Friday, July 27, 2012

Me and the Nannies

A reality of living in suburban DC as a stay at home mom is that you are outnumbered.  By the nannies.

They are everywhere.  Parks, pools, mall play areas, gym classes, preschool pick ups.  It's usually easy to tell who they are.  They are often too young or too old to be a mom.  Or look nothing like the children.  Or speak a different language than the children.  Obviously this is not a foolproof method, as there are some older moms, bilingual moms, etc.  But overall, it's generally easy to tell.

I remember when I first started staying at home I was worried that it would be hard for me to find other stay at home mom friends, since all I seemed to be meeting was nannies.  That didn't turn out to the case.  If anything, stay at home moms tend to gravitate towards each other because there are so many nannies.  We're the minority out there, so we stick together.

If this "us" and "them" notion sounds silly, that's because it is.  Why such a nanny/mom distinction? The answer is, I'm not quite sure.  But it's there.  Maybe because of a language barrier.  Maybe because of the age differences.  Maybe because of the notion that their presence is inherently temporary - their time with any given family will end at some point.

But I think there's something more.

When I had my own nanny, I often wondered what she did with my son all day.  Did she pay enough attention to him?  Cuddle him?  Talk sweetly to him and play with him and push him in the swing?  Or did she yell at him?  Ignore him?  Treat him in ways that would infuriate me if I knew? Absent a super high tech nanny cam or private detective, there is no way to really know.

But now?  Now I have this insight into the nannies of suburban DC.  I feel, in some ways, like the residential spy on behalf of all DC mothers with nannies.  Like now that I am home I need to look out for their children and make sure they are being well taken care of by the people entrusted to their care.  When I see a friend's nanny, I text them to let them know - "I'll keep an eye out for you!" And I do just that (and I'm happy to say they are all wonderful).

Let me tell you, there are some FABULOUS nannies out there.  They engage with the kids.  They play games.  They pack lunches and do nanny playdates and embrace the kids when they cry.  It is obvious that they love the kids they are taking care of, and the children love them.  I was lucky enough to have a nanny like this when I was young.

Some of these nannies put me to shame.  I have to admit, when I take Casey to the park, I generally spend my time following him around (checking my phone periodically), and making sure he doesn't kill himself.  I'm kind of bored, to be honest.  But some of the nannies?  They tickle, they sing songs, they make the kids laugh out loud hysterically.  They have an energy I just don't have at 10am, despite, in some cases, being at least 20 years my senior.

But I have seen a handful of bad nannies too.  Not abusive, per se, but negligent.  The kind of thing that if you were a parent, and you saw them in action, you would not be happy.

Yesterday as I was leaving Turtle Park with Casey I noticed a young girl, about 18 months old, standing outside of the gates of the park.  She was wandering around aimlessly, and actually started following me as I headed towards the parking area.  I stopped and stood with her for a moment, assuming that whoever she was with would come claim her.  No one did.  I took her hand, walked back into the park, and started walking around asking people if they knew who she "belonged" to.  Finally, a nanny recognized her and pointed to another nanny sitting on a park bench in the distance.  She was on the phone, oblivious to the fact that the little girl she was taking care of wandered outside of the gates.  The little girl went towards her, and the nanny took some crackers out of her purse, staying on the phone.  I thought about saying something, but didn't.  I left.

I got teary eyed as I was leaving.  I don't know why.  I guess because as a mother, this is kind of your worst nightmare, right?  You entrust someone to watch your kids, to be vigilant - more vigilant than you would even be perhaps - and in a moment, you are betrayed.  And you probably will never even know about it.

But you know what?  Maybe it's okay the mother will never know.  Her child is okay.  Maybe this woman is a great nanny, does love the child, but had a momentary lapse.  God knows, we've all had them.  I'm sure I will "lose" my kids for a minute or two at some point in their lives.  We are all human.

At the end of the day - good nanny or bad nanny - chances are, the kids are going to be fine.  But for a control freak like myself, I have to say that I take solace in the fact that the only negligence I have to worry about right now is my own.


  1. Hi! I am a former lawyer turned stay at home mom in the DC area as well. I practiced for 10 years and then quit after my second child was born. I just wanted to thank you for sharing your experiences via this blog. I sometimes feel like we may have been separated at birth because so many of your reactions/thoughts are EXACTLY like mine. I particularly loved the post about your early evening phone call to your husband regarding his ETD from work and the one about the trial starting. I too spent several years working on a case which went to trial this past fall. Again, I feel like your descriptions in your post are spot on! Thanks again! It gives me great comfort to know I am not alone!

