Real Life Nanny Diaries

Working Moms' Tense Relationship With Nannies... By Wendy Sachs

It all started with a bowl of spaghetti.

The cold, congealed noodles had sat neglected in the back of the fridge for days.

The working mother of three despised leftovers lurking behind the milk. She had repeatedly reminded her nanny, who had worked for the family for years, to keep the fridge clean.

Annoyed at finding the half-eaten spaghetti on a Friday, she yanked out the bowl and left it in the sink for the nanny to clean. The weekend went by, and the bowl sat defiantly in the otherwise empty sink.

The nanny had washed all the dishes, except for the one covered in marinara, which now had the consistency of dried Play-Doh.

By Monday evening, the mother could stand it no longer and told the nanny that if she didn't clean the bowl, she would lose her job. The nanny stated flatly, "Where I come from, we scrape off our own dishes."

This scene played out recently in a Connecticut suburb in a home where the mom is always waxing poetic about her fabulous nanny -- one who makes her life possible. Both names have been withheld to protect their privacy.

The nanny survived the spaghetti dispute, but she was eventually fired.

The mom/nanny dynamic may be one of the most emotionally and morally charged relationship a woman will ever have.

It is often fragile and fraught with unresolved issues.

And for working moms, the relationship can be even more delicate. Loaded with guilt for leaving their kids, and stressed out that things aren't being done their way, the moms dance a nanny tango that is rarely graceful.

I know -- I've been there.

In nine years, I've had 10 nannies. I go through nannies the way some women go through men. And my nanny dramas are legendary. From predator mom-on-the-playground nanny-poaching to up-and-leaving without even a note, I've lost child care.

Stealing another woman's nanny is like sleeping with her husband -- maybe even worse. Robbing a working mother of good child care could more quickly destroy the fabric of a family than a one-night stand. I'd consider letting my husband have a fling faster than I would want to lose a good nanny to another family.

So after having a spectacular run of bad luck with keeping long-term child care, I started to throw in job perks, including round-trip plane tickets back home for Christmas, a free gym membership and even tutoring.

With an athletic, soccer-playing, blond college girl from Utah, I paid for various, pricey diets -- from the all-organic cleansing to Weight Watchers. I even rewrote all of her English papers, just so she would pass her course.

Then there was the curvy Colombian who suddenly decided to take a job at a car repair shop three months after starting with us.

Then came the Rastafarian, vegan yogi with dreads down to her butt who had me running to Whole Foods for soy milk the first night she arrived so she could drink her organic tea in the morning. She never finished the milk because she failed to return after her first week, leaving a closet full of clothes behind.

Then there was the Czech nanny who told me she didn't like my children. After four days in my house, I deposited her in another town with garbage bags full of her clothes.

Like any relationship, the mom/nanny one can suffer most by inconsistent communication, lack of respect or unfair expectations.

But the intimacy of having someone in your house -- sometimes even living in your house -- who not only cares for your children but also sees the piles of bills on your kitchen table, and all your dirty laundry, can blur the boundary between employer and employee. And it makes sense. When you are trusting nannies to help raise your children, how can you not get involved in their lives, too?

However, here's the rub: We want to know our nannies, but we don't want to know too much. While we may love them like family, too much information can make us feel squeamish and guilty.

The caste system of caregiving in our country also makes many of us uncomfortable.

Most moms employ women who are less educated and affluent than they are. But changing diapers and playing with blocks are no longer enough. With half of all mothers today working, we are demanding more from our nannies than we did decades ago. We're not looking for baby sitters, but instead we want partners in caregiving.

Most moms don't try to take advantage of their nannies by underpaying, overworking or abusing the relationship. The moms I know have done everything from lending money to securing green cards, to teaching their nannies to drive and even representing them in court.

Because so many moms are completely dependent on their child care so that they can keep their own jobs, they don't want to nitpick or create any tension. They would forgo a tidy kitchen and even accept a crusty bowl of spaghetti once in a while, if they know their kids are happy, engaged and loved.


Nanny Maria said...

I agree that the Mother/Nanny dynamic is very unique. And I also agree that parents now a days expect more from their Nannies than just "babysitting." Today, Nannies are expected to not only feed, diaper/potty train and bathe the child, but also to use Baby Sign Language, teach them ABC's, sleep train them and take them on daily excursions. The children are fully expected to be fed, cleaned, well-rested and content by the time the parents come home. But the buck doesn't stop there. The floors must also be swept, the counters wiped down, the dishes washed and the diaper pail and trash cans emptied. Oh...and all the family laundry must be done as well and the dog must be walked. And did I mention that there should always be fresh milk in the fridge and perhaps fresh cut flowers on the dining room table?

