.

Fortunately, I am in what I would consider the best of times for a resident nanny; do a job that I love, work for a wonderful family and live in a comfortable home. That doesn’t necessarily mean this year has not been without challenges.

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Covid restrictions force you to renegotiate professional boundaries that were rather blurry at the start. After all, most jobs don’t require you to meet your boss in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, when you’re having a hangover and trying to make toast.

As a home-based nanny, your professional and personal life are so intertwined. Navigating not only who you are in a professional sense but also who you are in a personal sense becomes incredibly confusing.

Most jobs require you to adopt a “work personality” and this is especially true in the child care field. When I am on duty I have to lock in some aspects of my personality, namely my dark sense of humor and my potty. The tricky part is knowing exactly when I’m on leave and it’s safe to relax again.

Unlike most people working from home during the lockdown, the end of my workday doesn’t mean closing a laptop screen. Even when I’m relaxing, I still have to watch my tongue and watch my steps, literally, because toddlers repeat everything and my boards squeak.

Even though I am treated like part of the family, it doesn’t change the fact that I am not. Families don’t have a contract outlining the parameters of their relationship, and they can’t give their one-month notice, as much as they occasionally want.

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While I always feel welcome, sometimes I feel like encroaching on their space every time I go downstairs to fill my water bottle. So I try to stay away, not because I necessarily feel it, but because I realize that they need time to just be a family.

It’s enough that my presence has invaded every birthday and major holiday already, and as beautiful as it is to be included, it’s hard not to feel like a clumsy tourist standing in the background of the Christmas photo from another family.

Being so close to someone else’s loved ones, when you are physically unable to see your loved ones, is inexpressibly isolating. Needless to say, over the past 12 months I have become more and more hungry to touch and cried a lot.

When it comes to emotional support, my employers are the only people I’m in close contact with who can speak in full sentences, which puts them in an impossible position.

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Because although they care about me and feel a sense of responsibility for my well-being, at the end of the day it is not their obligation to be my parent or my therapist and it is completely unfair to impose on them that kind of role. There is also no HR department to which they can refer me; it’s just the three of us and we’re all exhausted.

Ironically, just acknowledging this fact was the best thing my bosses and I did. It allowed us to recognize our personal limits; setting reasonable expectations for each other and handling this whole situation with what I like to think about is a mutual feeling of compassion and understanding.

Having a boss who is attentive enough to my needs to make sure I spend enough “time alone” is really all a nanny can hope for in a situation as trying as this.

That being said, three national lockdowns later, I have had more than enough time for myself and what I look forward to more than anything else is being able to literally be around anyone from other.

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