Friday, June 25, 2010

Why a spoonful of sugar won't make the truth about nannying go down any easier

Once upon a time having a nanny was considered a glamorous thing, much like having Jeeves the Butler or Rex the Gardener. Only the exceedingly, ludicrously wealthy were known to have hired help. These days having a nanny is virtually the norm for DIKs (dual income with kids). The influx of nannies has meant the middle class mama can have her cake and eat it without the calorific guilt. Seen as a less shabby alternative to day care, the nanny often subs as butler, cook, and gardener. (Case in point: I once saw a nanny weeding and raking up fall leaves while the kids played in the front yard.) In some households she is little more than a paid slave, her job spec as long and loosely defined as suits her bosses.

Before I overstep the mark, and piss off all and sunder -- let me clarify:
There's nothing expressly wrong with having a nanny. On the face of it the nanny-parent relationship is a beautiful thing, a symbiotic godsend which provides the (oftentimes) landed immigrant with paid labour and decent accommodation while allowing working parents to do just that, since few families today can survive on a single income even if they wanted to. At the risk of sounding like a smug mama, I am (for the time being at least) able to stay at home with my son. I know I'm in a privileged, minority position -- one which I make the damnedest conscious effort not to take for granted. That said, I also see a lot of nannies on the job, and am concerned enough at my findings to rant about it...

While some nannies are undeniably 3-carat diamonds
Many more are lacklustre and downright rough. At play dates such nannies can be seen clustered, texting or conversing together in a far-off corner, utterly oblivious as little Marcus thumps another child on the head, or as little Megan nibbles on a pastel chalk stick. Half the time in such clusters there is no telling who is the guardian of whom. Half the time there is no one looking out for little Megan and no one reprimanding little Marcus. While children should have opportunities to engage in 'free play', this doesn't mean they are ignored and unsupervised. Regardless of whether they are behaving or misbehaving, all children need interaction and guidance. And this, above all, troubles me. I shouldn't have to parent other people's children. But often I find myself stepping in because no one else does, or will.

You don't have to tell me
Caring for a child is a demanding, exhausting, tedious, and sometimes mind numbingly boring job. I'm there. I so get it. And I can only imagine that when said child belongs to someone else, that job is exponentially more demanding/exhausting/tedious/boring. But all the more reason to care. After all, nannies, and anyone else who chooses childcare as a profession, has a duty to the kids they are looking after. Like it or not, it is not enough to feed little Megan and cart little Marcus to the park. You are their moral compass, their educator, their friend, and trusted guardian. You are the beacon in their puny universe when their parents can't be there. I worry that some nannies care too little. Nannying has to be more than just a job. At the risk of sounding trite and all Jacko on you:  kids are everyone's business because they are our future. We all have a charge in whether they turn out to be 'good' kids or the kind who knife other kids at parties. I know it may seem like a stretch, but today's neglected and isolated children risk becoming tomorrow's Columbines.

If you have a nanny or are in the process of finding one
Don't beat yourself up about it. But pay attention. How does your kid react in her presence? Does he freely go to her or show her affection? Kids are terrible liars. Their actions are infinitely more telling than words. And certainly more telling than any words your prospective nanny will come up with in order to sell herself. Unless your kids convince you that she's worthy, don't be sold.

You tell me
Is childcare a job anyone can do? Or is it a vocation for the select few? And how can you tell if a nanny is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious?


  1. I don't use a nanny but I know a few moms that do. I am also fortunate to work from home (part-time) but I started using daycare three days a week with my toddler so that I'd get a break and have some alone time with the baby (two girls under two.). All I know is, I couldn't do the nanny thing. I've watched some of the "teachers" at daycare and there are days where they just look absolutely spent. I love them for it though. The kids that are nannified aren't necessarily as outgoing as my daughter but that may say more about us parents. I also just think that the nanny route is hard because of the turnover. Maybe that's just a Bay Area thing but this one mom is CONSTANTLY looking for a nanny. I'm not sure why.

  2. oh, I wanted to clarify that I couldn't BE a nanny, not that I couldn't use a nanny. My husband and I have joked that if we won the lottery we'd steal my daughter's favorite teacher away from the daycare and she'd be our nanny :)

  3. I've tried everything - at home with my daughter during maternity leave, having a nanny and now daycare. For me, the daycare/school we go to is far, far better than a nanny sitatuion. Here in Southern California most of the nannies are uneducated and many do not speak English. Lots have their own ideas about how a child should be raised. I had a lot of conflict with our nanny on things that I wanted to do vs. her ideas. I know some nannies are a godsend but I'd much rather have my daughter in the place where she is now. It's so fun and stimulating and all the teachers and assistants have child development education. Granted it's an expensive place and not much savings from a nanny but we're lucky enough to have choices. Nannies definitely aren't as wonderful as they seem.

  4. Oh, I really hope my post doesn't come across as holier than thou. Different things work for different people. I just know what I've seen (on more than one occasion). The gems tend to be the exception rather than the rule... When it comes to childcare, there are no easy answers. And I'm lucky --for now-- not to have to ask that question.

  5. Little Green look at you with the controversial postage! I am a bit of a childcare snob (just my personal opinion) I'm a licenced childcare centre kind of girl. I tried a home daycare for a month and couldn't do it, pulled Sawyer out and my mother-in-law watched him until his childcare spot was available. Very lucky I am.

  6. A friend of mine has reported the same thing, nannies meeting each other at the park while their charges eat handful after handful of sand and other hijinks. Not just a few minutes, but whole chunks of time, 15-20 minute stretches.

  7. You know how I feel about nanny's... I think. I can't stand them because I see how they are at the park and everywhere else in my neighbourhood.
    So glad that I can stay home with my boy and we've made the materialistic sacrifices as well so I can stay home. Yes I live in apartment in Toronto but to have a home and not be there to actually enjoy it let alone be there for my son I'd rather live the way I live and enjoy what I signed up to do.