It’s not a flirty nanny you need to watch out for, it’s your husband! That’s the stark warning from one ex-nanny who spills the beans on what can go on behind a mother’s back
- Former nanny Fiona Tapp, shared secrets from female nannies in England
- Melanie, 18, recalls her male employer being touchy and trying to kiss her
- Janet, 56, experienced her male boss repeatedly exposing himself in front of her
- Sara, 22, revealed nannies warn each other against certain families
- Fiona claims women should be more weary of their husbands than the nanny
Picture a cosy weekend evening in a well-off family home. Mum goes out with female friends, leaving the nanny to mind the children and Dad to amuse himself. It’s a familiar enough situation.
But for Melanie, an 18-year-old au pair, it was a minefield: another evening fending off the attentions of her male employer without alerting his wife, for that would cost her job, however innocent her own actions.
Originally from Germany, Melanie was caring for a toddler in the home of a wealthy family in York.
‘From the start, the father made me a bit uncomfortable,’ she recalls. ‘He would touch my back when he spoke to me and hugged me in the morning to say hello — even when his wife was there. But it was more noticeable when she wasn’t around.’
Former nanny Fiona Tapp, revealed why women should be more concerned about the behaviour of their husband than a flirty nanny. She spoke to nannies who’ve had creepy experiences with their male employer (file image)
Melanie’s female employer ‘was in a world of her own’ and never seemed to notice. And Melanie felt she had nothing concrete to complain about, at least until the evening they were left alone together. He invited Melanie to watch a film, then tried to kiss her ‘as if we were on a date’. She was stunned.
‘I pushed him off and told him to watch his manners, but then I was so embarrassed I had no idea what to do next. I felt mortified and violated. He started telling me that’s the way he is, touchy, and he’s like that with all his friends. But he was my boss.’
Melanie — an au pair helping with childcare in exchange for a room and a small weekly sum — had no idea what would happen if she told the man’s wife. Feeling stuck, she continued to work for the family, even after the man tried the same thing again.
‘I just had to keep saying “no”,’ she says.
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In many years working as a nanny in the South-East, and later as a co-ordinator for a worldwide agency, I’ve heard endless stories like Melanie’s.
With 73 per cent of mothers now in employment — more than ever before — the demand for young women like her to work in wealthy homes, and the problems that creates, show no signs of slowing.
If you’re a mum, you’re more likely to be familiar with the other side of this tale. The scandals shared in hushed whispers at toddler groups follow the pattern of the nanny attempting to seduce her employer’s husband, not the other way around.
But trust me, the nannies are sharing secrets, too — and it’s likely they portray at least one husband in your group, perhaps even your own, in a far from flattering light.
Sara, 22, revealed nannies often warn each other about families who have fathers that can’t keep their hands to themselves (file image)
Looking after small children can be repetitive, so nannies form social circles, allowing the children to play while they catch up. In my experience, the bad behaviour of dads — ranging from common-or-garden creepiness to outright criminality — is the most frequent topic of conversation.
Sara, 22, originally from France, said: ‘We warn each other against certain families, usually because the dads can’t keep their hands to themselves.’
Take this story from 56-year-old Janet, a night nanny who helps to care for newborns.
‘Once, staying in a house with a new baby, I had to go to the loo late at night,’ she recalls. ‘When I came out, the dad was standing on the landing, facing me, with not a single stitch on.’
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Experienced and not easily alarmed, Janet presumed it was unfortunate timing, a mistake by a worn-out new dad.
‘I covered my eyes with my hands, said “whoops”, and went back to bed. Two weeks later, the same thing happened again.’
Again, she took it in her stride, still not certain his behaviour was deliberate. When the family had their next child, she turned the job down, but learned that a friend of hers had taken it.
‘She phoned me in a terrible state,’ Janet says. ‘The same thing had happened. She is younger than me and it had upset her. She was so frightened she put a chair against her bedroom door so he couldn’t get in.’
Janet now wonders whether she should have told her employer, but would you want to burden an exhausted new mum with this information?
As a nannying co-ordinator, I was the first point of contact for complaints. Parents grumbled that nannies weren’t working hard enough. Nannies’ worries were always about mistreatment.
I remember counselling a Belgian au pair who said a father had pinched her bottom, only to have the wife call her a liar. If the agency doesn’t support a woman in this situation, her career prospects could vanish.
Lucy, 38, argues lingering hugs and kisses from her male employer is behaviour that wouldn’t be tolerated in any other job. She chooses to tolerate inappropriate flirting from her boss but would leave the job she loves if he tried to initate sex (file image)
And while we like to talk of our sisterhood as women, when it comes to choosing to believe either the nanny or their husband, many wives find it easier to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour. As a co-ordinator, I have heard mothers retort that claims of abuse couldn’t be true because the girl was ‘unattractive’ or ‘not the husband’s type’.
One mum told me it was the nanny’s fault as she wore skimpy clothes, even though the young woman was propositioned in her bedroom at work.
Welcoming a nanny into your home requires trust on both sides. The nanny will see and hear things no one else will — bed hair, dirty clothes, arguments.
Sometimes, of course, nannies overstep the mark, snooping or ‘borrowing’ possessions. Either way when tensions arise, it’s the nanny who pays the price.
Lucy, 38, a live-out nanny in Essex since 1996, says her employer is attractive, funny and ‘such a good dad’. But his charms do not excuse his behaviour.
‘He comes home drunk and always invites me to stay for a drink. When I make an excuse and leave he always gives me a lingering “one, two, three Mississippi” hug and a kiss on the lips,’ she says. This harassment wouldn’t be tolerated in any other job but Lucy loves being a nanny.
Fiona revealed some nannies who are working on foreign visas feel trapped in dilemmas of sexual harassment from their boss (file image)
‘Yes, it’s inappropriate flirting, but I tolerate it. I don’t think his wife objects to his behaviour, either. If he tried to initiate sex, though, I would quit,’ she says.
Lucy is confident that, should she leave, she could find another job easily. But for many women, especially those who come to the UK from abroad on informal contracts, there is no such security. It is in these situations that truly horrific abuses occur.
While working as a nanny in a wealthy London suburb, I spoke with one woman whose story will never leave me. From the Philippines, she burst into tears as she told how her male employer was withholding her passport and demanding sexual favours for its return.
While some of the nannies in our group — the white English ones — protested loudly and told her to call the police, others who were here on foreign visas sat quietly, sadly understanding her dilemma. If she left, where would she go? Without any money or her passport, she was stuck.
But even in a job she loves and doesn’t want to leave, the truth is that a nanny may be subjected to inappropriate behaviour, from bad-mouthing his wife to flirting or groping, that leaves her feeling uncomfortable.
My message to mothers who employ nannies is this: it’s not the woman looking after your children you need to watch, but your husband.
ALL names have been changed.
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