We sat down with Ansley Davis, a real-life nanny who is doing what she loves in Chicago. Hear first-hand what her work is like and how she manages it all.
How long have you been a nanny and what kind of families have you worked with?
I babysat for as long as I could remember—which was very sporadic. I worked at a dance studio so I got a lot of my referrals from that. I would take them home from school, make sure they had a snack and did their homework. Basically, that period of time getting them home from school and when their parents got home from work. I was eventually burnt out from teaching so much dance, but still wanted to be working with kids. So I applied at a bunch of nanny agencies and got matched with the family I’m still currently working with. I’ve been with Olivia now for 3 years, part-time, about 3 days/week. Additionally, I’ve also done back-up care through the agency.
Why are you still a nanny?
The reason I got burnt out teaching dance classes was purely the number of kids in the room all at once. I personally see a lot of value with how I work with kids in a smaller group or one-on-one. When I moved to Chicago, I knew that I wanted to find jobs that would allow me to take dance classes and start my career. I also didn’t want to do something that I didn’t enjoy doing. So I took a step back and thought, “I love being with kids, I love working with kids.” That was my premise for deciding to become a nanny. When I matched with the family I’m currently working with, we just blended really well. They were super open—they had never had a nanny before. They wanted me to fulfill the normal childcare fulfillments, but then also said that if I wanted to do little creative movement sessions with her that they would love that. So I had the freedom to expose her to new experiences. It’s been such a perfect fit that even with the struggles of being a nanny, it’s not as bad because I enjoy doing it so much.
In what ways do you feel a part of their family?
I definitely feel very connected to them. I’ve been with her 3 days/week, every week, for the last 3 years. I’ve gone on vacations with them, they have a room for me at their house to stay in if I’m there late or if the weather is bad, and they invite me to any of their birthday celebrations and girls’ brunches with the mom and her family. So I feel very very much a part of their family. The mom and I will text pretty regularly about her daughter, but she’ll also check in on things with me in my life—like important doctor appointments or relationships I’ve told her about. She’s always telling me to let them know if I need anything. We really have formed such a close, personal relationship. I think that it’s such a great thing, but the only downside about that is that I’ve felt a little apprehensive about asking for a raise and hesitant to take days off because if I’m not there the entire family has to rearrange their schedule.
In the daily interactions we have, they don’t feel the need to worry about being extra professional. It almost doesn’t seem like a job anymore—for me or for them. But at the same time, that’s where the problems can arise when it comes to the business side of things because I am so closely intertwined with their family.
Do you feel that you are adequately paid for what you do?
Yes and no. If you’re simply looking at it in terms of money, I think I should be paid more for what I do. However, in terms of my time being of value, they really respect that. If I’ve ever had to leave by a certain time or make it to an audition they help make sure that happens.
How would Olivia describe your relationship?
I think she honestly assumes that I’m a part of her family. When she draws pictures of her family, it’s her, mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, and me. I don’t think she can even imagine a world without me there. She’s even met other kids at preschool who say they have a nanny. She tells them that she doesn’t have a nanny, she has an Ansley. She knows I’m not her mom or dad—I’m just Ansley.
What do you think is the most important thing to consider to have a healthy relationship with the family you’re caring for?
It’s really important to know what your style of childcare is and to be communicating that with the parents or whoever is the “boss” in that situation. If I ever find myself in an interview with a new family in the future, I will be sure to come prepared with questions about how best I could work with the family. When you’re being matched with a child, it’s just as much of an interview for them as it is for you. I have some friends who are nannies that love the family they’re with, but I know that I wouldn’t do well in their situations. It matters to be honest with yourself about what type of environment you want to be in.
How do you feel about telling people in your life that you’re a nanny?
There have been times where people either don’t understand the extent of what I’m doing or they don’t see it as a valued career or job. Nannying isn’t something that I necessarily want to do for my whole life, but It’s something I love at this time in my life. It’s such an important job: to have someone to help shape your child who is of substance and is a positive influence on your kid. I don’t think people realize that it’s just as much a valid career path as any corporate job or as a teacher. It’s mentally and physically exhausting—you’re in charge of everything. In addition to the basic care needs of food and safety, I’m teaching her all kinds of things: we do meditation sessions, creative movement, and yoga. I used to feel the need to justify why I was a nanny to other people—that it was in support of another career. But really, I’m a nanny because I enjoy it. Sure, it does give me the freedom to do things I want to do and helps me pay the bills, but it absolutely is a viable career option.
I switched from saying that I’m a nanny to saying I’m a caretaker. I feel like the word nanny or babysitter is confining in a way. When they hear nanny, they think of fictional characters, like Mary Poppins or Nanny McPhee, but we’re real people doing the tough work! I’m there when she’s throwing a tantrum because she didn’t get a lollipop at the grocery store. I’m there when she accidentally pees her pants at the park. I’m there for the bad moments, I’m there for the good moments, and I’ve been there to document everything. Who wouldn’t want that for their own kid? To have someone who cares just for your kid, and can take a video of everything you’re not able to experience. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to that have initially reacted to my job with judgment but were surprised to hear me explain everything that I do. This lightbulb goes off that they realize how important this role is.
If you had a magic wand to get rid of something difficult for you as a nanny, what would it be?
I would eliminate the stigma of pay. I feel like there should be more open conversations or more literature to talk about all the different types of jobs that a nanny assumes when they take on a role. I’ve heard of nannies being more of a house manager: they’re taking care of pets, running errands, managing a family calendar, housekeeping tasks, grocery shopping. There should be a kind of standard rubric or something that if you have certain certifications or you take on certain tasks, that would increase your pay accordingly. I’ve spent $3000 on a yoga certification and I’m using that to teach her, but that’s not necessarily reflected in my compensation.
When have you and the parents disagreed?
In general, I always ask parents about how they discipline and do my best to mimic that so that it’s not a confusing experience for the kid. However, there have been times that I’ve had to act in-the-moment, and its nothing bad, but later her mom will say that they’ve never done that thing. We communicate a lot and learn from each other to make the best choices.
She went through a phase when she was teething when she would bite. Just like a puppy, she didn’t mean it as harmful. I set the rule with her that if she bit me, she would have to sit in her bed for 2 minutes. Eventually, I could see her actively making the decision not to—she would open her mouth like she was about to bite, but then would stop and take it back.
Her parents and I would also both use “time-outs” as a way to discipline behavior, but what I learned from them was to say, “take a few minutes in your room to collect yourself,” rather than calling it a time-out. And I loved that and used it immediately.
What is the biggest learning of yourself/life that you will take from being a nanny?
It has prepared me so much for when I want to have kids of my own. I know that every kid is very different, but I can see what has landed on her in her impressionable ages. It will help me not to be really anxious about every little thing. I think I’m going to have a lot of ease in that area because I’ve come to learn that kids can be fragile, but they are also very resilient—mentally and physically. I can observe how she interacts with her parents and can imagine what kind of parent I want to be.
What is your favorite kid’s book/movie that doesn’t drive you crazy?
Tangled. I love the songs and it wasn’t ever as over-played as Frozen. It has a great message about being yourself and not being tied to material possessions.