Being nasty to the nanny
When two former nannies wrote a tell-all book, The Nanny Diaries, about their experiences minding the offspring of wealthy New Yorkers, they lifted the lid on how some members of the monied classes treated their children and the staff who looked after them. The book, which detailed the hideous behaviour of New York's social elite, was later made into a film starring Scarlett Johansson.
One nanny who works for a well-heeled couple in south Dublin nods sagely when The Nanny Diaries is mentioned. Her current employers treat her well but at least three of her nanny friends in the area are desperate to change their job. One is looking after a child who is physically abusive to her -- "a real Horrid Henry" -- and another is trying to resist an ever-increasing workload, being asked to take the dog to the vet or to stay on late without notice.
"The girls are afraid to move because of the recession," she says, "But they are also attached to the children." The nannies interviewed here didn't want to be identified, some out of fear of losing their jobs, others because they have to sign confidentiality agreements with the family.
Some of the mums she knows who employ au pairs or nannies don't actually work outside the home. "I don't know what they would be doing with themselves during the day," she says, "You see them swanning around Ranelagh, going to the gym and out for their coffees and their lunches."
One former nanny who has returned to college to study teaching still babysits for some of her ex-clients. "I think some people don't want to come home until the kids are 18," she says. "A few years ago you could name your price and get it for babysitting. These people always had charity dinners and balls and business luncheons."
She paints a picture more in keeping with Victorian-era upper classes, with freshly scrubbed children presented for a kiss goodnight to mummy and daddy as they sip their pre-prandial gin and tonics.
A friend of hers was once drafted in to babysit the child of a famous Irish musician. "My friend was French, so maybe they thought she wouldn't recognise them," she explains. "They were nice enough to her and paid double, but they left the house without saying goodbye to the little boy. He was about two and sat rocking himself in a corner all evening. She found it very weird."
Most nannies in Ireland are live-out but the long days they work extend beyond office hours. A group of nannies working in the salubrious seafront suburb of Clontarf on Dublin's northside tells Weekend that a 10-hour day is the absolute norm. For that, they will bring home anything from €460 up to €600-€650 a week.
"The au pairs are worse off," says one of the nannies. "They get paid between €50 and €100 a week for working full-time for some families, when they are meant to work about 20 hours. They are a sort of mother's help, over here to improve their English. You can spot them a mile off in the park. They are always the ones who look miserable."
Some of the misery is down to homesickness; some is down to the fact that many au pairs aren't that interested in children.
Some families use young foreign au pairs as full-time childminders while both parents work. "I think there's a real downside for younger children," says one nanny. She recently intervened when she saw that an au pair was unable to understand her charge, who was howling in anguish.
"He was trying to tell her that he had a stone in his shoe and she was making him walk on it."
Another claims that every au pair who has been through a few families will have a "horror story" to tell. "The unlucky ones are working 60 to 70 hours a week, babysitting, laundry, cleaning, eating the cheap food bought for the au pair to eat." The irony is that the term 'au pair' literally translates as 'on a par' -- he or she is meant to be treated as one of the family.
The Irish nannies have their own problems. One relays how a former employer expected her to walk two miles with three children to do the grocery shopping -- there was no car available -- because the mother wanted her to shop at a certain organic butcher and a particular "posh" supermarket.
"What really got my goat was this mother used to go on and on about organic food and no treats or TV, but then at the weekends, the kids told me they were plonked in front of the TV with crisps. Then I'm Bold Nanny when I try to get them back on track on Monday."
Hypocrisy is not just for the holidays. One live-out nanny said The Nanny Diaries really chimed with her experience of parents wanting their children to be brought up in a "cultured" manner -- which they themselves were not willing to back up.
Putting on a mock crystal-cut accent, she says: "I thought the part in the book was really true where the parents want the children brought to museums, or want you speaking foreign languages to them but at the weekend they do nothing of the sort themselves."
Although tales of mean mommies abound, there seems to be less contact with fathers -- a rebuttal of the celebrity example of daddies seducing their children's nannies. "I've never heard of that happening here," says one nanny, although another relates how one father insisted on telling her every detail of the row he had had with his wife the night before.
"It made me so uncomfortable," she says. "It's bad enough having to be privy to these people's lives every single day -- there is such a thing as too much information."