As preparations are made for the return of the world’s most famous nanny, Mary Poppins, with a new film starring Emily Blunt out next year, real-life nannies are back in the spotlight, too.
Newsreader and TV presenter Fiona Bruce has revealed (presumably, much to their disgust) that her two teenage children, Sam, 19, and Mia, 15, still have a nanny. “I know it must sound absurd,” she said. “I’m working a lot and my husband works a lot too. It’s really important for me that someone is in the house when Mia comes in from school.”
Their nanny, Clare, has been with the family since Sam was born. “Obviously we don’t need a full-time nanny any more, but she’s part of our family,” adds Fiona.
Eccentric MP and father-of-six, Jacob Rees Mogg, meanwhile, recently celebrated 50 years of his own family nanny’s employment. Veronica Crook “looked after me and now looks after my children,” he said, providing “a continuity and stability of inestimable value.” Such is her devotion, she still makes him supper after a late sitting at the House of Commons.
Most parents, however, wave a reluctant goodbye to the nanny once the children reach their teens, patching together emergency childcare when necessary via a collage of ‘where are u?’ texts, taxi bookings and friendly favours. Even the Royal princes’ nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, resigned when William turned 15, and he and Harry were both at Eton, though they remained close.
But many high-powered parents aren’t willing to give up the benefits of professional childcare, particularly if both work full-time. As a parent of now grown-up children, I was lucky enough to work from home and have nearby grandparental support when mine were teenagers. But I would have turned blue with worry had they been home alone for hours (or out who knows where) after school, at just 12 or 13.
In fact, thinks Emma Coleman, 45, from West London, it’s even more important to have someone who knows where your children are, once they’re older.
“Tom and Grace are 13 and 15. My husband and I work long hours, but the children finish school at 3.30pm,” she explains. “That means four hours where we don’t know exactly what they’re up to; or an entire summer holiday of them rattling round London alone.”
Instead, Emma and her husband Will, who both work in the City, employ Sara, 30, a qualified nanny. “She has been with us for three years. Sara picks them up, drives them to after-school classes and friends’ houses, and makes sure they’re eating something vaguely nutritious,” says Emma. “She also starts the dinner prep on weekdays so we can sit down and eat together as a family when we get in.”
Sara doesn’t live in — “sometimes we don’t need her, like when Grace had a week of summer camp — but it’s like having a cool aunt helping out. I know they’ll confide in her things they won’t tell me, as she’s that bit closer to their age, though I trust her to pass on anything worrying to us. It’s peace of mind, really — we recently had a serious ceiling leak while we were at work, and alone, the kids would have panicked. Sara found a plumber, sorted it all out and took them for lunch.”
Some have dubbed the trend “helicopter nannying”, referring to parents who supervise their child in every area and through every stage of life, now delegating this role to a new breed of supernanny.
In the old days, coming home from school was a sanctuary, she adds. “They could shut the door and be safe, but now, so much of their lives are lived online, with the pressure and cyber-bullying that can entail, they can spend hours on social media. They need someone there to keep the ship steady, help with homework and food, and most importantly from a mental health point of view, to know there is an adult there to offer support if they need it.”
Nannies for teens are a booming business, confirms Paula Le Flohic, owner of Nanny and Co, (nannyandco.co.uk) a Cheshire-based nanny agency. “One recent request was a nanny for a sporty teenager,” she says. “She’s now 14 and needs someone who can play netball with her in the garden and drive her to matches.”
Teenage reluctance to engage with a ‘nanny’, with its babyish connotations, however, means they are now often referred to as ‘companions’. “They often don’t live in, either,” adds Paula. “They’ll leave at 6.30pm when the parents come back. If you’ve got someone who’s going to be in when they get home, or who can collect them, there isn’t the worry of them hanging out with friends in the park or going to a stranger’s house.”
But while nannies for tinies are kept busy with childcare, with teens, there are long stretches of the day when their charges are asleep, at school, or on the X-box. Nannies have to be flexible, says Paula.
“My nannies will do breakfast, school prep and light housekeeping, but a lot of nannies are juggling two or three part time jobs,” she explains. “Many are happy to spend the morning looking after younger children then work 3 till 6pm picking up teenagers and overseeing homework.”
There are many wealthy families on Paula’s books, but even they often rely on part-time nannying. “The sports stars up here in Cheshire often have part-time nannies, because they also want to have family helping them out, and spend time with the teenagers themselves. The nannies are professional back-up when they can’t be there.”
Not all nannies are convinced, however. One comments on nannyjob.co.uk, a forum for professional nannies, “Childcare changes as children get older… the focus tends to shift to driving and drudgery – organising football kits, sewing on name-tapes.”
But Bryony Sullivan, co-founder of London and Surrey-based childcare company Like Minders, says, “experienced nannies can offer structure in teenagers lives, particularly when their parents are away — ensuring they get enough exercise, or making sure that homework is up to scratch. Further, as nannies often stay with the same family as they grow up, they can act as a different kind of emotional support, a counselling service separate from the parents’ direct influence, which can be invaluable for teens.”
Emma Coleman’s daughter, Grace, 15, admits: “We didn’t like the idea at first, as ‘my nanny’ sounds like you’re about three. But we think of Sara as our older sister, really. A lot of our mates go home to an empty house, and it’s actually quite nice to have a grown-up make you toast and ask about your day, or take you to the gym.”
For less than £10 an hour, Paula points out, parents get a qualified adult, who can make sure the kids are alright.
“Perceptions of nannies are still old-fashioned,” she says. “People envisage old family retainers, ‘living in’ at vast expense — but you can have somebody professional and flexible, who will be there to make sure everything’s ok in your teenagers’ lives.”