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Nanny with an eating disorder.

(12 Posts)
Ninny8 Tue 16-Jun-15 00:36:26

I've been nannying for a while now but have been with my current two families for about nine months and I love them. I left a very difficult job with a controlling mother and feel like I've been really lucky to find such warm, accepting people. I care very much about these children and want the best for them. I also have great respect for the parents who clearly work very hard to give their children the love and attention they need.

I have been suffering with bulimia/disordered eating for the last nine years. Whilst the severity comes in waves, bulimia has been a strong fixture in my life and I am still very much controlled by it. This being said, I do not exhibit any behaviour that indicates I have a problem when the children are under my care, nor have I disclosed my eating disorder to my employers (who coincidentally are both doctors). However, one of the children in my care has been showing signs of OCD around food. I immediately picked up on it because I do exactly the same things. When informing the mother, I did admit to my own eating rituals and advised her to nip it in the bud if possible, using myself as an example of how it can continue long term. Following this, she mentioned the link between food rituals and eating disorders and how she wouldn't want her daughter to develop one. I would not rule out the possibility that she believes I have an eating disorder, given that she is a doctor and knows about my odd habits. She has made jesting comments about my eating since then. For example: 'help yourself... if there is anything you can actually eat' or 'how are you even alive?' and other similar things. I haven't taken any of this to be rude or accusatory - that is just her way. She has no reason to doubt my commitment to her children and we are completely on the same page when it comes to childcare. But I am growing increasingly concerned that by working with them whilst suffering with an eating disorder is inconsiderate of me, particularly given their daughter's relationship with food. Currently she eats very well but in her ordered way. I avoid eating in front of them so as not to influence her though this little girl is incredibly perceptive and she has already picked up on little things I do. Am I doing the wrong thing by continuing to work? Should I have disclosed to the mother my issues with food? But then I wonder if she already knows anyway. I don't really know what the right thing to do is but I know I have a strong connection to the kids and I want what is best.

The other family don't know about my eating. The mother is on a diet and often has scales about that sometimes ended up in the kitchen. I did once mention that scales in a kitchen made me uncomfortable and they have never been there again since and it was not an issue. I am pretty sure things are okay there and the children won't pick up any bad habits from me. Were I to leave this job, it would complicate things as I also work part time at the nursery her son attends. Due to the nature of their work, both mothers do come across each other from time to time and also my own partner does too. If something happened and I left one of my positions, it could potentially affect my others and make things awkward between people. I really don't want to leave any of them. My work with children makes me happy and I am furthest from my bulimic thoughts when I am with them. I wouldn't wish this on anyone. I apologise for the length of this - I needed to get across the full picture, which is complex. Please, if anyone can shed any light on my predicament, please do try. I would really like to hear from other mothers about how they would feel and what others in my shoes might do. Thanks for the time reading if you made it!

IronMaggie Tue 16-Jun-15 01:06:25

Sorry to hear you're struggling with this Ninny - it is a tricky one though, I can see why you're torn.

I've suffered with disordered eating, and I have a nanny who is absolutely fantastic with my DCs, but I suspect has issues with food as well. I've never once seen her eat, and her weight has fluctuated noticeably while she's been with us. But at the same time I can think of very few people that don't have some sort of issue with food these days.

It sounds like you're extremely sensitive to how you come across to the children. As a parent I'd say that as long as your rituals don't affect their care (for instance by leaving them alone for long periods), then it seems that they're in good hands. The one thing I'd say is that avoiding eating altogether in their presence may not be the best message to send either. Are the children old enough to have noticed / commented on that?

Ninny8 Tue 16-Jun-15 01:55:54

Thank you for responding. It is refreshing to hear that you appreciate your nanny, despite the likelihood of her having problems with food. Your approach is a realistic one because you are right, so many people do have food issues now.

I definitely do feel that it is important that I am a stable influence on the children and wouldn't want to feel like I am doing anything negative. However, I don't feel like the level of care is compromised. I wouldn't dream of leaving them and I really try hard to promote positive attitudes to food and everything else.

