The Importance of Nanny Support During Times of Tragedy and Everyday Life

In the summer of 2012, a horrific shooting took place in my backyard, so to speak, as crowds of people were gunned down while watching a movie at a theater, only 2 miles from my Aurora, Colorado home.  When violence happens in one’s own community, it has a very personal and dramatic impact on one’s life.  Following this event, I was overwhelmed by feelings of shock and sadness, but I was also moved by the tremendous showing of love and support that I received from the nanny community, from friends and colleagues all across the US.  I decided to write about this experience in the nanny blog, Regarding Nannies, in a story called The Importance of Nanny Support During Tragedy and Everyday Life.

Last week, another act of violence occurred in the city of Boston, as two bombs went off during the Boston Marathon.  Three persons died from the initial explosions, while over one hundred more were injured; a campus police officer at MIT was killed by the suspects later in the week, and much of the Boston area was on lockdown as a massive search for the bombing suspects took place.  These events have resulted in many of the same feelings for those in the Boston area that I had experienced 9 months prior: shock, sadness, and a feeling of unbelief that something so horrible could happen in their own backyard.

But, among all of the heartbreak and despair, we have heard of acts of heroism, kindness, and support for the residents of this amazing city.  And, I, as a nanny, have a personal connection to this community, specifically to the nanny community there.

An extraordinary event called National Nanny Training Day took place yesterday, on April 20, with events being held in 30 different cities throughout the US.  Organizers had worked tirelessly on these events of learning for nannies for many months prior.  One of the groups planning an event in their area was the Massachusetts Alliance of Professional Nannies, an event to be held at MIT in Cambridge, MA.  Due to the week’s events in the greater Boston area, their event did not take place yesterday, as a concern for safety took reign over that of the disappointment of it’s organizers and attendees.  But, in the spirit felt throughout Boston, it is only postponed, and will go on as planned at a later date.

Yesterday, I was once again moved, in seeing the amount of love and support that was shown by nannies across the US toward those nannies in the Boston area.  Facebook has been flooded by photos of nannies attending other NNTD events, holding banners and signs sending their wishes of encouragement to those in Boston.  Once again, nannies are reaching out to one another in a time of crisis!

The following is a the blog I wrote last summer, sharing my experience of how nanny support made a difference in my life.  I felt it was important to post it again now, as it shares a very important message!!


  I woke up the morning of July 20th the same as any other workday morning.   Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I let my dogs out for a brief stroll in my yard, heated up some water for my breakfast tea, then turned on the morning news, as I always check the AM rush hour report for my morning commute.  There was a news reporter talking about a shooting in Aurora, Colorado and I just assumed it was some incident involving gang violence in a rough part of town.  Like many others, I had grown somewhat immune to the news reports of some kind of violence occurring somewhere in my city.  And, I had been so fortunate to live in an area rarely prone to any acts of crime… perhaps an occasional act of vandalism to a car parked on the street or a bike stolen from an open garage, but my neighborhood has always had a reputation as quiet suburbia.


     Not paying much attention, I finished preparing for work, finally taking another listen to the news before heading out the door.  It was then that I realized the extent of what had happened and just how close to my home it had occurred.   That night, as I had lain safely sleeping, a graduate student had entered a movie theater only two miles away and gunned down nearly 70 people.   My heart sank and I was filled with shock.  But, as the clock ticked away, I forced myself to jump into my car and head off for a days work with my young charges. 


     Unlike most others, who can huddle around the water cooler in their workplace to discuss events in their lives, a nanny most often has only her charges to interact with during her workday.  Upon arriving at my employers’ home, my charges were finishing their breakfast as their hurried parents gave last minute hugs, then dashing off to their own jobs.  I knew that I had to put this horrible event out of my mind and focus on my responsibilities as a nanny.  The next several hours consisted of reading Fancy Nancy books, creating butterflies with watercolors, and some splash time at the water table on the patio. 