  2. See! This makes me so nervous! We're currently searching for a nanny since I feel like my twins are getting enough attention at their daycare (one of my sons has CP and needs a lot of assistance). I'm asking around with the hopes that someone might know of a nanny that will be a good fit for my family. It's scary navigating some of those listservs that post nanny want ads (ahem, DC Urban Moms... yikes). I work full time and love my job as a crime scene investigator for MCPD but I often feel guilt about someone else "raising" my boys. Your story from the park scares the hell out of me because there really is no way to know what goes on all day. On the other hand I think a good nanny will make all the difference in the world. Fingers crossed I can find someone like that!

  3. Must share. This reminds me SO much of the time I came home to the cute 18 month old who lived upstairs of our old condo - wandering around alone, shoeless and at the dusky/dark 7pm hour.

    I knew(ish) her parents -mainly just as the annoying young couple upstairs who play loud music and wash their pit bull's crap down into our patio. But neither of them was anywhere to be seen.

    So I did just as you did - walked her around a little, kept her calm and waited to see a flurry of mom or dad run down the stairs or in from the parking lot with groceries or something. But after 15 minutes, no one came.

    At that point I went upstairs to their condo for the first time and knocked - lots of loud pit bull barking, but no answer. Repeated the walking and knocking for a good 30 more minutes, and no answer, no parents, no nothin. I wasn't even a parent at that point but I still could NOT believe what was going on.

    FINALLY I try the door and out runs barking pit bull who I managed to corral back into the house with 18 month old as I yelled "hello?!?" and out stumbles a sleeping (or SOMEthing) Dad who when informed that his daughter had been wandering downstairs alone just replied "MY daughter? Oh. Thanks".

    It is crazy to think of what daycares/nannies may or may not do with kids while "on the clock" but my feeling is it probably pales in comparison to what parents can do while hangin out with their kids "off the clock".

  4. I often think a nanny might pay more attention to my kids than I do!

  5. That's terrifying (the 18 month old). I can't say I'm the most vigilant parent...but I also have 7 and 5 year olds! Anyway - I would have the same thought process - you never know - what if it was a momentary lapse... Tough call.

  6. I am a criminal defense attorney and I have represented a much greater number of abusive and/or neglectful parents than abusive and/or neglectful nannies. That 18 month old could just as easily have been lost by her parent.

  7. I live in DC and also see nannies every where. When I first started staying home I was very critical of nannies. Now that I have been home for a year and come to observe them more I 100% agree that there are some amazing nannies out there. Some of whom I speak with on a near daily basis. And the children love them and they love the children. Many have taught the children a foreign language. And their patience..amazing. seriously. When I am ready and my child is ready for someone else to take care of him I will have no hesitation hiring a nanny with good references. And you better believe I will have friends checking on my children. Speaking of things that make you tear up...I once saw a fire drill of a government office daycare. Four children in a large crib being rolled down the side walk by a very unathletic adult made me cringe. If there was a real emergency I doubt my extra large baby would have been carried or "saved" whereas a trusted nanny I believe would be emotionally invested enough to do everything possible. I know economics play a huge part in childcare options. And I feel very fortunate to stay home. All this said, I am big believer in good nannies.

  8. I'm impressed you could write such a balanced post. I was having a near panic attack reading about the little child outside the park fence and the non-reaction of the nanny. But, you also noted the great job done by so many nannies. Your comment that you were glad you only had your own negligence to worry about--sigh, yes, now I remember, I am not perfect.

  9. Turtle park definitely seems to have an exceptionally large number if nannies who ignore the kids. Seems like nannies have turned it into their social scene with the kids as just something they have to endure to see their friends. I am amazed how many are also on the phone the entire time. I think parents should totally "spy" on the nanny when they know they'll be at the park to get a sense of the kind of nanny they actually are. ( and yes, there are good ones too.)
    I also relate to the first part of your post. 3 days til I become a SAHM and am worried about being outnumbered. Glad to hear the SAHMs stick together.

  10. This topic brings to mind the book/movie The Help. One child was emotionally and physically superbly taken care of by her nanny. And both the child and the nanny were emotionally devastated by their forced separation. Though the parents often considered "the help" with disdain, the children experienced them as family. Complex issues at play - even aside from the racial ones.

  11. I am a working mom with an extraordinary nanny but I feel bad for her at times- unlike DC I live in an area where it seems I am very much the minority as a working mother (especially being a military wife). I found the most wonderful nanny and I know she truly loves my children. Having her enables me to give them the life closest to having me at home but without me there- she takes them to a regular preschool (not daycare), classes, etc. But oftentimes I feel bad for her and my children since she is the minority she does not have other nannies to make playdates with and my kids miss out on playdates because I am not there to make friends for them. So next time you see a nanny whose kids are close to your own remember that they have a mom out there who would probably love to be with them and talk to their nanny- you never know their kids could become your kids best friends- nanny or not.

  12. I was thinking what Samantha said -- I sometimes think a nanny would be better at taking care of my kids than I am!


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