The nannying nightmare that turned me into an absolute wreck : REAL LIF E : FIRST-HAND

Fergie is getting rid of her nanny; it can be a tough job, as Susan fou nd out
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Indy Lifestyle Online
LAST JULY I arrived in London from Australia and went straight to a nanny agency which had been recommended to me back home. The agent sent me to an interview with a "lovely" friend of hers who was having trouble finding a nanny and was offering £100 a week which I was told was quite reasonable (I have since discovered it was not).

The woman was wealthy, lived in an affluent neighbourhood and was separated from her husband, with two girls of nine and four and a boy of seven. She seemed very friendly and the children were outgoing.

Initially the only thing that bothered me was the behaviour of the little boy during my interview. I had a pendant in the shape of a dagger which the boy kept grabbing and pretending to stab me with. His mother didn't say anything to him about it - whichI thought was a bit strange at the time.

The mother told me that since she'd had a very strict upbringing herself she wanted her children to be free from that type of discipline. I agreed with her, but I didn't realise until afterwards to what extent she had meant this. My philosophy is to be fun but firm, but I soon realised that firm was not on her agenda.

I had lots of good references from my Australian agency who had instructed me not to take the first job I was offered but to pick and choose, particularly since at 24 I was older than the average nanny. But since the house seemed happy and relaxed and I needed to be settled I accepted the job.

The first thing I found out when I moved in was that I had no definite start or finish time. I started when the first child woke up and stopped when the last child was asleep, usually at about 11 at night. Technically I had Saturday afternoons and Sundays off but had to go back on duty on Sunday evenings.

Because I had no knock-off time I felt that I had to ask permission to go out in the evening, and since she wouldn't let me know what she had planned it was impossible to arrange to meet a friend.

During the first week I began to notice funny things going on. The mother was incredibly disorganised and never spent time with the children. Whenever the father appeared the children became very naughty, but I wasn't allowed to reprimand them at all, even though I was the one getting up to deal with the night-time dramas.

Soon after I arrived we started packing up to leave for France for three-and-a-half weeks. That was a nightmare in itself because the children were given a choice about everything that was packed, including their underwear.

But when we set off for France the real trouble began. We got lost in London and she blamed me, although I'd never been in the area before. Then we got a flat tyre and she seemed to blame me for that as well: when we met up with her friends she made a very sarcastic remark about my bad navigation.

We got to the chateau and the nanny from the other family warned me that we wouldn't have any time off during the holiday. After about a week I was beginning to get a bit stressed and asked for half a day off. The mother said to the children, "Susan can'

t handle you any more and is getting sick of you all", as if I was unreasonable to want any free time.

On another occasion the other nanny asked for a night off and was told that this would only be possible if we took all the children with us.

Then the four-year-old developed a habit of biting the seven-year-old. When she hid from me the mother asked me what I'd done because she hadn't ever seen the child looking so scared in her life.

I had never encountered anything like these problems before, and I had no idea where I had gone wrong. I felt like an absolute wreck. The mother could not discipline her children at all and it struck me that not once had she had to look after them, everything was always left to the nannies. She wouldn't lift a finger.

I felt like just walking out and leaving, but I couldn't - I was too loyal, and thought that maybe things would get better once we got back to England. But they didn't. On the way back I was relegated to the back seat of the car with the little boy pulling my hair most of the way, because the mother obviously couldn't stand the sight of me.

Four days after we got back she told me to leave, adding, "I need the house for the weekend so you'd better be gone soon." I packed my bags and left that morning to go to a hostel. That's when the cleaner told me that I was the sixth nanny to leave in six months.

In retrospect the only way I was able to deal with the situation was to shut down my feelings and to grin and bear it. The whole experience turned me off nannying for quite a while. But then I took a temporary job with a wonderful family and I was so upset at the prospect of leaving them that I've stayed, happy at last.

Interview by Katie Sampson

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