Nanny knows best: New scheme offers to look after parents alongside their children

But does Clapham Village Nursery in south London, where the scheme is offered, run the risk of infantilising parents?

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Indy Lifestyle Online

It should come as no surprise.

Parenting has become a full-time industry, with so many guides and experts, shops, books and television programmes showing us the proper way to do every single child-related thing, from conception to university entrance, that it is quite astonishing that we ever managed to breed a single person successfully before the modern era. Now, however, the enterprise has come full circle.

Mothers and fathers arriving at the Clapham Village Nursery in south London, which has an “urban beach” and an artist in residence, and which charges £400 a week to look after a tot, will find a lot more on offer than just child care. No longer will parents be obliged to leave their yelling child and hurry away to get their own day started, because now they can be looked after by nanny, too. They can park little Lottie or Charles with a nice lady, and then pop into the on-site business centre to send a couple of emails. They can pick up a takeaway supper. They can have their aching backs massaged or sample a Pilates class. Clapham Village has the slogan “Family Solutions” on its website. And this is it.

According to the founders, round-the-clock baby care for parents in addition to, well, babies, is the solution we all need. Carole Edmond, says that “Nurseries should help you make the most of family life, which means offering inspiring environments for parents and other useful services to help family life to run smoothly.”

I try to think about this. Of course there are useful services that are important to the smooth running of family life. A fully functional dishwasher is one. Ditto a washing machine. But on-site Pilates? It strikes me that we are heading towards a world where everything has to be authorised by some service, for it to have value. It’s not enough just to muddle along. 

Gina Ford was the first to offer a “solution” to the trying problem of family life, with her guide to bringing up tiny children and stopping them yelling at night via a system of proscribed activities, which parents tampered with or ignored at their peril. Then there was a score of parenting shows on television, spearheaded by the terrifying Jo Frost, who advised us to discipline our children via a specific route, usually involving a naughty step. This, we were told, was the solution for a smoothly running family unit. And which of us does not want a smoothly running family unit? Much better to have a book tell us how to do it, or a television show dictating the way, or indeed, a nursery where you can drop your sprog off, get your thighs sorted and have supper underway in one fell swoop. 

Things that promise solutions, which you can access by simply paying for them, are very comforting (if you have the cash). No wonder British parents are currently handing over more than £7,500 a year for childcare for two children, which is nearly 5 per cent more than the average mortgage costs. Being nannied yourself might be pricey, but it is reassuring because someone else is in control.

For full-time working parents, that is so much nicer than negotiating the maelstrom of childcare visible on the classified pages of The Lady and those despairing interviews (You: “Have you ever looked after a child?” Would-be nanny: “Sure! I occasionally baby sat for my little bro on our Australian farm, so, yep.”). And then you get home and find that your nanny has mashed the pushchair by sending it under the wheels of a motorbike, mercifully without a child in it (this happened to yours truly), or that the male nanny has allowed your children to abseil off a door with a washing line around their necks while he was three floors upstairs (again, a personal experience). And then you feel guilt stricken for hiring childcare in the first place and cross because you didn’t have time to go to Pilates.

Meanwhile, at Clapham Village, you can get all the food and the gym stuff done almost by osmosis. And the laundry. Pay for it and it shall be done. Of course, Clapham Village runs the risk of infantilising parents, but there’s a market for this Big Mother approach to family life. After all, who doesn’t want to believe that nanny knows best?

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