     About 10:30 AM, I glanced at my cell phone and saw the dozens of texts and emails I had received from friends all across the country.  On Facebook, there had been discussions on several nanny groups as to my safety and there were desperate pleas from nanny friends for me to check in that I was safe and unharmed.  I was able to get a quick message out that I was okay, thanking my friends for their concern.


     As time went on, I discovered that I did indeed know one of the victims, a young woman from my former church, who fortunately survived and will fully recover.  Another dear friend was planning to go to that midnight movie with her husband, but he was called in to the ER around 10:30 PM, forcing them to miss it.  Amazingly, several hours later, he was treating many of the victims from that same theater where he had planned to go that night. 



     This event has hit me hard and I have been flooded with all kinds of emotions since it occurred.  One way that I have found to help me deal with troubling things in my life is to write about them, sharing my feelings with others.  Following the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, another act of violence in Colorado, I wrote a story about the importance of strengthening American families and a nanny’s role in it.  But, when asked how this more recent event has affected me as a nanny, another thought keeps coming back…  again and again. 


     We, as nannies, are called upon to serve our employer families in many ways, providing emotional support to these families and nurturing their children.  Our focus in our profession is to care for others.  But, it is equally important for nannies to find that kind of support and nurturing for themselves.  And, it was following this tragic event happening in my community that I found such tremendous support and care from those in the nanny community.   Whether it was a text message, a phone call, or a post on Facebook, it meant the world to me to know that others were supporting me through this difficult time. 


     The message that I hope to share as a result of this experience is one of reaching out to others, not only in times of distress, but everyday.  I have been so blessed to have an amazing circle of colleagues and dear friends in the nanny profession.  And, they were there for me during a time when I needed this support the most.   For a nanny to be able to care for her employer family and charges, she must first find care for herself.  So, take the time to reach out to others whom you may encounter each day, strengthening our support network with one another.   It may make all of the difference in your life one day, a time when you too will need it the most!  


National Nanny Training Day

On Saturday April 20, 2013, nannies across the US will gather together for events in 30 cities for a day of learning. National Nanny Training Day is held on the last day of the Week of the Young Child. I created this heartfelt video about the importance of NNTD for nannies and for our charges. It is set to the song, Jumpin’ Up to the Moon, a song I wrote and recorded for all of my former charges. Hope you like the video!

The Importance of Caring for the Caregiver

I have just finished posting my comments on a Facebook discussion, and, it seems that I am the sole person posting, as of yet, with this particular point of view.  So, on my personal FB page, I began yet another discussion of this same topic, and was once again overwhelmed with the sentiments contrary to my own, although in this case, I did have a couple of allies in my corner.  So you ask, what is this controversial issue that has nannies across the country posting with such a frenzy?  The question is this: Do nannies take better care of others than they do of themselves?

HMMMMM! Interesting question.  As I began reading the posts given, one after another, “Yes”, “Absolutely”,  “Agreed”, I was disappointed, but not surprised by these comments.  For as long as I can remember, I have heard similar comments by others in an array of professions dealing with care for others: nursing, teaching, childcare.

When I was a college senior, I remember my ECE instructor professing to our class late on a Friday afternoon, “I was called that my son was sick at school, but here I am teaching this class.  Let that be a lesson to you all, of where a teacher’s priorities should be.”  How sad I felt for this woman’s young son.  This was just the beginning in a chain of messages that I would receive during my early adult years on the importance of putting work first, or in the case of caregivers, putting the needs of those we care for first, before those of ourselves, or disturbingly, those of one’s own family.

In one early teaching job, a similar message was conveyed during a terrible snowstorm in the Denver area.  All of the schools were closed, most roads were impassable, and residents were requested to stay home except for emergency circumstances.  But, amazing to the staff at the daycare center where I was employed, we were told that we would be docked our pay that day if we chose to stay home.  Whether there was one child needing to come that day or our typical 200 children, the center would remain open, our parents were depending on that.  So the center did not close that day, with only a few of the 200 children enrolled attending.

