Wednesday 29 January 2020

Supernannies: From pin stripes to baby wipes

Celine Naughton

They are classically educated, fluent in at least two foreign languages and can ski, horseride and play a musical instrument -- meet the new breed of nanny, writes Celine Naughton

Gwyneth Paltrow's advertisement last year for a nanny to look after her children, Apple and Moses, was a tall order. The ideal candidate would have a classical education, incorporating Latin and Greek; be fluent in at least three languages, preferably including Mandarin or Japanese; be musically adept in two instruments; be passionate about sailing and tennis and enjoy art history or martial arts -- and would earn a reported €72,000 a year.

Meanwhile, the requisite qualifications for Brangelina's two nannies to care for their brood of six included a degree in education or child development and fluency in two languages as well as the children's native tongues. According to Hollywood Life, Brangelina pay $50,000 -$150,000 a year, depending on time and experience

And it's not just celebrities who are looking for supernannies with a formidable resume. A recent UK survey found that four out of five families looking for a nanny wanted someone with "additional skills" such as fluency in a foreign language, skiing, horseriding and the ability to teach or play a musical instrument.

It's not so different in Ireland. According to Jen Stewart, recruitment consultant with Executive Nannies, "All our applicants must have a qualification in paediatric first-aid as well as a minimum of two years' full-time professional experience as a nanny or five years' childcare experience, often in a creche or Montessori.

"Many of those on our books do further courses in child psychology, play therapy or child development and often offer additional skills such as skiing, swimming or horseriding."

Irish families increasingly demand high levels of skills and experience in a nanny and they're prepared to pay for it, with jobs at the top end commanding salaries of more than €40,000.

"In the past, few Irish families employed a nanny, but now it is acknowledged and respected as a career and this is reflected in the salary," says Jen. "Nannies on our books are the cream of the crop and they typically earn €550-€750 a week, or €30,000-€40,000 a year, some even more."

That may sound like a golden opportunity to unemployed graduates, but those who think they can beat the recession by becoming a nanny may have a rude awakening.

"More college graduates are interested in becoming nannies. But if they haven't got childcare experience, I tell them to go away and come back in three years with experience under their belt," says Jen. "Being a nanny is a serious occupation and we don't bend the rules, even if you have a first-class university degree."

And while the salary may be attractive, hard work and long hours are part of the package, which typically entails a 50-hour week.

"Due to the recession, some families now need somebody who will combine the roles of housekeeper and nanny, so she may be required to cook and do laundry for the whole family," says Jen. "A full, clean driving licence, while not essential, is a definite plus and some nannies are required to have their own car.

"Additional skills are sometimes requested. Horseriding is a common one, and some families want a nanny with skiing experience to join them on their winter ski holiday. Bilingual parents may require fluency in a second language to help raise their children in both languages."

And despite the recession, Executive Nannies reports a growing demand, not just for full-time nannies, but for temporary placements such as maternity and holiday assignments.

"Demand slowed down a couple of years ago, but we are definitely coming through the slump now," says Jen. "We recently placed a nanny with a family for two weeks on a five-star resort holiday in Mexico. Another spent the summer with a family in Portugal who wanted a nanny who was a strong swimmer to ensure the children would be safe in their villa's private pool.

"We have also placed nannies with Irish families relocating to Belgium, Australia and the United States. Irish nannies have a good reputation abroad and are in demand internationally. An added bonus is that the Irish accent is considered attractive and neutral.

"If parents from another country want their children to speak English without a heavy accent, they often seek an Irish nanny."

For information visit www.

"I had a diploma in child psychology and I'd like to take it further and do a degree. But it will have to be an evening course, as I have my hands full during the day doing the job I love most -- looking after three beautiful little girls," she says. "I'm up at 6am Monday to Friday to drive from Skerries where I live in north Dublin to my job in Sandymount on the south side and every morning I look forward to the day ahead."

Barbara is nanny to four-year-old triplets Sarah, Elizabeth and Rachel O'Gara. Her mornings are spent "having adventures" with the girls and in the afternoons they all pile on to a bicycle made for four and cycle to Montessori school.

"The girls love the cycle to school!" she says. "They sing and hold out their toys for people passing by. It's always a happy journey."

It's also a high-energy job, but Barbara -- whose interests are rock-climbing, walking, swimming and other outdoor pursuits -- takes it in her stride.

"Everything you do with the children you get back tenfold," she says. "You have to understand the space they're in and encourage them to explore and be creative. If we start an art project or read a book one morning, it may prompt a visit to the library, the Natural History Museum or the National Art Gallery the following day. Or they might want to take their scooters to the park. The children come up with the ideas.

"I make them a healthy lunch -- there is always lots of fruit and vegetables on the menu -- and when they're at school I do housework and laundry, then collect them for the return cycle home.

"I leave when Evelyn and Jim get home around 5pm. I don't like to infringe on their family time."

Barbara has been nanny to the girls since last July and considers herself extremely lucky to have a job she loves. "There's not much difference between this job and running a business," she says. "You have to be equally committed and take the work seriously. It's a privilege too, because a nanny has a huge influence on little people."

Senior lecturers at University College Dublin, Evelyn and Jim O'Gara regard Barbara as more than a nanny. "She really is a supernanny," says Rachel. "As you can imagine, looking after three four-year-olds is enough to keep anyone on their toes and Barbara manages it brilliantly. I don't know what I'd do without her."

Evelyn is from Cork and Jim from Monaghan and when their triplets were born, they had no extended family nearby to help out.

"We grew up with Mum at home and uncles, aunts and grandparents close by, but Jim and I were on our own," says Evelyn.

As any first-time parents know, feeding, changing, bathing, dressing and potty training one baby can be challenging, but three all at once is a logistical feat. On the recommendation of her sister, Evelyn approached Executive Nannies for help.

"We had saved up a bit of money, so we said let's use it," she says. For the first year they employed two nannies, one to help with the daytime routine and another to take over at night.

"We worked together as a team. I was a new mother learning on the job, but they had experience and quickly got a system going. It also meant that Jim and I got some sleep."

And in a scene that could be right out of Mary Poppins, once the girls were sleeping through the night, Noreen, the night-time nanny announced, "My work here is done", and left.

"All our nannies brought something special to the family and Barbara is no exception," says Evelyn. "She has a calming influence on the girls -- she even brings them to yoga classes once a week!

"Every evening when we get home, they're happy. That's so important to us. Barbara is a lovely person with a fantastic work ethic. Having the get-up-and-go to run your own business takes a lot of commitment and courage. She has achieved so much, personally and professionally, she is a great role model for the girls and a wonderful addition to our family."

Irish Independent

Editors Choice

Also in Life