My day-to-day experience as a nanny is vastly different to most. I work for a family with two boys aged 3 and 2. The 3 year old was born prematurely and as a result has chronic lung disease, which has meant he has been extremely vulnerable to even the common cold. He has had endless hospital admissions spanning from visits to A&E to intensive care admissions. Due to his medical history I have numerous additional responsibilities included in my role as his nanny. These include constant observations on his respiratory effort, administering various medications, administering oxygen when required and keeping track of hospital appointments. On top of this I frequently look after him in hospital which comes with more responsibilities, the main one being communication as I am mostly there in place of his parents so frequently liaise with the medical team on the parents’ behalf.
When the news started filtering out about coronavirus we were all very worried about what it might lead to. We had seen just how ill he could be from just a common cold, so it didn’t bear thinking about what would happen if he were to contract COVID-19. We all watched the news closely, following what was happening in Italy, France and Spain. Preemptively we started to withdraw ourselves from social situations. First playgroups, soft play and play cafes were no longer safe for us, and then gradually even play dates or visits to parks became too risky. This meant our weeks would be filled with trips to the city farm where we could keep our distance, or walks locally to where they lived.
Eventually with cases rising in London and the government closing schools, shops and pubs, outdoor spaces became packed with people and my bosses decided to shield themselves, which meant no one would be going in or out of their home. This led to a difficult decision where we all agreed that it was too risky for me to continue coming to work. Coincidentally this coincided with the decision by the government to implement the lockdown in the UK on 23rd March. My lovely housemate who is also a nanny works for an anaesthetist so she needed to continue working. This meant I was home alone with nothing to do, which I struggled with. I felt guilty not working, I missed the boys and I felt isolated.
During the first week I carried out errands for my nanny family and would drop groceries to their door maybe even saying a quick hello to the boys through the window, which was bittersweet. I was so happy to see them but all I wanted to do was give them a big hug. By the end of the week I found myself going a little stir crazy and struggling mentally with the position I had found myself thrust into, with no opportunity to prepare myself for it. The thought of weeks or possibly months of this was not appealing at all. It had also become evident to me that even if the country got back to some sort of normal it wouldn’t be possible for my nanny family to do the same until there was a vaccine to protect the little boy and this could take a year or two to be developed. Realistically I could see it wouldn’t be possible to continue that long with me not working. My bosses had been fantastic and had guaranteed my wages but how long would this last? I couldn’t expect that to last forever.
After thinking it through I decided to contact my bosses to see the possibility of me returning to work. I knew this would mean me moving in with them as we had discussed this prior to lockdown being enforced. My bosses agreed as long as I isolated for a week in their house before coming into contact with the boys, which I agreed to. So I packed up my things and moved in. It was quite a sudden decision, which was fast tracked due to the increased risk of me staying at home as my housemates boss would soon come into contact with COVID -19 patients. I have a couple of years experience as a live-in nanny so the concept of living with a nanny family wasn’t new to me, however this was vastly different. Due to them shielding once I had moved in I was stuck there until I moved out. I couldn’t go for walks or to the shops. I was reliant on others for food and toiletries. Luckily my housemate was very supportive and would come weekly to drop supplies off at the door as well as having a quick chat at social distance. This was my only direct link to the outside world other than facetime or zoom chats. They allowed me to get deliveries but I felt guilty ordering stuff knowing that every time they were delivered it posed some risk to us so I tried to limit this as much as I could.
The first week I was at their house was an isolation week so I would hide out the way of the boys in the top room only coming down for lunch and dinner once they had gone to bed. I spent my time reading or writing in my room as well as calling family and friends to keep myself entertained. As the week drew to an end my presence was rumbled by the three year old who we think must’ve heard me talking as he suddenly kept saying, “Natalie is upstairs”.
Soon enough I was back with the boys. I was slightly apprehensive about how we would cope being cooped up inside with nowhere to go but we all coped quite well with it. We adopted a daily routine, which meant the day was split into manageable chunks.
The weeks started flying by that was until the third week when I accidentally fell down the stairs and tore the ligaments in my ankle. This meant for the following week I was hobbling around on a swollen and very bruised foot. When it initially happened it made me realise how isolated I was and how cut off I was from my own support network. Luckily my dad had an ankle support he could bring me so he headed over with it and we had a very quick chat a very generous social distance apart. Again I felt guilty about this. Basically anything that meant someone was coming to the house for me filled me with unease. What if I am the reason the virus gets into the house would be a constant thought that would race through my mind. My boss was great at reassuring me it was ok as long as we all were cautious with wiping down parcels and washing our hands frequently.
