My nanny’s pregnant and I’m far from happyKatie Hopkins is the mouthy Apprentice star who rubbed TV viewers up
the wrong way. But does she deserve our sympathy as she denounces
maternity rights in her typically abrasive style
01:45 GMT, 28 June 2012
The smile was not, I hope, too forced when I heard the news. Rachel, the indispensable nanny to my three children, had just told me she was pregnant and would soon be taking maternity leave.
‘That’s marvellous,’ I gushed through gritted teeth last weekend.
While outwardly I tried to share in her delight, inwardly my mind was squealing a handbrake turn down a much more selfish route as I envisaged the turmoil about to be inflicted on my life.
All I could see was a calendar, jam-packed with appointments, looming before me like an army assault course. Without my trusted nanny, how would I keep to my crowded schedule
Busy family: Katie with her children (from left) Poppy, Max and India
A host of other questions kept returning. How would I find time to organise a replacement Could a temporary nanny be trusted Would the children be upset at the change And, screaming the loudest of all, was the question: ‘What is all this going to cost’
Such thoughts are not mere self-indulgence. The truth is that childcare enables hard-working mothers to function in the modern, competitive world. Many of us could not pursue our careers without professional support at home.
My reliance on my nanny means that I can be completely flexible, utterly committed to my work (since my appearance on the Apprentice in 2007, I have built my own consultancy). To succeed, I need to be able to perform in business like a man.
If someone asks me to give a presentation or attend a meeting the following day, I can almost always say ‘yes’, knowing that my children, India, seven, Poppy, six, and Max, three, are well looked after by Rachel.
Only last week, one day I had to be in Manchester at 6am, while on another I had to leave for North Wales at 4am. My husband Mark, 48, a branding consultant with an equally complicated schedule of his own, relies on our nanny just as much as I do.
Sometimes, when I am talking to women’s business groups, I am asked whether I feel any guilt about prioritising my career and relying so heavily on my childcare. I reply with complete honesty — no. Men do not feel ashamed about trying to fulfil their ambitions and neither do I.
Undoubtedly, having an excellent nanny has made this possible. She is integral to the welfare of my family and the running of my house. I’d be lost without her. I will be lost without her.
So with her announcement, upheaval beckoned on every front, from the children’s routines to my own crammed diary.
This is the second time it has happened. I have been lucky enough to have had two phenomenal nannies. The first decided, of her own accord, to leave after becoming pregnant, so I went through the challenge of finding a replacement.
Now Rachel, whom I have employed for five years, is in the early stages of pregnancy.
I suppose there is an air of inevitability about it. After all, young women become childcare professionals because they love children and most of them will want to have children of their own at some point. It is part of the natural cycle of life.
But that does not make it any less difficult for the employer who has to deal with the consequences.
The first problem is that a good nanny is hard to replace. It is not like going to a new creche or childcare centre. A nanny is a central figure in the household and has to be totally trusted.
My three children all have very different personalities, and my nanny is brilliant at understanding their moods and demands. This is not an office job with a manual.
I found my last nanny through a friend, but for her replacement, I will probably go to a recruitment agency.
Yet there are so many tiresome costs. In this modern world, obsessed with flexible working and parental rights, where nannies are concerned, the burden is put on the employer.
The rules that surround Statutory Maternity Pay are complicated, but in a nutshell you can work somewhere for as little as a week before your employer becomes liable for paying yours.
That is six weeks at 90 per cent of earnings, plus a further 33 weeks at a flat rate of 135.45. Then there is the right to a year off work, and the right to return at the end of your maternity leave. I will have to fork out for our nanny’s maternity pay upfront, but the Government will reimburse me eventually.
I also have to grapple with the costs of finding a new nanny.
Recruitment agencies charge joining fees of about 1,000 and inflate the nanny’s wage so that they receive a one-off payment of about seven times their weekly salary — as much as 4,000.
All this means you’re looking at more than 5,000 before you start paying the wages of the replacement. It is a reflection of how far the pendulum has swung in favour of employee rights that someone on maternity leave is even entitled to holiday pay. So they can return from maternity leave and demand either time off again, or money in lieu.
Again, it is the mums and dads who have to fork out for this, forced to take holiday themselves, or pay out for cover.
And what do we do if the replacement does not work out It is now extremely difficult to sack any member of staff who is not up to the job. And ‘not being up to the job’ has serious implications when working with children.
Procedures have to be followed, warnings given and, even if all the rules are complied with, there’s the risk of a discrimination claim and a demand for compensation.
Then there’s the problem of the correct emotional response to give to the employee. We are meant to express unbounded joy at the creation of another human life, but I’m afraid I’m not up to that.
I regard pregnancy as a physical process, not an emotional saga. When I was pregnant, I never attended antenatal classes. I never practised breathing and I missed a few scans.
Which brings us to the question of how much tolerance to show towards the pregnant carer. I pushed myself relentlessly during my own pregnancies: I once ran a marathon when I was 12 weeks pregnant, while another time I lied to British Airways so I could take a business flight when I was eight months pregnant, telling them my size was due to the fact I was having twins!
With each of my children, I took two weeks’ maternity leave. It would be unreasonable to expect the same from a nanny. Nevertheless, it is tiresome to endure the disruption that arises from a nanny’s maternity-related issues.
What strikes me is that, as an employer, I have been landed with onerous responsibilities towards my staff, but I have no rights.
I’m not the one who made the choice to become pregnant, yet she can ask me for maternity leave, maternity pay, days off sick, and time off for scans, often with little notice. The balance is all wrong.
It might be expected that, as a woman, I might be more understanding of maternity rights. But, as a mother myself, I know what can be done with determination rather than a sense of victimhood.
So, naturally, I wish my nanny well. She is about to embark on an incredible, and exhausting, journey as a mother. And I know other working women will wish me well, as I embark on an exhausting journey of my own — to fill her place.