This Is What No One Tells You About The Emotional Labor Behind Being A Nanny


I graduated high school one year early at the age of sixteen and had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. So I became a nanny.

In hindsight, this wasn’t the best decision. Being a nanny is a big job for anyone, and I don’t think I was ready for it at the age of sixteen. However, I stuck with it and nannied for the next seven years.

I had a few different jobs from kids ranging from six months old to twelve years old during this time. Although I loved all of my kids, it wasn’t the job for me, and I wish I’d seen that at the time.

Being a nanny was so hard emotionally—to this day I miss my kids and cherish the memories that I have with them. Despite the daily grind of being with kids for eight (sometimes nine or more) hours a day, here’s why being a nanny was so taxing on my emotional well-being.

I Fulfill The Role Of Mom Without Actually Being Mom

It did not take long for me to understand that I was being paid to do the things the mom of the house couldn’t do. These things included making the kids eat healthy snacks, disciplining the child’s behavior when necessary, making appointments on time, doing laundry, and much more.

I essentially fulfilled the role of mom without actually being their mom. Occasionally my kids would quip, “My mom would let me do it” when referring to an activity that I’d banned, to which I would immediately reply, “I’m not your mother”.

But I did certainly feel like their mother. At one of my jobs—the one I stayed at the longest and was the most emotionally invested in—I took the kids to their first orthodontist appointment. I went to their school plays and talent shows, their soccer practices and games, picked them up at school, and spent entire summers with them. I was the person they had the most contact with every day. At least, this is what it felt like to be present for so many small moments as well as so many big ones with them.

At said job, this even included feeling like I lived there on occasion with my boss’ husband, who often worked from home. I was attracted to him, but I never once acted one these feelings, although there were occasional moments where flirting happened. At one point, the oldest kid said, “Jenn, are you dating my dad?”

Is “I’m not but I want to be” the wrong answer?

I’m Part Of Their Lives—And Then I’m Not

Being a nanny can be jarring at times. For months—or years—on end, you’re there every day, taking care of the kids, the house, and witnessing and being a part of their world. All this somehow makes you feel like you’re a part of this family. It’s not quite what you expected when taking the job, but you can’t help but feel loved and wanted and happy because you’re part of their lives.

And then all the sudden you aren’t.

Circumstances change. You get accepted to your dream college and need to move away. The kids grow up and don’t need you anymore. Sometimes, the family just decides they can do without you because a parent decides to work from home or the baby you watched is now going to preschool.

It’s really hard to handle.

For many of the families I nannied for, I was so close with them for years and now I don’t talk to them at all anymore. It’s jarring and can be difficult to cope with. All the sudden, you aren’t part of their lives anymore even though you try to keep in touch.

Questioning My Role In Things

Being a nanny made me question who I really was and what I was doing there. I didn’t see it at the time, but I now feel that taking care of children was a role that I was placed into by my mom at a young age.

I was conflicted—I loved my job, I loved the kids, but deep down, I knew that this is not what I wanted to do. I had wanted to go to college, to be a writer. I thought that by going away to school I would have the potential to have a better job; to be a happier, more successful, better person. Little did I know I would come to miss my nanny role with a crippling ache in the years after graduating college.

Fulfilling a role that I feel I was not meant to fulfill helped me question and better refine my goals in life, but it also taught me an extremely hard lesson: I was meant to fulfill that role. I was meant to be a part of their lives. And I’m also meant to be living the life that I’m living now, as hard as that is at times to accept.

Being put into a role that I feel ultimately caused me suffering was also ultimately redemptive in its power as well.

Following My Own Interests Vs. Theirs

At every job, there comes a point where you need to decide if you’re going to stay and work for someone else or if you’re going to follow your dreams. Following your own interests versus that of your employer’s is a difficult decision to make.

There are times when your interests align with that of the person’s or the company’s that you work for—and when that happens, it’s a beautiful thing. For me, that didn’t happen with nannying, and that makes me so sad.

I ultimately chose to pursue my own interests outside of nannying, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about the families I was a part of, the kids whose lives I got to cherish every day, and the world that existed for me inside the bubble of local parks, summer days by the pool, singing Taylor Swift in the car, seeing my kids’ smiling faces after school, and having so many other moments with them that I now have for a lifetime.

Being a nanny was so hard emotionally, even though I am grateful for the time that I had with my kids. I don’t think I could ever quite describe to someone what it was like to experience the things I experienced as a nanny. I guess you just had to be there.