The message was loud and clear… those who care for others must put that responsibilty before their own care and safety, and sometimes before that of their own families.  This is one of the greatest factors for the high level of burnout in these professions.  I remember reading in a publication by the National Association for the Education of Young Children that very few young teachers in ECE make it a career.  It is low paying and the time demands are great.  And, most teachers are expected to make a commitment much greater than in a more traditional type of job where employees can leave it all behind at the end of the day.

As a nanny, the demands can be equally great.  Nannies are often called upon to work long hours, required to show great flexibility to their employers, and sometimes sacrificing their own plans to cover for wearied and overworked parents.  Working in such an isolated workplace can also add to the stress of the job, as can be dealing with the confidentiality aspect, not being able to share these stressful parts of her job with others.

So, you are likely wondering, after reading of my previous experiences, why I would disagree with the question posted above?  Why would I still find this career rewarding after three decades?  The answer to these questions is complex, but can be attributed to two things: my extraordinary parents, who showed that balance is possible in blending a career with family, and, my amazing employer families, who have been a part of my life for the past 35 years!

My parents were life-long teachers, my father a German teacher and my mother an elementary education teacher.  They were incredibly devoted as educators, working long hours, often on evenings and week-ends, so they could offer the best education possible to their students.  Their role as teachers meant not leaving their concern for these students at the door each day, but bringing some of that worry into their personal life.  I have such pride in knowing that my parents impacted so many children in their journey towards adulthood.

This was seen especially at the time of my parents’ deaths, when my family received hundreds of cards from former students, many of whom had become teachers themselves, attributing this to my parents’ nurturing of the children they worked with and their enthusiasm toward learning. To say that this has influenced me is a total understatement; it is what has inspired me to work with children!

Equally importantly, my parents learned the art of balance.  In spite of the great demands of being such dedicated educators, I never remember my parents being absent from any important event in my life.  They were there when I had my first clarinet recital in 5th grade, they were there when I was injured on my bicycle, requiring emergency medical care. My parents were always available to their children for any needed “heart to heart” talk requiring a loving listening ear.

And, they surrounded themselves with caring friends, enjoying life to the fullest!  Such wonderful memories I have of fishing with my dad, of singing while my mother accompanied me on the piano, and of our eventful family vacations across the country. It never was an “either/or” for my parents.  We learned from their example that it is possible to give 100% to your job, while also making time for both those whom we love, and, those things which we love to do.

This has shaped me in the choices I have made as a nanny.  I have never deliberately “chosen” a family because of a certain trait or characteristic, but somehow, I have found myself working for the most dear and caring families during my 35 year nanny career.  Somehow, I have been drawn to families, very similar to myself, who also greatly value the balance between one’s devotion to their job and importance of their personal life, especially one’s relationship with their family.  How this happens, I can’t explain, but it is the common denominator for all of my past employer families.  Whether I have worked 60 hours a week as a live-in or a more 9-5 schedule, my employers all respected and encouraged my existence as a well rounded individual, seeing that this indeed made me a better nanny.

I have experienced so many wonderful gestures from my employer families over the years, there are too many to mention all.  But, I do want to share just a few:

While in Connecticut, I found myself living in again, after many years of having my own apartment.  This was good in that I had no housing cost, and difficult in that I really had no opportunity to entertain friends, one of my favorite pastimes.  My employers knew that I did not want to babysit on the week-ends, as I was already working 60 hours a week, typical of nannies in that area.  They needed a nanny one Friday evening a month and we discussed this.  To my delight, we came up with a win-win.  I could invite friends over for dinner on the evenings I worked as a trade off for giving up a much deserved night off.  To make things even better, my charge’s preschool teacher was one of my best friends and was a frequent guest.  Over the years, my home became a Friday night gathering place for both my church friends and neighborhood nannies.  What wonderful memories we all have!

Several years ago, I began suffering extreme stomach pain while at work.  While my employers are both physicians, one jumped in the car to come home while the other spoke with me by phone, keeping me calm while I waited for what seemed like an eternity.  Being that I had a young charge at home with me, I could not call an ambulance, as I did not know what I would do with my little one.  Soon, both my employer and her mother arrived, with the grandmother driving me to the hospital.  She stayed with me until late in the evening and did not leave my side until I had been admitted and was comfortable in a warm bed in my hospital room.  Later that week, my employers and charge came to see me and my little charge was reassured  that I was going to be okay. By the week-end I was at home and recovering and planning to return to work the following week.  Never once did my employers bring up any inconvenience this had caused them.  They only were concerned for my health and well-being.

