Caring for the Caretaker: While On the Job: Nanny Edition
We all know caring for the caretaker, or self-care for those in caretaking positions, can feel daunting. For a nanny, the line between work and personal is often blurred. Deep bonds with children that are often reserved for parents, coupled with the fulfillment of one's professional duties as a childcare provider, can be overwhelming. For this reason, it is essential that nannies and those in similar caretaking positions find the time to take care of themselves. Between tending to your charges, managing the household (if this duty applies to you), and finding time for your own life, nannying can feel like a 10k marathon sprint. Here are some tips to help you ease into the race.
Nannies assume many roles and with them, many responsibilities. When they're not physically running behind a child, their minds may feel like they've been on a hamster wheel of ABC's and potty breaks. Caring for the caretaker means slowing down.
When you're feeling overwhelmed by the day’s responsibilities or feeling anxious about the things you have yet to do, take a few seconds to take a deep breath and release. Notice what you are feeling in your body when you take in that breath. Take another breath, and as you exhale, feel the release of some of the tension you may be carrying in your shoulders. Breathing intentionally is important as it can help you manage stress during challenging moments. Taking deep, intentional breaths also helps to enhance your oxygen intake. The extra oxygen helps boost your energy levels, and a little extra boost is great when you’re keeping up with the demands of energetic kids.
Pour yourself a glass of water, or make a cup of soothing tea, such as chamomile. Take a sip and notice what you feel. Were you thirsty after drinking your glass of water? Did it signal to your body that you need to use the bathroom? If so, your little one in a safe place and give yourself permission to use the restroom. Did you just realize all that stress has been making you slouch? If you can, this is your moment to do a stretch and adjust your posture. If you'd like, you can even incorporate some yoga stretches into your routine, so your little one(s) can share in the feel-good practice of slowing down and listening to your body. Some great beginner kid friendly poses include tree pose, butterfly pose, and downward dog. Yoga is great for improved concentration, mind body awareness, and can even help kids with their emotional regulation.
Who Loves the Sun?
Your kid has taken out every toy they own and somehow, has been only entertained for ten minutes. You try to get them to help you put the toys away, but they refuse and start to cry. You look longingly outside the window at the beautiful sunny day that is happening without you. Here's your chance to be a part of that day; get outside! Look at this opportunity as a reset for you and your little. Help them identify the plants around you. A dandelion transforms from a weed to a little sun when you shift your perspective. Show them how to blow the "stars" of a dandelion away and into the sky. All while this is happening, you are taking in the benefits of being outside. The sun on your face is exposing you to Vitamin D, which helps to improve your mood and boost immunity. Your littles are also benefiting, as Vitamin D helps them grow strong bones.
Is the sky cloudy, having just rained? Put on your rain boots and let you little jump in some puddles. Let them make a "stew"; find leaves, plants, and other ephemera, and have them stir it all around in a muddy pile, to make their "stew". While they're doing that, try practicing mindful observation. This can look like noticing the colors of the leaves around you, or the feeling of the air on your skin, or the pattern of the tree bark around you. When you come back inside, apply the directions of making that "stew" to cleaning up. This could look like, "I had so much fun making a stew with you! Let's make a stew with our toys! This will help us also to clean up. Can you help put the green truck into the bin? Nice job putting the green truck into the bin. Can you put those colorful Legos into the bin to make our stew extra delicious? Thank you for dropping those Legos into the bin! Our cleanup stew is looking so good."
When you're on the clock, you may not be able to curl up with your favorite book, but you can enjoy the benefits of reading with your charge. A visit to your local library is a great way to get out of the house and explore the wonderful world of books. The library is not just a place with books, however. It also serves as a place to interact with others via story times and events (and to build community; see "It Takes A Village"), and to build knowledge and wisdom through the written word. Similarly, the effects of reading are beneficial for both you and your little. Regular reading inspires empathy, increases awareness, critical thinking skills, and improves vocabulary of adults and children alike. If your charge is too young to comprehend books, read anyway. Even chapter books are welcome to the ears of an infant; you'll love taking a moment to find some solace in a story, and they'll love hearing the warmth of your voice (and enhancing their listening, speech and memory skills).
Ready, Set, Boundaries
Many nannies report feeling overwhelmed, underpaid, and undervalued. If you have similar feelings, establishing boundaries is an excellent way to practice self-care in real time. One example of this is establishing clear expectations between you and your nanny family. Expectations help nannies and the families they work for know what to expect. If it is expected of you to clean up after your charge (bottles, doing their laundry), it should be explicitly stated and agreed upon between both parties. A nanny contract, or a similar document outlining what is expected of the nanny, is beneficial for all involved in the relationship.
Once expectations are clearly instated, it is your responsibility to enforce your boundaries around your assigned duties. Boundaries are essential for caring for the caretaker. If you have discussed with your nanny family that the only cleanup you will be doing is anything related to your charge's care, then you are not expected to do the family laundry. If you have agreed to clean up bottles and dirty dishes related to nanny child, you are not responsible for cleaning up the dinner mess from the night before. Repeat favors can quickly turn into unmanaged expectations. Boundaries, in this case, can help you advocate for yourself. If you find yourself needing to set a boundary, something like "I am happy to clean up dinner dishes when I come in in the morning, but I will need to have my start time adjusted to make sure it doesn't interfere with care for the children. My pay should reflect this new responsibility. Is there a time this week where we could discuss updating the nanny contract?"
It Takes a Village
Nannying can be isolating work. You are often working in a home that is not your own for long periods of time. You are enmeshed in the lives of the children you care for and often the family. Children are wonderful, but sometimes you need to talk to a human who has the capacity to understand your concerns. Just because you are alone as a nanny does not mean you have to be lonely. When you are visiting a local park with your children, introduce yourself to others. In highly populated areas of Philadelphia, for example, you would be hard pressed to not encounter not one, but several nannies at that park, too. If your little starts to play with a new child, try striking up a casual conversation with their caretaker. It may be their nanny, and sometimes it may even be their parents. If it happens to be a parent, don't be discouraged! Caring for the caretaker also has a parent edition, and you and parents can be experiencing similar feelings.
Parents are often similarly faced with the burden of isolation due to the relentlessness of their busy work schedules or the pursuit of work-life balance. Many parents have similar feelings of isolation when caring for their little ones and would be happy to talk to you. Building community in this way can turn into playdates at the park between you and a new caretaker friend or parent friend, attending similar classes and events relating to your children together, and can even serve as an excellent networking opportunity. It takes a village to raise a child, but that village also supports each other.
Nannying is both a rewarding and challenging career that comes with its own unique set of challenges. To learn more about what creating healthy boundaries looks like as you are caring for the caretaker in you, or practicing mindful observation when working with children, call The Center for Growth to speak to a therapist. You also can schedule directly online with a therapist at The Center for Growth. If you'd like to talk to a therapist as soon as possible, you can call (215) 922-LOVE (5683) ext 100 to be connected with TCFG intake department. The Center for Growth understands nannies and caretakers often work long or off hours. For your convenience, we have five in person therapy offices, and can even schedule your session virtually.