If you had told me this time last year that I was about to spend over 130 days in near-total isolation with my employers, I would have laughed in your face.
It is a situation so bizarre that it originally seemed unfathomable, yet it has been my reality while working as a live-in nanny during the Covid-19 crisis.
Anyone who has ever been a live-in nanny or employed one would know that it is a complicated dynamic even under normal circumstances, made easier by frequent outings, time with friends and travel. But when a pandemic hits and all of these lifelines are suddenly prohibited, 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, of parents leaving for work and children going to play dates. But when you’re suddenly confined together for months on end, even the largest spaces can feel claustrophobic.
Thankfully, I am in what I would consider the best-case scenario for a live-in nanny; doing a job that I love, working for a wonderful family and living in a comfortable home. That doesn’t necessarily mean this year hasn’t been without its challenges.
Covid restrictions force you to renegotiate professional boundaries that were pretty blurry in the first place. After all, most jobs don’t involve you running into your boss in the kitchen on a Sunday morning, when you’re deeply hung-over and trying to make toast.
As a live-in nanny, your work life and your personal life are so intricately 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 persona” and this is especially true in childcare. When I’m on duty I have to lock aspects of my personality away, namely my dark sense of humour and my potty mouth. The tricky part is figuring out exactly when I am off duty and it is safe to relax back into myself again.
Unlike most people working from home during the lockdown, the end of my workday isn’t signified by the closure of a laptop screen. Even when I’m relaxing, I always have to mind my tongue and watch my step, literally, because toddlers repeat everything and my floorboards creak.
As much as I am treated like a part of the family, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m not. Families don’t have contracts outlining the parameters of their relationship, and they can’t hand in their month’s notice, as much as they might occasionally want to.
Even though I am always made to feel welcome, it does occasionally feel like I am encroaching on their space every time I go downstairs to refill my water bottle. So I do try and stay out the way, not because I necessarily feel I have to, but because I am mindful of the fact that they need time to just be a family.
It’s already enough that my presence has invaded every birthday and all the major holidays, and as lovely as it is to be included, it is hard not to feel like an awkward tourist standing in the background of another family’s Christmas photo.
Being within such close proximity to someone else’s loved ones, while you are physically unable to see your own is inexpressibly isolating. Needless to say within the last 12 months I’ve grown increasingly touch-starved and have done a significant amount of crying.
As far as emotional support goes, my employers are the only people I am in close contact with that can speak in full sentences, which puts them in an impossible position.
Because while they do care about me and feel a sense of responsibility for my wellbeing, ultimately it is not their obligation to be my parent or my therapist and it is completely unfair to foist that kind of role onto them. There also isn’t an HR department they can refer me to; it’s just the three of us and we’re all exhausted.
Ironically, just the recognition of this fact has been the best most helpful thing my bosses and I have done. It has allowed us to acknowledge our personal limitations; set reasonable expectations for each other and handle this whole situation with what I like to think has been a mutual sense of compassion and understanding.
To have a boss that is considerate enough of my needs to make sure I get enough “alone time” is really all a live-in nanny can hope for during a situation as trying as this one.
That being said, three national lockdowns later, I have had more than enough time to myself and what I look forward to more than anything else is getting to be around literally anybody else.