Following this situation,  I had a close friend and fellow nanny ask me how my employers could give me time off during this event?  She said that her employers would not be so willing.   It never crossed my mind that an employer could ask an employee to remain at work while so terribly ill.  But, there are  employers less compassionate and caring than mine.  I will always be thankful for the kindness my employers have shown me.

In closing, I want to share about a sad and difficult time for me and my family.  My father had been hospitalized and was having tests.  As I was a live-in nanny at the time, my mother intentionally called when she knew that I would not be home, to leave the bad news that my father had cancer.  She did not feel that she could talk to me at the time, as she was much too emotional.  In leaving this information with my charges’ father, he assured my mother, with his gentle manner,  that they would tell me as soon as I arrived back home.  When I did arrive later that evening, my charges’ mother sat with me and shared the very sad news.  We cried together and she offered to stay up with me that night, to comfort me.  The following day, she helped me in making travel arrangements so that I could join my family during this time, even driving me to the airport herself.

I have remembered and will always remember this loving gesture.  My first employer and I still remain close today.  We are even planning a time to meet for coffee soon, to share all of the updates on our busy lives.  What a gift that I find in such relationships with each of my employer families!!

My experiences as a career nanny may be different than that of many other nannies.  Perhaps I am the exception here.  But, I hope that there are other nannies who will find employer families willing to allow them a healthy balance in their lives.  I have found my role as a nanny to be filled with mostly wonderful memories, of giving generously to my employer families, providing nurturing and loving care to my charges, and showing loyalty to their parents.  In return, I have been treated as a professional, with respect and highest regard.  I have been encouraged to pursue interests and passions outside of my nanny job, and the opportunity to take care of myself and my own family.  Most importantly, I have created relationships with dozens of young children, many now adults themselves, and with their parents, whom I have teamed with as these children have grown and thrived.  What a wonderful ride I have enjoyed over the past 35 years!!  And, what excitement I find in looking toward the future!!

Strengthening the American Family- Nanny Support

By Cindy Wilkinson

The following is a story which I wrote for the International Nanny Association’s publication, INAVision, in 1999. I was living in Denver at the time and we had just experienced the Columbine tragedy.  Feeling so very distraught and trying to make sense of this terrible occurrence, I looked back at my career as a nanny and all of the children whom I had worked with over the past 20 years.  Why did some children lose their way, choosing to follow such a violent path, while others grew into compassionate adults?

In exploring my feelings about this subject, I discovered that all of the families I had worked with as a nanny shared a common denominator. It was not a certain amount of money or status, not a particular religious belief or geographic area where they lived.  This week, our country experienced another similar tragedy in Chardon, Ohio and I began thinking about the story I had written 13 years earlier.  So, I am reprinting this story, as I try to deal with my feelings of sadness once again.  I am not attempting to explain the “whys” or offering advice for preventing future events like this. However, I do strongly feel that each of us has the power to affect those children in our lives in a very positive way.  Seeing our roles as being important can make a huge difference in a child’s life.  So, here is the story again...

The Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado had a drastic affect on everyone in the Denver area.  As our city was barraged by hundreds of news media vans, we realized that the whole world was sharing in our devastation and despair.

Colorado professional sports organizations cancelled their hockey, basketball, and baseball games following this tragedy.  Many metro area schools cancelled classes due to the high anxiety of parents, students, and teachers.  Strangers in public places such as supermarkets and shopping malls cried together as the shock of this event swept through our Mile High City.

And we were all filled with the same questions.. how could something like this happen in affluent suburbia?  How is it possible for two teenagers who excelled in school and grew up in one of Denver’s prime neighborhoods to commit such a horrific crime?

