Monday, March 28, 2011

The Watchful Nanny

I read an article a long time ago in the New York Times in which the writer confessed that she had fired her nanny after reading said employee's blog. It's a great hook, but there was a lot more to the story, of course. Her nanny was including personal information about the family in her blog, and narrating her own exploits in New York's Clubland, including miriad drugs and vivid descriptions of sexual encounters. I am against the blog as a diary, a record of every single thought that passes through the writer's head (see the current controversy surrounding the UCLA student who video blogged a racist rant about Asian students in the university library) because I think it encourages an unhealthy lack of perspective. Another sticking point was that the nanny was blogging while the children were playing nearby. But this is not the reason the writer spent a sleepless week over her decision to fire her blogging nanny. The blog actually narrated the nanny's complete disregard for her employer's privacy. In any office, an employee blogging about the details of a fight she has overheard between two higher-ups would probably be fired immediately, assuming she was found out. So why was this so agonizing a decision for our journalist mom?

The nanny-mother relationship is just frought with emotion, and, of course, the feelings of small children are involved, small children who should not know that Nanny had to go away because she was having crazy drug-addled club sex and, what's worse for the family, detailing Mommy and Daddy's marital problems online for all to see. And this brings me to perhaps the most important realization I have ever had as a child care provider: I don't WANT to be "one of the family." Isn't it just obviously better for everyone if I am an employee, and not a faux family member? The idea of children in the loving arms of someone who is as close as possible to family is a lovely idea! But really think about what happens when your sibling or parent takes the kids. Are they CPR certified? Are they going to give your children their complete, entire, full attention? Do you expect them too? They're doing you a favor! When I am paid as a nanny, I am at work. I ask permission before using the internet during the child's nap (as I am doing now). I ignore phone calls unless it's clearly going to be a short call that is necessary/informative.

Now, I do not ignore my sister's kids when I'm babysitting them! But I will give my niece candy without asking Mom and Dad if it's okay. I don't feel badly about letting her watch another episode of Dora if I need to change her little brother's diaper, make dinner or just talk on the phone for a few minutes. I do not stop paying attention to my beloved young relatives, but I take some liberties I would never take while caring for children I'm not related to. There's a reason for this beyond the obvious (I can't get fired from being an aunt!)--if I ask an employer's opinion about everything from pacifiers to nap time schedules to what foods she prefers her child eats, then I am showing respect for her as the parent. Leaving your kid with someone outside the family can be scary, even if you've interviewed and background-checked like crazy first. You don't need the added stress of wondering if the nanny is doing things her own way without consulting you; there is a thin line between caring for a child and trying to parent somebody else's kid.

I do hope that I don't sound terribly preachy or sanctimonious, here, but it has just been SO helpful for me to think of my job as similar to any other paid position and to pretend that I do have a supervisor nearby at all times. I want to share my philosophy. It has probably gone over really well in interviews, but before I had fully articulated this idea, I sometimes felt uncomfortable without knowing why. Now, I know that by asking about every little thing, I can cover some ground that Mom might not remember to cover, and I get to feel totally comfortable knowing that if Mom or Dad walk in at any moment, I can feel proud of the care I am giving their child. (A note: I have thus far interacted with moms pretty much exclusively during the hiring process, and this is the only reason I have often excluded Dad from this post.) I also find that no parent is ever annoyed at me asking too many questions about how they want their child cared for. It's the best way I know of to express the enormous respect I have for these people who have taken on the awe-inspiring task of producing and raising children. If anything, I have even more respect for a parent who asks for some outside help--it takes guts and a lot of planning, and the decision often represents a very healthy assertion of the parent's need for grown-ups-only time!

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