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?