These are tough questions.  The answers are equally challenging and complex.  But, regardless of one’s feelings toward tougher gun control laws or increased security in the schools, we must look to the strength of the American family for the answers.

Since I have been a nanny for over 20 years, I am able to look at many of my former charges as young adults today.  I see a group of children who have grown into responsible and loving individuals.  What is the common denominator with the lives of these children which created their strong moral character?

Interestingly, each of my employer families has been unique and quite different from one another.  Some of these children have shared in family meals, while others have attended boarding school.  Some were fortunate to have both parents living together, while other families endured divorce.  Some of these families included workaholic parents, while others have been less driven professionally.

But, regardless of these circumstance, all of these children have benefitted from a childhood filled with a strong sense of family.  All of these parents have shown a deep interest in their children’s lives by being involved in school activities, by taking the time to enjoy leisure activities with their children, by including extended family in their children’s lives, and in such seemingly simple tasks of knowing who their children’s friends are.

This is not the case for many youths today.  In a PBS special regarding kids of “fast track” parents, a psychologist stated that virtually none of the teens in his in-patient drug treatment program have engaged in a shared activity with a parent such as hiking, skiing, or gardening.

I think back to my childhood and I am flooded with memories of attending my first opera with my mother at age eight and my father’s insistence that I was not too young for Shakespeare at age ten.  My parents were forever nurturing my love and talents in the arts.  They taught me well.

This became my role as a nanny… to nurture and support both my charges and their parents and to strengthen that bond between them.  For some families, this has meant being a helping nanny for my charge’s kindergarten class.  For others, it has meant having dinner ready by 6:00 PM and school lunches ready for tomorrow so that parents can spend a less stressed evening with their children.  It has meant sharing telephone conversations with my charge’s out-of-state aunties as they catch up on the latest family news and helping to solve the problem of the neighborhood bully.

It has also meant serving as a role model to my charges.  One of the greatest compliments I have ever received was from a former employer. He once shared that while I had achieved many accomplishments as a professional in my field, it was most commendable that I was willing to serve as a literacy tutor while already working 60 hours a week.  This involvement had left a lasting impression on his children.

We often feel that our “biggest” accomplishments are our most important.  But, our hopes for a brighter future for America’s youth depends on their development as strong moral adults who have learned to care about the world around them and all those in it.  A nanny’s role in this process will be the greatest of all her achievements and will have the power to change the world for the better!

Modern Nanny Meets Facebook

by Cindy Wilkinson

I first discovered Facebook following a bit of prodding by my room-mates at the International Nanny Association Conference in Dallas.  After many years of vowing I would never get caught up in all this cyberspace hoopla, I finally gave in and decided to give Facebook a try.  To my amazement, I have found the experience to be a great adventure as I have reconnected with many old classmates from my hometown, as well as others from both my past and present.  But my greatest joy has been in finding former charges, some of whom I had lost contact with over a decade ago.

While sending off emails to some of these young adults, now in their 20’s and 30’s, I was first torn between the excitement of finding these lost children from my life and the fear that they may not want to correspond with an aging middle-aged woman whom they had not seen since their school days.  My apprehension soon turned into pride as each one contacted me back with comments such as, “Of course I remember you!  You’re one of the most iconic figures of my childhood” and “I could never forget you” and “What a blast from the past!”

Each of these young adults has shared their story of what has become of his or her life.  And these stories are incredible!  One of my first charges is now a woman in her thirties.  She witnessed the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers from her apartment balcony and out of that experience created the September 11 Quilt Project.  It received world-wide recognition.  Another former charge is traveling internationally with a group of college students as leader of their study abroad program, while her brother is a research director for a non-profit organization in Washington DC .  Yet another of my former charges is a young filmmaker in Los Angeles.  I could go on and on with more stories such as these.

While reflecting on these children, now adults, whom I cared for when they were young, I feel affirmed that my role of nanny to these children is an important one.  Being a nanny for such a long period of time has given me the gift of seeing the result of my hard work and commitment to my employer families.  And that result is being able to share in the pride of raising remarkable young adults who are making equally remarkable contributions with their lives!