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(Tibor Kolley)
(Tibor Kolley)

A nanny from the cradle to the grave Add to ...

Ruby Del Mundo has three kids, ages 10, 13 and 16. At bedtime, she snuggles and reads to the youngest. During the day she takes care of the house, and after school she takes all three children to their activities, picks them up and gets dinner started. Sometimes they all eat together, and sometimes they all go out with her employer's parents.

Ms. Del Mundo is the children's nanny, or, as their mother, Melissa Fox-Revett, would say, "the default dad."

Because Ms. Del Mundo has been with the family since the eldest was just three months old, "she's almost like a companion," Ms. Fox-Revett says.

But Ms. Fox-Revett, who runs two Toronto restaurants with her husband, faces a dilemma: Her eldest doesn't need a nanny and could easily babysit the younger ones, but she doesn't want to let Ruby go.

"It would be like saying to my kids, 'You don't need your father any more,' " Ms. Fox-Revett says. "I've always told her it would be her decision if and when she wants to leave."

Phasing out a long-term nanny is a difficult transition for many families. After years of developing close relationships, most nannies eventually move on. For the families and the caregivers, parting can be painful and fraught with tension.

Some nannies do continue to work part time with the same family and take on other small jobs so they can be there for the kids after school; some move on to new families, and others start new careers, often as home-care support workers for the elderly. A few stay on full time as glorified housekeepers.

Once Michelle Kelsey's two daughters were in school full time, the Vancouver mother says, she couldn't justify keeping her nanny on. But after six years, the woman had become part of the family. "She lived with us and ate dinner with us," Ms. Kelsey says. Seeing her go "was emotionally hard for everyone."

To ease the pain, they made it a gradual change. "We went from her living in, to living out and then working part time. There was no big dramatic drop-off."

Ms. Kelsey's nanny moved into her basement suite as a tenant for a couple years even after she went to work for another family. "I look at her like a great aunt, or grandma, to my kids," Ms. Kelsey says.

Four years later, Ms. Kelsey says they see each other all the time. Sometimes her former nanny will come to babysit, but refuses to take money. "We've gone from an employer-employee relationship to family," Ms. Kelsey says. "She does it because she loves the kids and wants to see them."

Many employers aim for a slow tapering. Christine Mullie of Vancouver reduced her nanny of six years to three days a week, and then three afternoons. "We both knew it was coming," Ms. Mullie says.

"We had talked about it over the years. So when it was time for her to leave, there wasn't a lot of emotion, except we'll miss her."

According to one researcher, Canadian mothers believe that two to three years is the right length of time to employ a nanny.

"Otherwise, issues of attachment come up that can be good, but are also problematic," says Geraldine Pratt, a geography professor at the University of British Columbia who has researched the lives of Filipina nannies in Canada for 11 years.

"It's a balance you have to strike between having a woman come in and love your child and the issues that come up around that," Ms. Pratt says.

For former nanny Erin Northcott, it took many emotionally charged conversations to determine the best time for her to leave the family she had been with for four years. But for her, there was no slow phasing out. She went from full time to no time.

"We talked and talked about when would be the best time to make it easy on the girls, on me and on my employer," she says. "I would cry about it and I told her I didn't want to leave, but I'd just finished university and I wanted to travel and not be a nanny forever. And her kids were in school full days, so it was good timing for both of us."

But after four years, Ms. Northcott had grown attached to her employer. She was 19 when she started working for the family, and she says the mother taught her everything "about being a woman in the world." They took her travelling and to social events. They ate dinner together.

"Until I thought about leaving, it hadn't really hit me that these people had become my family," she says. Seven years later, Ms. Northcott still keeps in touch. She talks to the kids on the phone every few months, and they are connected through Facebook.

She was so moved by the experience that when she returned home to Vancouver she started a nanny agency, Not Just Nannies. But she says that for many women, there's a divide that prevents deep emotional bonding with the nanny.

"With most women working, there's a 10-minute hand-off at the end of the day, and then there's often a cultural difference that can make it hard to become close," Ms. Northcott says.

For many nannies, one risk of staying too long with a family is that they'll grow too old to retrain and start a new career. Even so, many are reluctant to move on.

Ms. Del Mundo, who doesn't want to leave her family, turned down their offer to enroll her in bookkeeping courses so she could work for the family's restaurants.

Ms. Fox-Revett's vision of their future together was inspired by a catering job she did at a Toronto mansion several years ago. She helped the owners, who were in their 70s, prepare a party for another woman in her 70s, and she couldn't figure out what their relationship was.

Later, she found out the woman had been nanny to the couple's children 50 years earlier, and been kept on. She was sent to school and employed by the husband's company. When she retired, she stayed in a suite in her employers' house.

"It gave me the chills," Ms. Fox-Revett recalls. "That's what I want. She's part of my life, part of my kids' life and my friend, too. I just can't imagine not having her around."

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