I begin work with them after school so luckily not eating around them is not a big deal as it is only one meal and they know I go home and eat dinner with my partner. I always sit with them at the table and have a cup of something and I don't avoid food full stop. I'll sometimes have a piece of fruit or veg if there is some going so I don't think they think of me as someone who doesn't eat. Also I talk very enthusiastically about food so they don't have any reason to assume I do anything to control my food intake. It would be different if I was with them all day though as the girl is seven and would notice if I didn't eat all day.

Whether or not the mother knows about my eating disorder, she still knows I have issues with obsessive compulsive food rituals and she hasn't ever questioned my ability to care for her children. I don't know if her opinion would change if she knew. I just want to ensure I do the right thing and it's been worrying me recently because I feel like my bulimia is really going to keep gripping. I would really like to have my own children but worry I shouldn't. I should treat other people's children with that same concern.

FeijoaSundae Tue 16-Jun-15 02:41:27

I don't have any experience with eating disorders myself, but our previous au pair was in recovery from one.

She didn't specifically tell us, but it was part of her application, which includes the specific question - 'do you, or have you ever had, an eating disorder?' This is part of the agency's vetting process, not our own, I add. I suppose I am surprised that an au pair vetting process might be more rigorous than one for a nanny.

Without wanting to provide any outing details, she found something very specific that totally changed the way she saw herself, and enabled her to genuinely like herself, and so she was/is in recovery. Can you ever really say you are actually recovered? I don't know.

It was never an issue for us. At all. But I have to say, if I was your employer, I would absolutely hate to think of you worrying yourself about this, and would so hope you might open up to me about it.

You sound absolutely lovely, and it sounds like you have an ideal relationship with your employer (such relationships are worth their weight in gold, right?), and I'm sure it would only add to your bond and the trust between you, to work through this together.

I don't want to encourage you to do anything you don't want to do, or you feel is too risky. But maybe give it some thought.


BlackSwan Tue 16-Jun-15 03:05:25

I think you shared too much about your own situation and it is making you uncomfortable. But you can't put the genie back in the bottle. There's something very insidious about eating disorders (I had one as a child). Do you think it's possible you're sabotaging your own happiness by sharing what you have shared with the mother? You're giving yourself reasons to leave them. I think you should speak with a professional to help you sort through your thoughts and feelings. I would think the mental pressure of knowing or suspecting that your employer knows the extent of this and may discuss this with others could impact you badly - not in any other way but in your own mind, but that frankly is bad enough.

Ninny8 Tue 16-Jun-15 08:40:22

Black Swan - I do definitely think I shared too much though at the time I wasn't expecting her to link it to eating disorders as it is something I've been doing for a long time, well before I had an eating disorder and I didn't see it as something that would jeopardise my happiness. However, when she did make that link between those habits, I started worrying and wishing I'd never said anything. But my whole point was to suggest we helped her daughter get over it quickly before it became a more deep set problem. I never felt like I was overstepping a mark based on our specific relationship. But the way I am feeling now, that could well be me trying to sabotage things for myself, I do agree. I have something good here and everything has come together after a very stressful move out of London and into a much more rural area. I worked hard for this and it paid off but my bulimia is still here of course. It could be me wanting to let it consume me so I can go and hide away from everyone and be with my illness. I am far from recovery but I guess you could say I am high functioning.

FeijoaSundae - I am interested to hear you employed someone who had previously disclosed their disorder from the start. I'm glad to hear it wasn't a problem but even more glad you have given her the chance.

I am lucky with my employer too I think. She does seem to have picked up on a lot more than I told her and maybe her jests are her showing me she's okay with it. I don't know if I would just tell her though, despite how worried I am about whether she knows. The risk scares me. I suppose she may at some point ask me though in which case I'd probably be honest. I just need to prove I am able to look after the children.

If she did ask, what might people suggest I say?

BlackSwan Tue 16-Jun-15 20:52:26

Even if you're in a rural area, is there someone you could talk to about this? Even your GP? It can help.

