Confessions Of A Governess: The Joys Of Working For European Parents

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Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.

Taking nannying and babysitting jobs inevitably means placing parents into certain boxes: power couples, single parents, workaholics, type A mothers, divorcees, and traditional families. Each family, regardless of their label, offers their own unique perks and drawbacks, a balance that must be weighed and considered by each nanny. Workaholic couples you can best bet will keep you working late regardless of what time they say that they’ll be home. Type A mothers will go over the lunches that you’ve packed even though you followed her notes exactly. But European families, perhaps the most coveted among nannies and part-time babysitters alike, seem to offer way more perks than your standard American household.

The first European couple I ever worked for was French and they invited me to their Parisian apartment after hearing about my services from a mutual friend. The pair liked that I was American and encouraged me to use English when I could with their young son. Friendly with encouragement to take anything I needed from the apartment, they pointed to the cheeses in their refrigerator with recommendations as to which would go best with what. When coming home after their son was asleep, each parent often brought me goods from the market: fresh bread, flowers, and pastries that they insisted I would like. After preparing a surplus of crêpes, they gave the rest to me with jars of thick dark chocolate, telling me to eat them the moment that I got home.

One time when it came time to pay me, the French father found that he didn’t have enough cash on him. I remember him laughing with a bit of embarrassment before telling me that he had a thought. He gave me the euros he did have and then riffled through the kitchen. He returned with a bottle of wine that he and his wife had purchased in Bordeaux. He assured me le goût was worth far more than the extra money he owed me, and I accepted his offer.

I had a similar experience in America after working for an English couple for a couple of years. The husband and wife were quite social, often going to dinner parties and evening banquets. I remember always arriving close to eight-thirty, their children already asleep upstairs and a bottle of wine open on the counter. With two glasses nearing empty, the wife was always finishing the last of her makeup by the hall mirror while her husband was on the phone with the taxi company. Sweeping their coats on over their finery, they always insisted that I could finish the bottle if I wanted. To please eat the sushi that they had ordered. To take the chocolate truffles home with me.

Generosity is not a uniquely European trait obviously, as I’ve often sat for Americans who will walk through whole tutorials of their satellite system while also insisting that I help myself to the contents of their fridge. But alcohol on the job is something that has yet me to be offered to me by my compatriots. And while the suggestion is never that I get hammered while caring for their little ones, their European background seems to play a considerable role in assuming that I wouldn’t. Considering that I’ve sat for American couples who make a point to lock their liquor cabinet, the more relaxed approach to alcohol consumption by my European employers remains one of stark difference. But regardless of what is given to me in the home, I find that witnessing the more nuanced differences in European parents and parenting are also one of the best perks of the job.

One of the last few times I babysat for the English couple, they seemed a little more casually dressed than they did on previous nights. They also told me that they wouldn’t be out as late this time around. As promised, the door knob began to turn at around 11 o’ clock and as I walked into the hall, they were putting their coats up on the hooks that lined the wall. When I asked them where they had spent their evening, they said not far.

“We just went to a bar around the corner,” said the mother. “Just the two of us.”

I remember smiling and collecting my things from the dinning room table.