The weeks continued to pass by and I managed to pass my free time in my room away from the boys. I found I was coping with the whole situation ok most of the time that was until I started to think about it more deeply. I started feeling guilty I had forced my housemate into a situation she hadn’t signed up to.
Weekends would approach and I’d be on edge that she would be at home bored and lonely without me there. I began missing my family and my own belongings. I know had I been home I still wouldn’t have been able to see them but at that point in time I felt like I had nothing. My bosses are wonderfully supportive but I didn’t have my own support network around me. I’m quite an independent person so having to rely so much on my housemate to bring supplies again caused me anguish as well as guilt that it was too much for her.
At the end of week seven after talking to my bosses we decided I would head home for two weeks to have a break and be around for my housemate not only for my own needs but also for hers. The night after we made this decision I was overwhelmed with anxiety to the point I couldn’t sleep. Anxiety about leaving the safe secure bubble I had become comfortable in. Anxiety about being back out in the wild among people again. Anxiety about leaving the boys and how I would miss them and also how they would change whilst I was away. Would their routine change? I worked through my anxiety and tried to get excited about my time back home.
I have planned a nice weekend with my housemate so we can catch up properly. I have also arranged to surprise my little sister on her birthday with a social distance meet up. So there were a few things to look forward to and I know I will be able to see people I have missed albeit from a social distance.
Overall I coped ok with my first eight weeks of lockdown with my shielding nanny family but if I am being honest I do worry about what toll it will prove to have on mental health as time goes on. As I see life slowly resuming to a normal around me with shops, bars, clubs opening and people becoming more social how will I feel being cooped up at work isolated away from my friends and family? How will I feel when I miss birthdays or social gatherings and see my friends and family meeting up knowing I can’t be with them? Weekends doing nothing whilst the country was on lockdown didn’t affect me too much but when life resumes I think I will struggle. I will no longer be able to do what I want with my free time. I will be confined to their house and their rules even when I am not working. I had planned to attend lots of concerts this year and I know it’s almost certain they will all be cancelled but what if they are not, would I be able to go or will I have to miss out?
Of course I get why they have made this decision as a family it is without a doubt the right thing to do and I will do all I can to make the situation work as best as it can but I can’t help feeling that I will be sacrificing a lot of my own time and life experiences in order to help them through this tough time. I guess I will need to continue to evaluate the situation and make decisions along the way as and when they are needed.
My nanny family accepts that I will need time at home from time to time but this doesn’t come without a clash of opinions. To them this means I am missing out on time I can work so therefore ideally when I am living with them I should be doing extra hours to cover this. Then from my side of things I feel the time at home is what I’m owed in order to make up for the numerous weekends and days off I lose whilst living with them.
Yes I get weekends off and one day a week off but I lose the freedom that comes with that normally. I lose the headspace of relaxing in my own home. I lose contact with my friends and family. Mostly I lose contact with the outside world. I get they are in the same position they are also cut off from their friends and family and have lost the freedom to do as they wish but ultimately they have their family set up of the four of them and they are sticking together through this time. Whereas, I have me and that’s it.
What is the alternative though? I wouldn’t for a second even consider leaving them. They are a wonderful family to work for and the thought of job-hunting right now does not appeal to me at all. I wouldn’t want to end up with a family who didn’t respect me as a person and regret leaving a family who have proven to be more than a family I work for, they have become friends as well. I also know I would’ve struggled an awful lot more not being around them all at this time. I also feel extremely privileged to still be in their lives during this strange time when all of their friends and family can’t be. The two little boys bring me so much joy and create so much distraction from what is going on outside in the world.
I hope they all know what a wonderful family they are and how much they mean to me. I couldn’t imagine being in this situation with any other family. I know that whatever hurdles come my way they will help and support me through them. For now I’m preparing myself for some time at home before I come back to start another stint of shielding. I’m sure the boys will grow and learn new skills in the time I am away as they seem to change every day. So that will give me something to be excited for.
Written by Natalie Weller, a daily nanny in London.