Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In Defense/Question of Nannies

I knew I would eventually talk about this, but I didn't know when... Today's the day, methinks! If you know me well, or have had some modicum of contact with me in the last three years, you'll know I was a, gasp, sigh, nanny.

A nanny, yes.

Before I delve into all I have to say on the matter, let me give you a brief history. I have spent a large portion of my life with little kids, with chubby toddlers, with tiny babies, the monsters, the angels, the whip smarts and the slightly slow choo-choos. I come from a big family, and once I reached the age of eight, I took interest in my younger cousins and their bumbly ways. My sister and I started watching the kids across the street around the time I was 10 or 11, and high school brought not only standing weeknight babysitting sessions, but an after school job at a local preschool as well.

The summer before I went to college, I had the privilege of being the nanny for a lovely girl (who is now a preteen and somewhat of a little sister). Once I got to UCSB, I started a part time job working for a family in my free time, and continued to do it until I graduated. Truly, it paid better than the average minimum wage job and I naturally excelled at the multitasking necessary for working with the under 12 set.

I can say this with certainty: I am good with kids; some might even say I'm great with kids. I have spent more than half my life delighting in the growth of these children who have become embedded in my life one way or another.

So what happened after college? I got a job with an event planning company, and then a magazine. Boy, did I feel professional. I bought a cool new wardrobe at Express (the thought of which currently makes me gag when I think of the ensembles I used to traipse into work in; oh, the shiny shirt! Oh, the cheapy pants. I'm seriously cringing). I had cocktails with my coworkers at Happy Hour, attended fundraisers and parties; I felt so grown up. And truly, working for a magazine and putting on events were two dreams of mine.

I should mention I have many dreams. Sometimes I think I drive my husband crazy with all the dreaming I do.

After a while though, my professional job was not feeding my soul. I felt stagnant and slightly lost and thought it might be time to pursue a different dream: to own and run a preschool. The timing worked out well, too. I had gotten engaged and we were moving in together (!) in a new city (!) for the first time in our six year relationship.

The city, of course, was Los Angeles, and I thought it might be a good idea to get back into nannying while simultaneously pursuing an additional degree in early childhood education. I found a job very quickly and made much more money than at the magazine.

I loved the people I was working for and I loved the children I was working with.

But I had made an error in my calculations. I thought working with kids all day and owning a business was what I wanted to do. However, a realization hit me early on: I wanted to have my own children too. And watching little kids all day? Holy crap, is it exhausting. I did  not want to be that mother who came home and was a ranting, raving lunatic because she had put up with little kids all day long and couldn't handle her own children.

To some, it may seem like it's a bit much to read into the emotions you'll have five or ten years down the line when you're actually a parent, but I know myself better than anyone else, and I knew I couldn't swing both.

Another thing I hadn't considered when I got into full-time "professional nannying" was the response it would garner from my friends, my family, my peers. I understood why people were surprised at my sudden change in careers; to many, it came out of left field. However, I had friends who treated me the same as always, and those who treated me differently.

Those that are reading this probably know which category they fell into, but it was as if my job was suddenly taboo. They didn't ask questions about my work. They were embarrassed to introduce me to acquaintances because when you meet someone, the first question that typically comes out of their mouth is, "So what do you do?" and these friends of mine wouldn't make eye contact with me when I'd answer.

Initially, I didn't think it was going to be a big deal. It's like that old Schwarzenegger line from Kindergarten Cop, "Who is your daddy and what does he do?" I naively thought that people have jobs and they make money and if they are good at their jobs, they should be proud. I was clearly wrong in this line of thinking, though, because others would get embarrassed FOR ME when I would tell them what I was doing. There was always a look that came over peoples' faces, and while they thought they were good at hiding it, nine times out of ten, I would spot it.

It's a look that said, "Really? You're JUST a nanny? Why should I waste my time with you?"

You may think I'm reading into this, but I assure you, I'm not. I had a schpiel I would recite in order to make them understand why I did what I did; I'd mention the fact that I had two degrees and graduated early with honors, and that "you'd be shocked to know how much nannies make in LA."

It had a huge effect on my self esteem and I still have to remind myself (even now, even after the fact that I no longer work with children) that I am smart, thoughtful and kind, and I am worthy of peoples' time and energy.

So here it is, my (personal) take on nannies. I happen to find this to be an incredibly interesting topic, too, so share your thoughts with me if you'd like.

My opinion is, nannies deserve a lot of fucking respect.

They are the people you pay to watch your children, the ones you trust with (what is supposed to be) the most important thing in your life, the most important contribution you will make to the world. They are those witnessing milestones, and holding your children when they cry, and wiping their asses... seriously.

Something I feel I should also point out is that there are two different types of nannies. The first type are those you have working with your kids because you need someone to make sure they don't kill themselves while you're gone (they are usually paid abysmal amounts of money and they are usually  less educated, but please don't think I'm implying they don't care or do a good job). The second type are those meant to enrich, inspire and thoughtfully bring something to your children's lives (they are often college graduates with an interest in development and learning).

I feel the lack of respect for this profession is actually, sigh, a bit of a woman problem. Nowadays, us ladies have way more choices than our counterparts 50 years ago, but it also causes more internal strife. We're supposed to want and have it all: a successful career, an intensely loving marriage,  perfect and smart overachieving children, an awesomely decorated (yet not cookie cutter) home, a well trained dog (or somewhat affable cat), a banging, Pilates reformer body, and a thriving social life complete with friends who ALSO have it all.

The problem is, it's not possible. Unless you can get by on only two hours of sleep a night,  something's gotta give.

So what do families do? Understandably, they hire someone to help them. However (however, however, however), the hiring, the welcoming of someone into one's home to take care of their most precious commodity... it oftentimes creates a little kernel in moms. The kernel is a negative feeling, but a completely honest one: GUILT. Most parents don't want to miss out on the special moments, the memories you savor for years after your kids are grown, those stories that you will tell over and over and over again because they make you so happy. And what kind of parents would they be if they didn't mind?

Nannies get in on those memories whether Mom or Dad likes it or not. And I've noticed that some people use language to diminish the involvement and impact these people have on their children's lives. Ever hear someone refer to their child's au pair as "the nanny?" Would you refer to your admin as "the secretary?" No! You would refer to her or him as, "This is my admin, John" or "Meet Sarah, my administrative assistant," from which point, you would continue to use their name.

Honestly, it disgusts me a bit to hear people say "the nanny" or "the babysitter," but I understand the reasoning behind it. When you don't use a person's name in referring to them, you depersonalize them and thus, lessen the measurable impact they have in your child's life (and your psyche, career and success).

But what an impact they have. Oh, what an impact.

As I get closer and closer to becoming a parent myself, I think about this more often than before. Having been a nanny, I don't want one for my children. As exhausting as it is to figure out how we can do it and afford it and have my self esteem intact at the end of the day, the thought of leaving my future kids at home with someone to experience the joy of them without me is, well, too much to bear.

Which is why I've been trying to figure out this working from home sitch. I know I can have a career, I know I can have a family.

And I know I'll be a kick-ass mom.

But I'm not saying there's only one right way to manage it all. What are your thoughts on the subject?

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