The summer after I graduated from college I was hired as a nanny for a family living in a very affluent part of Philadelphia where perfectly manicured lawns and huge homes are the norm.
It's an area where retirees tend to be extreme cricket/golf enthusiasts and most of the parents can’t dream of sending their kids anywhere but the best private school money can buy.
At the initial in-person interview with the family, their 7-year-old daughter, Anne, told me that they had already talked with five other candidates but that she liked me the best and wanted to hire me right then and there. I remember laughing and thinking it was cute. I told her I appreciated the approval.
Little did I know that what I interpreted as a silly joke was her letting me know that while she wasn't the one paying me, she WAS my boss.
I ended up being in charge of both Anne and her 2-year-old sister, Lucy. Their family lived in a gorgeous restored mansion that had three floors full of designer furniture, an elevator that lead to an in-law suite, a game room, and fireplaces in every bedroom. The parents were -- to my surprise -- fairly down to earth. They had both steadily climbed to the top of their fields and their workaholic ways were apparent from the start.
They practically never had dinner together and also did not cook...ever. The nanny gig also entailed meal prep, laundry, emptying the dishwasher, and taking out the trash. They only ever had pre-packaged meals in their freezer and a crazy amount of take-out containers in their trash can.
Early on, I asked Anne what her favorite home cooked meal was. She seemed at first confused and then embarrassed, muttering that she didn't know what food her parents cooked. I tried again, asking about her favorite food that her mom made. She eagerly told me “Thai take-out!”
The parents may not have had any extra time to spend with their two daughters, but they definitely had the money necessary to appease them with gifts. Anne was constantly given new clothes, shoes, books, toys, artwork, etc. I became very familiar with these gifts, as I was the one charged with organizing her room because Anna didn't “do” chores.
I would shuttle the kids around to explore beautiful city parks and secluded nature trails, not realizing that their interaction with nature previous to this point had been very limited. Anne went to a summer camp at her new school, yet her only notion of a park was playground slides and swings and tennis courts. She did not believe me when I told her that the wildflower-spotted forest to which I had taken her was also called a “park.” She had never been on a hike before.
I would watch Lucy for the majority of the day, keeping her entertained as her personal driver, and then we would pick up Anne after school and watch them until their mom came home from work.
The only issue? Anne was an absolute terror. I had always thought I had a natural ability to work with kids but Anne’s constant attitude became a challenge unlike I had ever experienced.
At our first encounter, I had a feeling that she might be a lot to handle but her bossy attitude and stubbornness became even more obvious once we were spending more time together.
Anne could also be a charming and downright hilarious little girl, but once things weren't going her way then all bets were off. She wouldn't take any of my requests seriously and constantly wanted to start shit with anyone in earshot - live-in grandparents included.
As far as I could tell, the parents had shown Anne zero consequences for bad behavior such as calling me names, hitting Lucy when she took her toys, or throwing pencils at me when her homework was even the tiniest bit frustrating. She could get away with murder. She knew it, and I knew it too.
She bragged to me that she had never had a time out and probably never would. If I would tell her to go to her room to calm down she would hit and scream and cry and tell me her parents always said that, but never actually did it...so basically don't even try to tell me what to do, K?
I thought it would be cute to give each of the girls a big pumpkin cookie around Halloween, but I made the mistake of telling Anne about it too prematurely. I told her there would be something special for her at the end of the day but warned her that if she wasn't a good listener or was rough with her sister then she would not be getting anything.
That was the day she screamed “WHY DO YOU HATEEE MEE? WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DOOO THIS?” and smacked me on the face for telling her to study her spelling list.
Anne would not be getting a treat after all, and she just about lost her mind. She said that her parents would say the same type of thing, but they always ended up giving in and letting her have whatever she desired. Her mom seemed embarrassed when I told her what happened but later texted me that Anne had probably reacted that way because she “thinks you don't like her." Mhmm...OK.
Anne was still talking about getting the cookie the following week, but I told her to stop asking about it and that the present was no more. Literally... it was gone. I had eaten it the day she smacked me. Whoops!
Here's the thing: I totally understood Anne's 7-year-old rage. Yes, it was annoying to deal with her tantrums, but as time went on I started to sympathize with her. As a little girl, I was also very emotional, constantly talking back to my parents and growing irrationally angry if someone made me stop watching TV or get off the computer to finish something math-related. I hated math in elementary school and avoided it at all costs.
