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Feb 15 2011

Are Nannies For People Who Shouldn’t Have Children?

By at 12:53 pm

The ultimate nanny, Mary Poppins.

It’s my older daughter’s birthday, and we had a party last night. First we put the kids to bed. Then we got out the chips, cheeses, crackers, a bottle of tequila and some awesomely spiced popcorn, invited some friends over, and we partied.

My wife works as a personal chef — and because of her somewhat strange position as a member of the staff of some very stately (read: rich) New York households, she gets to bond with the rest of the staff. Occasionally she even makes friends with them. Yesterday in the office we got into a discussion about nannies, and it’s somewhat weird to be talking on one hand about these people who have nannies — a distinctly upper- and upper-middle-class feature of life — and on the other hand, being on the same working level as nannies.

One of our friends who came last night is a manny. If you didn’t know, that’s Manhattan rich-people slang for “man nanny.” According to him, having a manny is much more trendy than having a nanny. For one thing, according to him, you get to employ a sensitive guy, with all the New Age Bonus Points that come along with it. For another, having a dude looking after your children feels a little like having your own private security guard.

Well the tequila somehow evaporated and the popcorn went, too, and the CD was on repeat, so we didn’t really notice how late it was getting. Before I knew it, my mouth was open and I was saying the exact same things as I was saying in the office, but in less conflicted terms. “It’s such an example of the economic injustice in this country,” I slurred. “Not only do people make enough money being stockbrokers or lawyers or whatever to be filthy rich themselves, but they make enough money to pay for someone to take care of their kids. As if their own damn careers are more important, are financially valued more, than the people whose job is to mold their kids’ minds and mold their bodies.”

“Exactly,” said our manny friend, settling into the sofa, comfortable and relaxed. Maybe we were drinking two different tequilas.

“What do you mean, exactly!? You’re being bloody undervalued. These people think your profession is basically a joke.”

OK, here’s the truth: I was jealous. I spend 10 hours a day away from my kids, 90% of their waking hours. I’d love to be able to afford to hire a nanny. But more than that, I’d love to be able to quit my job and hang out with my kids all day.* But we have to keep working. My wife, a chef, works nights. I work days. Together, we probably don’t earn much more than a full-time nanny…but that’s what I get for not majoring in financial stability or whatever.

“It’s not,” he said. “And I’ll tell you why. Because most of these rich people who have kids and never see them, they shouldn’t have kids in the first place. Or, if they do, they sure as hell shouldn’t care for them. About two in 10 nannies really, really know how to take care of kids. But a way smaller percentage than that of parents are really good at taking care of their kids. You know how there are half a million yoga classes in New York? There’s more classes for how to take care of your dog than how to care for your kid. It’s really a blessing for everyone involved that they only see their kids for an hour a day.”

On the other hand, there are nannies. And mannies. All our manny-friend’s stories about his day at work sounded like…well, like preschool. You hang out with a kid and play games and run around the city and jump on the bed while listening to the kid’s parents’ albums. If that counts as doing what you love, then our manny-friend has tons of it.

“Wow,” I echoed. “Hanging out and playing with kids all day. I could do that. I’d be so good at it.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” said my wife. “You hate everyone’s kids but your own.”

I tried to protest. But she knew me, and she knew me too well.


* — Note to my bosses: I really do like my job. Please do not fire me. All I’m really saying, if you read between the lines, is that my kids are cuter than you (although you are all very attractive people).

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8 Responses to Are Nannies For People Who Shouldn’t Have Children?

  1. Renee says:

    Really liked this, Matthue. I think that the important thing is that your kids always know that they are the most important thing to you, that you enjoy the time you are with them and make the most of that time. Sounds like you’re doing great.

  2. Matthue Roth says:

    OK, not minimum wage, but I definitely know people who work for barely enough (or not enough) to pay for a New York City apartment. And I know cheap apartments. I used to live in half a closet.

  3. Meredith says:

    You know nannies that make minimum wage?

  4. Matthue Roth says:

    You guys are great. You’re giving me faith in part-time parents who care (and I’m not just saying that because one of you pays me). Elanit, what you call a “nanny-share” sounds like the underground preschools we have in Brooklyn (blog post to come, probs) — 5 or 6 kids in a basement, led by one person, usually either a mother of one of the kids or an older bubbe type, with no official certification or anything, just a talent for taking care of kids.

    The truth is, I can’t help wishing for some alternative. Something where a single full-time job isn’t necessary to survive, where two people can work half or two-thirds of the time and are still able to pull together a decent salary and health care and quality time. I know several people who are doing that, but in this culture, it’s the exception, not the rule. Our society (and our fiscal system) doesn’t take kindly to the idea of people scootching in and out of a schedule, and makes it more advantageous to hire some minimum-wage sap to spend time with our kids while we pursue whatever Higher Calling happens to pay our bills (along with the sap’s bills, too, I guess).

    • Elanit says:

      Not exactly underground pre-school. Majority of nanny-shares are 2 kids and by the time the kids are pre-school age, they go to pre-school. :)

  5. Meredith says:

    Two things here. First it’s certainly not fair to say that careers that are “more important” are also “financially valued more.” Nurses and school teachers make a fraction of professional athletes and businessmen often earn. That’s simply American capitalism working. A nanny’s job is just as crucial to a family’s life as the parents, but true, they don’t make more than the people paying them.
    Second, at some point, it’s not practical for you to quit your job and hang out with your kids all day.* The vast majority of families outsource their children’s education and well-being around the age of 5 or 6 simply by sending them to school. Certainly you or I know how to read and do basic math. But likely we (will)choose to send our kids to school rather than taking on the role of teacher ourselves because we see value in the social setting and the training of the teachers, among other things. Many families will start this process earlier with preschool. I like to think that families are just starting a little early with a nanny. Yes, most parents do know how to feed their kid, play with them, and put them down for naps. But they value also a nanny’s experience and training to help their kids grow up in a wonderful, supportive atmosphere.

    *I’m not just saying this because I’m your boss and don’t want you to quit.

  6. when i think of nanny, i think of devorah, rivka’s nurse.

  7. Elanit says:

    Are you talking about a daytime nanny or a live-in caretaker? Maybe it all depends on where you live, but in the DC area, It’s very possible to hire a nanny and pay him/her basically what you would pay a daycare, so it’s really a question on the type of care you want to provide for your child. Most folks here pay nannies on the books and go in with friends– a concept called a nanny-share, where you hire one person to take care of at least 2 kids. Makes it cheaper, depending on the specifics of the arrangement. In the NY-area, it’s even cheaper, since many don’t pay on the books, so there are no payroll taxes involved. Also, many folks who hire nannies see their kids the same amount time you do- before they go to work and when they come home before bedtime. Unless of course you are talking about Mary Poppins-types, who hire live-ins to take care of their kids 24/7. I don’t know anyone, in NY, DC, or elsewhere, who do that. So if you are referring to the Mary Poppins of the world, best to specify, because it’s really not a clear cut economic status symbol as you make it out to be.


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