Students and wifework – how a nanny got me thinking about what I do all day

I’m not sure of the best place to write this up, but I wanted to for posterity.

For four weeks in May this year, we had a student nanny living with us! It was a residential placement midway through her 3 year degree in Super Nannying, at no cost to us. The purpose was for her to have an extended period settling with a family, and I hope she learnt things from her time with us. She certainly slotted in really well to our family life and I learnt a few things, too. At the start of the placement Baby #2 was 4 months old. By the end of her stay, he was 5 months old – crawling already (!!!) – and, during the period of her stay, I feel we transitioned out of the newborn fuzziness stage to a more fully formed Family Of Four.

park

Wifework (ie. how many people it takes to run a household without anyone burning out!)

During the nanny’s stay, family life ran very smoothly. No one seemed worn out. Meals were planned at the start of the week which resulted in the whole week being clearly planned – in order to plan meals, we needed to know who was eating together and whether anyone would be out. The three year old was a delight as she had the full attention of another adult who was happy to potter around fulfilling her whims (reading, crafting, playing in the garden).

Wifework could just as easily be husbandwork except I’m the one on maternity leave, and even before and after that I am the “more-at-home” parent, and and and arguably still mostly falls to women in a conventional heterosexual household set-up regardless of who is working outside the home (the term was coined by author Susan Maushart). Wifework is shorthand for the tasks undertaken (usually by women) to keep a house ticking over, including but not limited to the laundry, the washing up, cooking, cleaning, tidying, grocery shopping, life admin like paying bills and posting letters, and – primarily, and destructively to the aforementioned chores – childcare (umbrella term for entertaining, feeding, cleaning the little ‘uns – a job in itself, if our temporary resident’s degree and future career is anything to go by!). Some of these activities can be combined with the essential overriding activity of childcare, that is, conducted with the “help” of small children at the expense of completing it promptly. For instance, cooking the evening meal: the nanny learnt on one extreme occasion that when enlisting the help of a three year old, it’s not a bad idea to start around 4pm to get tea on the table for 6pm!

Importantly, however, while the nanny took on the bulk of these tasks relating to the children, it did not mean my time was entirely my own. I was unable to delegate breastfeeding the baby, doing mine and my partner’s laundry, household admin, online shopping… but I was able to fit all this in around more pleasant “downtime” that I rarely get, such as reading blogs and magazines and just having a daytime lie down. Similarly, the nanny was able to prioritise the children’s needs for 11 hours a day and then have a full night’s sleep all on her own. As it’s her job, she gets the psychological bonus of knowing she is off duty at the end of the long working day. I am never off duty, which adds to the mental exhaustion.

The result was two adults at home keeping on top of things but not feeling burnt out. A third adult who came home from ten hours at the office to a relaxed, tidy household and almost none of his usual household chores left to complete. Then came the realisation of how much I actually do every day, even with a very involved partner who does the eldest’s bedtime routine and certainly doesn’t expect his tea on the table or clean clothes in his drawer (but is lucky enough to get that anyway!). All these activities take physical and mental effort and precious time. The fact this blog post took me until mid July to sit down and finish is certainly example enough. All these tasks combined with my many overnight wake ups, no wonder I still feel so tired!

 

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