Ninny8 Wed 17-Jun-15 00:03:31

There is a GP, it's just building up the courage to go. Because I am relatively new to the area, I don't really have anyone to support me in that so it would be something I'd be doing alone. I had a bad experience with a past attempt at recovery and have in a way resigned myself to the fact that my eating disorder is here to stay, hence my uncertainty at whether I should even be working with children. But I should try, for them. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I need make some change in my life if I am to move forward.

middleeasternpromise Wed 17-Jun-15 19:18:08

Personally I would have no issue with employing someone in a childcare position who has an 'eating disorder', I do not believe its contagious or something children would easily 'copy'. Eating disorders are incredibly complex and usually stem from a number of sources so I wouldn't imagine one of my children might become aware and develop the same by being cared for by someone dealing with this condition. It would be much more important to me to know that the person dealing with it has the sort of insight you have shown and is working extra hard to ensure no particular messages are being communicated about food when at work. I have dealt with far more concerning people who would consider themselves 'healthy' but have very strong views about food and feel because they are 'right' they have a duty to convey their values to children in their care. That in my view is more likely to create damaging influence.

GPs see all sorts of conditions in their work, so its highly probable your employer has unconsciously noticed your behaviours around food and verbalised it out loud - I would hope a GP would be enlightened enough not to overreact and so long as you have strategies for how you work professionally I really don't see the problem. Food is one tiny part of child care = reliability; trust worthiness; patience; child centred approaches; sensitivity and kindness are all things I would put just as much emphasis on.

Ninny8 Thu 18-Jun-15 15:36:42

Middleeasternpromise - thank you for your response. I feel a bit more positive now about it. I think she probably will have picked up stuff and is understanding enough to realise it doesn't interfere with my care of her kids. I know she appreciates me as a nanny and as a person so I think she probably thinks that despite that, I am capable. When it comes to her daughter's habits, I have always informed her and done all I can to ensure I approach it without letting my own disorder influence so I guess she sees that. I just need to keep being a positive and stable part of their life (as they are going through a rough time) and show them that I am not another thing they need to worry about. Thanks for all the responses - I really needed to get out how I've been feeling and it has really helped. A few days I was drafting a resignation letter and now I feel much more able to give them my all without letting bulimia stop me. Thank you all.

BlackSwan Thu 18-Jun-15 20:30:13

We all go through rough patches. You're not the only one! Go easy on yourself.

LobsterQuadrille Sun 21-Jun-15 09:29:12

Hi Ninny8, I've only just discovered the existence of this ED thread - I normally frequent AIBU and it was mentioned on there. I've never had a nanny but do have a DD and have myself been bulimic and borderline anorexic for about 30 years - peaks and troughs and have had many "stable" periods, although there has also been a strong element of control throughout.

My main response based on some of your questions about are that a) I would never have had a problem with DD having a nanny with an ED, partly because my own DD is nearly 18 and I have never known anyone with such a lack of issues with food and fantastic body confidence. She's naturally slim and healthy and I have always told her she looks great - she's not arrogant in any way, just doesn't see food as anything other than to be enjoyed. Who better than someone for whom food has always been the enemy to educate a child and ensure that their habits are not passed on? We do not have scales in the house. She has never been on "a diet" and hopefully never will - plenty of her friends will not eat this or that, and many have disordered eating. You sound very aware of the dangers and as if you are doing an admirable job. Possibly the mother you mention is aware that eating is an issue for you - if asked outright, you could say that it's generally under control but is something that has raised its ugly head in times of stress? In my case this is largely the truth.

Please do not think that you shouldn't have children. My DD is aware now that I have a problem with food but agrees that while growing up, she had no idea - I didn't treat mealtimes as rigidly as I was brought up so there was no "finish everything on your plate", for instance - I didn't use food as a reward either. A very close friend of mine had a serious breakdown many years ago and is now a psychiatric nurse, and a brilliant one because she is able to empathise with her patients, having been there herself.

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