In my late 20s I decided to quit my job, go back to college alongside a classroom full of teenagers and start a new career working with young children. “I didn’t even know you liked kids!?” My friends suspected I was having some sort of early mid-life crisis ...and I suppose in a way, I was!
On leaving school at 18 I didn’t really have a clue about ‘what I wanted to be when I grew up’. I was free from study at last, wanted to earn my own money and go out drinking and dancing with my mates. I briefly considered Nursery Teaching but I was too self-conscious and unworldly to do anything like that, even the thought of going to University to study Psychology was daunting and I ended up withdrawing my application.
10 years of adult life experience led me to start my career in Early Years, and then become a Nanny. I wanted to see the world so I worked two jobs to save up a travelling fund. I then worked in various office and hospitality jobs here and abroad, partied a lot and travelled half-way across the world, back-packing for a couple of years. This experience had a massive impact on my life. As well as seeing some fascinating sights and cultures, I was living on a shoe-string budget and meeting some amazing people from all walks of life. This is when I realised the true importance of family (in whatever form that may take) and really began to understand and appreciate the privileges I had grown up with in the West; a stable family, a secure home, free state education etc.
I returned to the UK and worked in a large office where I was constantly meeting new people. During this time I was made aware of a variety of issues which some of the staff were dealing with. These included addiction, domestic violence and depression to name a few but I also witnessed staff telling blatant lies, having tantrums, creating drama over the simplest of problems and being generally disrespectful and ill-mannered. I have always had an interest in what makes people ‘tick’ and I genuinely wanted to know ‘what made people behave this way?’
I started some light reading on how experiences in the early years have such an impact on later life and through this discovered that there was a whole early years sector that I was completely unaware of. The Labour Government were investing in Early Years, setting up Children’s Centres, providing funding and developing the EYFS. It caught my interest. I wanted to have a positive impact on the lives of young people, encourage them to be kind, emotionally mature, decent human beings and for me to enjoy going to work again. I took a risk, did some voluntary work at a local nursery to confirm that I wasn’t scared of kids then left my job as a civil servant to study for my CACHE Level 3 in Child Care and Education in in my home City of Leeds. Admission: I’d not changed a single nappy yet!
Fast forward 5 years and I’d gained experience of working in all manner of Early Years group settings and job roles. I was now a nappy changing pro! The best jobs for me were those that allowed me to be the key worker for a group of children for a whole year. This meant I could build a strong relationship with the children and their parents/carers and observe, track and encourage real individual developmental progress. Working with a good team of staff is a bonus but the downside to many of these jobs is the poor salary, the repetitive duties, the never-ending paperwork and the fear of yet more funding cuts when in a state setting.
I opted to study for my Foundation Degree in Children’s Care, Learning and Development at evening college. I then discovered that the following year University tuition fees would treble, if I wanted a full degree now was the time. I qualified with BA (Hons) Childhood in the Early Years in 2012 and needed to find myself a new full-time job. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to work at a brand new Primary School with its very first intake of Reception children. It was great to be involved in a new, shiny project, with super-dedicated staff but it just wasn’t going to work for me. The pay was dire and financially I just couldn’t afford to stay there beyond a year.
From mid-life crisis to financial crisis; it was time for serious change.
I always had the idea of being a Nanny for young children in the back of my mind and would see adverts for jobs that sounded attractive especially because you get the opportunity to implement your best practice on a daily basis, try out loads of activity ideas and don’t have the same time and environmental restrictions as you may have in other child care settings. I was especially drawn to the professional salary after earning a pittance, but most of the better paid jobs were ‘darn sarf’. (‘Renting a flat in London costs how much?!’) So, it would need to involve me living in my employer’s house. How would I cope with that? Would I get any privacy? Could I handle sole-charge of a near stranger’s child?
The childcare aspect didn’t phase me, it was working so closely with the parents in their home in a new City that felt intimidating. I’d been very much involved with caring for my nieces from birth so I had some insight into what the life of new parents is really like; the joy alongside the shock, lack of sleep, the strain on the couples relationship, the increase in domestic chores, the realisation that this new little being is entirely dependent on you and requires your constant attention so if you don’t get yourself organised quickly your life will soon descend into chaos! Day care settings cannot fully teach this and I would advise anyone studying child care and wanting to become a Nanny to seek out formal work experience in a home setting. This would have helped me but instead I dove right in!
I signed up with a London Nanny Agency and found a live-in job with a very busy family which would involve plenty of travel and proxy parenting. It was my first Nanny role and they’d never had a Nanny so it was one big learning curve for all. They’d just had their first baby and I’ve now been with the same, growing family for the past several years. It has been the craziest, most diverse, most challenging yet rewarding job I have ever had....and so far, the best!
(The family nominated me for the BAPN sponsored Nursery World Nanny of the Year 2019 Award so something must be going right!)
I think the variety of a Nanny’s role is something that I enjoy the most. As the children continue to grow and develop, the job role changes to meet their needs and so it requires a continuous (yet informal) process of assessment and planning. Every week, as when looking after any child, there is something new to learn about them, about yourself and about your practice. As a Nanny, you also get to witness first hand how your employers develop in their role as parents and it is heartening to know that you are playing your part in being a positive influence on the functioning of the family as a whole.
Michelle Cusack, Nursery World Nanny of the Year 2019