As the expectant and new parents first gathered for a parenting course at their local church to discuss labour, colic, routines, weaning and such like, they may well have been rather surprised to see Brenda Ashford there.
Brenda is almost 92 and has never had a baby of her own. She certainly has experience and interest in children though. In over 60 years as a nanny she has cared for around 100 children. At the age of 80 she finally decided the time had come to retire, but she clearly struggles to keep away.
"I love children and babies and I am always very interested to see how things change for parents and children. For me being a nanny was a calling not a career, so of course, I miss it still," she says.
Luckily Brenda has had chance to relive many of her happy memories by writing a book about her experiences, A Spoonful of Sugar. She is now working on a second instalment for next year.
"Remembering all the happy times, as well as the challenges, and getting back in touch with people was marvellous," says Brenda, who lives in sheltered housing in Milton Keynes, surrounded by pictures of many of the children she has helped to care for.
Brenda's account of her training at the world-renowned Norland College (in Brenda's day Norlanders were known as nurses, never nannies) under the direction of the formidable Miss Whitehead – complete with daily pram inspections, endless hours in the laundry and lectures in the medicinal uses of olive oil, port wine and castor oil – is an entertaining read.
The memories of subsequent employment with charges from all walks of life - from wartime evacuees to some of the most privileged children in the country, are by turns amusing and heart-breaking.
The book is also, however, a rather useful source of timeless childcare tips. Brenda Ashford certainly never intended to compete with the likes of Gina Ford or Supernanny Jo Frost, but she can't help but share some of her well-tried and tested methods.
"I do follow all those TV programmes and books when I can," she says. Much of the advice she deems sensible. Things like setting clear boundaries, establishing routines and getting down to a child's level to communicate are, according to Brenda, crucial.
She believes taking time to explain things to a child – at least those over the age of three – and allowing them to develop their decision making skills are very important.
"It's quicker to just tell children what's what, but you really have to explain why things are as they are," she says.
Brenda does however take umbrage at some of the modern childcare staples. Brenda says:
I do not like the naughty step. I never see how you keep a child there in practice. They will wriggle around and jump about and I think they just get more attention, which is of course what they wanted all along.
Brenda preferred to deposit any naughty charges upstairs and shut the door – ignoring any yelling and fuss.
"Though of course it didn't always work, nothing ever does," she admits, laughing.
Most important of all, she insists, was what came after the apology. "I would always make sure we had a cuddle and a chat. You must never leave a child thinking they have lost your affection and love."
While Brenda's role with a family was always temporary, she says she always loved the children she cared for.
"Surrounding a child with love is what really matters. The material things are not the important thing" she says.
Ever mindful that she was there to support the parents, not to try and usurp their role, Brenda was nevertheless always ready with cuddles and support. The reward was the reciprocal – and often lifelong - affection of those children.
"I arrived at one home to stay for six months or so when the baby was born. I stayed 15 years. When that baby herself had two children I went to look after them as well. I was 80 by then though, so I only stayed six weeks each time," she laughs. "The children I cared for are family to me and I am so proud of them."
Brenda is also glad to have been able to help parents who often found themselves plunged into their new roles with little preparation or support - a situation she hopes to find much improved as she attends her new parenting course.
"I worked with mothers who had never needed to learn how to do the basic tasks in a house but also those who just had no support at all. In the war we worked with mothers with illegitimate babies. Being able to be able to show them how to care for their babies was so rewarding."
Brenda hopes that her presence helped to make life easier for all the many families in which she worked. "It seems to me that children tend to play their parents up. They want their attention, which is understandable, but hopefully I helped set the right path. Sometimes it is easier for someone other than the parents to address little problems."
While she is thrilled by the range of opportunities open to today's children, Brenda worries that some of them may come at the expense of their childhood.
"I fear that children may grow up a little too quickly. I was very fortunate to have an idyllic childhood. We didn't need television or such things, we made our own fun outside. I do believe in a bit of healthy boredom. Encourage by all means, but don't force endless lessons in music, sport and so on."
Today's children are not the only ones in danger of over-scheduling though. Brenda is also reining back her commitments.
"A few weeks ago I had a call asking me to appear on a television programme about childcare. I felt that, at my age, it was all right to finally say no."
A Spoonful of Sugar by Brenda Ashford is published by Hodder, £6.99
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