The world of nannies and au-pairs can appear enticing for many reasons. The money is great, there is no work on the weekends, and you have the opportunity to travel the world. It was all those things for me, but most importantly, it was a chance to work with children. Nannying was a way for me to share my love for kids and to fulfill my nurturing instincts. My diagnosis of PCOS in my teens combined with my queer identity would make it difficult—not impossible—for me to have children in the future, and while I wasn’t ready for my own motherhood journey, I was excited to help bring up someone else’s.
For over two years, I was the nanny to a kid I’ll call E, for the sake of his privacy. Things started rocky since he wasn’t yet comfortable with this stranger he suddenly had to hang out with. But after a few months, he realized that, even though I wasn’t his mom, I was still pretty dope. We spent our days exploring Chicago, running rampant through museums, finding hidden parks, and just hanging out at home. I watched him grow up on a daily basis.
But early last year, I made the decision to throw myself entirely into my writing. I stopped letting my fear of life as a full-time freelance writer hold me back, and I gave E’s family my two months notice when he was 2 years old. Preparing to announce my departure to them was, in my mind, Gossip Girl levels of drama. I would hype myself up regularly and set alarms reminding myself to quit. When I finally told them my plan, I only felt a slight tinge of relief.
On my final day of nannying for E, I was given balloons, flowers, and Beyoncé tickets as a parting gift from his family. E was so happy about the balloons around him that my leaving didn’t even seem to phase him. He gave me a high five and a kiss, and he watched me walk outside from his window like he always did. To him, it was probably just a normal day.
But I cried on the way home.
Feelings of regret and sadness started to surface, and I didn’t know which emotions to tend to first. I wrongfully decided to push them all to the side.
In the weeks following my last day, I continued ignoring my feelings of depression. I feigned happiness to friends and family when they asked about my departure. I wrote more articles, joined “Journalist Twitter,” and curated lists of publications where I wanted to pitch my ideas. The feelings I attempted to push away became more prevalent and began to affect my work. This cloud over my head wasn’t because of writer’s block, and it couldn’t be cured by endless Instagram scrolling or natural hair tutorial marathons on YouTube.
I had to deal with my sadness over leaving E, and figure out how to process it.
Guilt was the most intense emotion to take up residence. The replacement hired by E’s family fell through, and several times, I had to stop myself from offering to come back and help. I knew that it was not my responsibility to find someone to care for him, but knowing that did nothing to assuage my guilty heart. My staunch decision to focus on writing now meant that he might have a revolving door of babysitters and family friends caring for him, instead of the stability that he once had with me.
Next, fear crept in and I started feeling like I had abandoned him. These concerns intensified because I couldn’t think of a proper way to explain to this 2-year-old child why I left. Adults frequently forget about (or ignore) children’s extended ranges of emotions. Think of the childhood memories that you discuss in therapy, or of the trigger that brings you back to a particular moment from your infancy.
I narcissistically inserted myself into E’s future, and after surrounding myself with the internet for the sake of my freelance career, I imagined that he would one day create a Twitter thread detailing his abandonment issues. And somewhere within it, he’d mention me. I’ve clicked on many a Twitter thread where someone is telling a story about a moment that triggered their anxiety or depression, and they often wonder if the people involved even know that they were part of such a pivotal incident. I didn’t want to be that person for E. What if I’d been a catalyst for any of his future pain?
These emotions began to spiral, and I was at a loss for how to manage these feelings. They were confusing, out of my control, and hindering me from the very work I’d left to pursue. Instead of spending time fleshing out pitches, I was posting on social media for local nannies to contact me in hopes I’d find my perfect replacement and I’d save the day for E’s family. When I could get the slightest bit of work done, I felt guilty; instead of being at a music class with E, I was in a cafe with a cold cup of coffee, sending pitches to places that I might never hear back from.
I had already started therapy because I wanted to get on the path to good mental health. But when my relationship with my therapist became more trusting, I revealed more issues—like the anxiety and guilt I felt after leaving E. Raising this child had been a large part of my life for so long; I felt that I’d broken my loyalty to him and his family when I left. I blamed myself for anything that might go “wrong” for him after my departure.
Through our sessions, I learned that I was blending obligation and devotion.
Once I started understanding how to separate the two in my role as a former nanny, things began to make more sense. I finally felt relieved. Understanding my emotions meant I could have a better relationship with E and his family. They still reach out to me for the occasional date night babysitting gig, and when I walk through the door, I’m met with a running hug from E. I don’t even mind that I nearly get shanked by his current favorite toy. After the fun chaos of the night dies down and I tuck him into bed, I’m left feeling content. My decision to actively work on my mental health got me to this point, and now I realize that I can pursue my career and this tiny human can still know I’ll always be there for him,