‘I had my worries about you looking after my children, but you’ve proven me wrong,’ a mum said to me recently, as she shook my hand warmly.
‘You’ve been amazing – and the kids love you!’
Some people might be offended by that feedback, but even I have to admit that, as a 24-year-old man, I probably wouldn’t be everyone’s first idea of a nanny.
But if there’s one thing I know, it’s that being a man doesn’t make me any less good at my job.
In fact, I believe we desperately need more men to enter the childcare profession. Children need to see that caring for others is not a job for women only.
I knew I wanted to work with children from a very young age.
My three sisters and I were all adopted – my sister and I from Vietnam, my other two siblings from China – and seeing how brilliantly our parents raised all four of us inspired me to want to give children as great a start as possible in life, too.
When I was 14, I decided to apply to Norland – the prestigious college that specialises in childcare – after being inspired by my eldest sister who was studying there at the time. No one ever questioned my decision, despite it being an unusual one – I think because I was so determined.
Even at sixth form, I’d go off to my childcare classes to complete my level 3 early years qualification while all my friends were out playing football, and no one ever gave me any hassle.
Then sure enough, I got in to Norland College aged19.
Training there has been an incredible experience and certainly nothing like your average university. One day I’d be learning to cook and sew, while the next I’d be in a lecture learning about brain development.
It’s three years of learning and short placements and then in the fourth year – which I’m in – you do a 12-month paid job in the UK with one family. After this, you’re qualified and can take jobs globally.
I’m still early on in my career – I’m currently a newly qualified nanny (NQN) – but I’ve already had lots of experience as part of my studies. I’ve experienced forest schools, special education needs schools, a range of primary school classes and many family placements that have been both live-in and live-out.
I’m one of only 10 men who’ve ever been through Norland in its 130-year history. Yet the challenges I’ve faced so far are the same as those faced by any nanny. Adapting to different families’ lifestyles, morals, views and rules and developing a bond and trust with both the parents and children.
Parents sometimes have doubts about hiring a male nanny – can I be affectionate, nurturing and provide the caring love that kids need?
Once when I was interviewing for a job for a family with babies, I was asked twice about whether I was able to be ‘cuddly’, as they need a lot more physical comforting.
If I’m being honest, I even asked these questions of myself, but straight away from my first baby interaction, I saw a different side to myself.
Now, looking after babies is one of the areas of childcare I’m most confident in. They are sensitive and unpredictable, but by observing, bonding and using my knowledge, I’m able to understand them.
In my current role with a one-year-old girl, I’m so tuned in that I’m able to predict what she wants before she starts showing any signs. It’s almost like we have an innate instinct within us that wants to give so much love to infants.
So yes, you’ll definitely find me giving babies cuddles, helping to soothe toddlers who have fallen over and generally doing everything you’d expect a nanny to do.
I once heard the mum of one of my families say: ‘Ike could be holding a baby while preparing breakfast and still supervise the other three toddlers at the same time.’
And indeed, sometimes being a man can actually be an advantage.
Through a friend, I found a job where I looked after three children, including an eight-year-old boy who used a wheelchair and had specifically requested a male nanny to help him with his morning routine.
As a rare ‘manny’, I fit the bill perfectly.
During the four years I was with him and his family, I’d carry out his daily care routines, which included lifting him in the air with a hoist. Understandably, he was really nervous but I talked him through everything I was doing so he knew exactly what was happening.
Once I’d earned his trust, he started to see me as a friend. We’d talk about the hip-hop music we both liked and could spend hours talking about Marvel superheroes.
‘You’ve helped me become the person I am today,’ he told me, when it was time for me to leave. How could I help but well up? He really showed me I was doing my job right.
When I left, his parents said: ‘You are completely irreplaceable and we are going to miss you so much but we will forever be grateful for you.’
Now he’s a teenager and in many ways, I regard him as a younger brother. He knows I’m only ever a WhatsApp message away.
That was my longest time with one family but even when we did our four-week placements, I was still sad to leave families as I was always made to feel so welcome.
Some days I’ll be going on a trip to the zoo, or cinema, or a giant soft play area. I’ve even gone to local festivals with children. I really do have to pinch myself sometimes that this is what I do for work. There’s certainly never a dull moment.
Once I’m fully qualified, I’m hoping my nanny career will take me around the world and, in the distant future, I plan to start my own business, hoping to empower fathers to develop their childcare skills.
Perhaps more men would consider becoming nannies if they really knew what it was like. Who wouldn’t want to play all day?! It’s a brilliant role for anyone looking for a job that’s practical, creative and fun.
Plus, the pay isn’t bad either. In London, average annual salaries for nannies are now pushing £40,000 per year.
Salaries for Norland Nannies are even higher. In 2021/22, the average starting salary was £40,000 rising to £60,000 to £100,000 for those with experience.
Most important, however, is how rewarding the job is. The satisfaction of having had a positive impact on a child’s life is unmatched.
There is still stigma around men working in early years.
Just from the very fact of being a male nanny, I know I’m teaching a crucial lesson to the children I look after: that their sex or gender shouldn’t limit them in any way, and that if they’re passionate and dedicated, they can do any job they like.
Ike Robin is an ambassador for Nannytax, the nanny employment experts who help parents with nanny payroll, employment contracts and HR. You can follow Ike on Instagram here.
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