I would be sent to my room for acting like a brat, but having that time alone to think helped me relax and have a rational conversation with my parents or babysitter. I felt for Anne because she was so naive and she honestly did not know any better: no one had ever given her a punishment for being aggressive or yelling at them.
In her eyes. she deserved to get whatever she wanted. She did not believe the rules applied to her because they practically never did.
Both parents seemed thankful to have me since they were new to Philly and I knew about fun things to do with their kids in the area. I made sure to always be on time and stay late or come in early as needed. The grandparents did not live with the family until four months in, so there was no one else to watch the kids if a parent had a business trip or an early conference call.
I was proud of how well I was keeping the household running smoothly and keeping the kids active and engaged. Maybe the pay wasn’t what it could be considering all of the additional housework and whatnot, but I adored Lucy and it was worth it to put up with Anne's unpredictable moods for a few hours a day even if she didn't exactly view me as an authority figure.
The parents kept reiterating that they wanted me feel like a “member of the family.” This seemed odd to me as they did precious little to make this the case. They had pictures of a few previous nannies on their computer and Anne would sometimes talk about missing one of them.
Eventually she seemed to warm up to me and would excitedly invite me to a family party or ask me to see her perform in a dance class, but the invitation never came from the parents. I guess I felt like if I did go I would just end up having to work off the clock.
And if I'm being honest I'm not even sure I wanted to be thought of as part of their family. I cared about the kids a lot and enjoyed the job, but at the end of the day it was just a job to me.
And then almost five months into the job I saw something I wasn't supposed to see. It was an email from someone responding to a nanny position they had posted on the same site that brought me into their house. Lucy and I would use the family's iPad together to watch movies or play games and when I saw the email come up my heart immediately dropped. It literally felt like I had discovered a secret relationship.
Were they cheating on me with someone else? There wasn't just one...there were emails from multiple applicants hoping to work for them.
Was this the old job posting I had applied to and they had just forgotten to taken it down? I was more shocked than anything else—the family gave no indication that my position would be ending even though we both were contractually obligated to a four week notice period.
This is where I did something wrong: over the next couple of weeks I looked in the mom's inbox for emails from the job site and realized that she had not forgotten to taken down the original posting that I applied to...this was an entirely new position for a full-time nanny.
I started to ask Anne some questions about her other nannies and it turns out she had had about 7 or 8 nannies in her lifetime. But some of them “went away because I said so,” in her words. And then she told me that they had "actually interviewed a girl named Mary yesterday and she is going to be there when you can't come in on the weekends or you can't stay late."
Suddenly it dawned on me that the nannies they hired were all very temporary. No one had lasted more than a year, competency notwithstanding—it seemed if Anne was not in love with the nanny then they moved right along to the next.
Later on, I snooped some more. (I KNOW! BAD!) The email with Mary showed that not only had she been interviewed, but they had actually hired her and submitted her information into their payroll service.
The parents’ plan was now clear: they were going to fire me and just write me a check for four week's of pay. But they were not going to give me any warning or talk to me about their grievances. They continued to make friendly conversation with me about my family and my weekend plans, and tell me about upcoming events as if I would need to be available for them.
I decided to beat them to the punch and not completely get my ass handed to me. I began applying to new nanny positions and started the interview process anew with a few families. I told Lucy and Anne's parents that I was accepted into a grad program and would not be available to work nearly as many hours. I also told them that I could work with them to help vet any applicants they wanted to interview over the next few weeks and make the transition as easy as possible.
The mom told me that “Thanks so much for your help! We might find someone sooner than we think! I will let you know after the weekend!”
A week later, a text arrived from the mom letting me know that the next day, Friday, would be my last day. I could not believe how sudden all of this was. I had spent 40-plus hours a week with her daughter for the past six months and I was given only one day to prepare myself to say good-bye. That was what stung the most. I had become so close with Lucy and I knew that she would be confused and sad about the whole thing because she was too young to understand. I felt like crying just thinking about it.
Some nanny jobs have a very clear end point, especially when the child is pre-school age and the parents want to try sending them to daycare. Most families I have worked with have been very upfront about communicating their hopes and expectations, which makes things a lot easier.
I have always tried to be honest about my intentions, but after this experience, it is clear that not every employer-employee relationship is a two-way street. Even in the world of childcare, it’s just a business; no one owes you anything.
I became a nanny because I genuinely enjoy working with children, but each parent has a slightly different understanding of the role of a nanny. Like any other job, you may get fired because you are late too often. But unlike most jobs, you may find yourself jobless just because you ended up on a seven-year-old’s bad side.