Recently we have been treated to some horrifying videos of nannies mistreating kids when their parents are away.
When you are a single travelling mum, the Nanny is your best friend. You leave her with your kids for days, day in, day out. Spending a weekend with both my kids, and having to cook, clean and do other things in my life, can be exhausting, and they are my kids. So I often imagine, how exhausting than can be for the nanny as well. So, when I leave the Nanny with the girls when I travel, this is top most in my mind. Because I know if the Nanny is exhausted and not happy, it will reflect on how she will interact with the kids and they won’t be happy either!
Most times when I travel, all goes well, but a few times, things have been disastrous!
I moved to live in Zimbabwe when my daughter was 5. Prior to moving, I had just got a new Nanny as the one we had in Malawi did not really want to move with us and wanted to move back to Kenya. I had been very conflicted on whether to get an older woman with more experience bringing up children, or a young person that would also be a playmate for my daughter. Eventually, I settled on a young one, daughter of a friend of a friend of my mom-you know how it is!
So we are a few weeks into our life in Zimbabwe and I have to travel for a week for work. Now, when I travel, my largest bill is the telephone calls. I call in the morning when the kids wake up and again, in the evening before they go to bed, from wherever I am. I will wait up to midnight or set my alarm at 4 am in the morning to beat the time zones.
So I am sitting in a hotel room in Accra in Ghana, and I make my usual telephone call and my daughter, expecting the call picks up.
So we have the usual conversation of—how are you? Did you sleep well? What are you having for breakfast! Is it yummy?? And then she drops the next statement that makes me stop.
She says ‘There is a boy in the house’ And I ask ‘A boy!’ Now am thinking if it’s the neighbour’s kid, the she would be calling him by his name and not a boy, right!
So I ask, ‘Is it a big boy, or a small boy’. And she says ‘A big boy! At this point the Nanny grabs the phone, I can hear my daughter crying loudly like she has been hit or shoved and I am on the other end of the phone shouting, “What’s going on? What’s going on?’ Anyway, to cut the long story short, I get a long story that was quite unbelievable.
I have never wished so much than at that time that I was rich enough to own a private jet to fly home and did not have to rely on the Kenya airways schedules! I end up going home a few days before my meetings are done!
All ended well, but for single travelling mums, living out of the country where you have no strong social network, a few things can be helpful:
- As much as possible, have an older Nanny, who has brought up children and whose priorities are not finding a boyfriend or a husband. Although not always guaranteed, a grandmother, who has brought up their children and their grandchildren, can be ideal. Your child will find playmates, in school and in the neighbourhood. And I have actually had older Nannies (like my current one) who have been great playmates for the kids.
- Have two people in the house. In my future assignments, I made sure I had a live-in nanny and a housekeeper. That way, if anything happens, kids can go to one or the other and the two actually become a check on each other.
- Always teach the kids to say what they see, what they think and what they feel. You will learn a lot what goes on when you are not home. And when they tell you, even if it’s not what you wanted to hear, deal with it in confidence. Depending on the relationship, kids don’t want to know that they got their ‘auntie’ into trouble.
- Treat your Nanny and your housekeeper well and pay them well. I have had fantastic Nannies and housekeepers over the years. When you rely on them to look after your children, they need to feel like they are part of the family.
- And when you travel and bring your kids presents, it goes a long way to also have a present for the nanny or housekeeper or their children. And when you holiday and you can have them with you, do it. They will feel appreciated.