Caring for a child, esp. a young infant or toddler, is a tough job in itself. It usually requires a lot of physical as well as mental stamina and there is usually no down time. During naps, the Nanny usually has 10 min to eat a quick bit before she is to straighten up the toys, work on dinner prep and make the beds, etc. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being a Nanny, but only to the families who respect me enough not to underpay me and over work me. I currently watch a pre-schooler and the parents only request is that I care for their child. They do not expect me to do any house chores since they know during nap time, I deserve a break. I use that time to eat in peace, read, and study. Sometimes I get a half hour and every blue moon I get 2 1/2 hours. By the time the child awakens, I am refreshed and ready for anything.

Dr. Juris said...

I don't understand why people expect someone else to clean their house or fold their laundry. Most people prefer things in a specific place, and it's their job to clean up after themselves. A nanny is not a housekeeper, and if you want someone mopping your floors, you should hire a cleaning lady to come in once a week (which really isn't that expensive).

It seems like a lot of mothers nowadays want a nanny who is a surrogate mother (cooking, cleaning, attending PTA meetings, and the like). There isn't enough money in the world for me to perform that role for someone else's children, no matter how much I love them.

Tales from the (Nanny)Hood said...

I find it ironic that someone who is the mouthpiece for an organization like is expounding on how nannies have to be everything to everyone these days, when her company allows parents to advertise for nannies while offering a wage of $5 per hour. You don't get a "partner in caregiving" for that sort of (illegal!) rate.

And if this woman has gone through 10 nannies in 9 years, there is something wrong with her and her hiring practices, moreso than there being something wrong with the nannies she hires.

i feel sorry for your children said...

Someone who has been through this many nannies in so few years is either addicted to the drama or highly dysfunctional.

Here's a novel, subversive idea: raise your own children!

Manhattan Nanny said...

Ten nannies in 9 years, and one was so frantic to get away she left her clothes!

"Like any relationship, the mom/nanny one can suffer most by inconsistent communication, lack of respect or unfair expectations."

So true! All the expensive perks you throw at your nanny will not make up for a miserable work situation.

no. said...

******"Most moms don't try to take advantage of their nannies by underpaying, overworking or abusing the relationship. The moms I know have done everything from lending money to securing green cards, to teaching their nannies to drive and even representing them in court."*****

This sounds lovely. Or would, if there was a shred of truth to it.

This has not been my own experience, neither as a mother nor as a former nanny.

OP sounds like someone I would truly dislike working for.

p.s. said...

p.s. The commercial for is insulting to me, as a former nanny. It is really insulting and offensive to childcare providers in general. I do not think it is funny. When I see that commercial, it makes me so much more aware and sensitive to the need for all nannies to screen the FAMILY'S background.

One nanny in the line of 10 is never going to be a fun position.

Alex said...

wow, this article makes me wonder what on earth working for this lady is like considering 10 nannies in 9 years, one leaving all her stuff behind?

Nanny Deb said...

I would never work for anyone who had 9 nannies in 10 years. That tells me there's something seriously wrong with them or their children.

MissMannah said...

Good lord. Reading an article like this makes me love my Momboss all over again. She's a little strange but I'm her first nanny and she is 100% respectful of me and doesn't want me lifting a finger when baby is napping. I lucked out.

Good for that nanny who refused to scrape out the nasty spaghetti bowl. I would have laughed in that mom's face. flunky said... has it's faults for sure .. like kicking me off the site entirely because I dare tell a seeking parent that offering $5/hr is too low in a $8/hr min wage city. POOF.. I was reported as inappropriate?!?! pfft.. gimme a break!
Anyway, Parents today want nannies of the 1850-1960's. The difference with many current nannies is the parents have hired them because they come well educated and some with MA/BA degrees, but expect them to to perform jobs way below their qualifications. Come on parents, if you hire the nanny with a degree to teach your child don't expect a housekeeper and if you hire a nanny because she is willing to scrub the toilets don't expect a professional teacher.
Nine nannies in 10 years is never a good sign and if this parent had any intellect at all she would see this is probably because of her own faults.
Ok, I could go on and on and probably will, but will stop here for now.

Gim-a nanny who wants to change the "nanny exploitation" said...

Very touching Wendy!Thta is your view of nannies because you see your own interest and because you would WANT and LIKE your nanny to swallow all your frustrations for not being home with your kids and your fatigue at the end of yourday at work and is understandable, but you forgot one thing..the NANNY!She is working all day too, she has tons of frustrations too(and most of them are because of your behaviour to her, I am sure of that!), she is tired at the end of day too, she has children to care for, to have patience with the, to teach them, clean after them, feed them, discipline them(where is possible, as we both know the nanny can't discipline teh children if the parents come home in the evening giving them "candies" after they talk bad and being rude-I am sure you will recognize yourself in that)....and those children are yours.And she is EXPECTED to be the Superwoman and have all the patience in the world with your kids, clean your dirty dishes which you will leave in the sink after you eat, do your dirty laundry, clean up your house....having the children all taken care of in the same time...and on top of that...also swallowing your rudeness and your temperment of "desperate-frustrated-'tired' mommy" in the same time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Just listen to yourself a bit, will you!!!????
Did you ever try to think what would you do if you would be the nanny and she would be the "MomBoss" just like you???How would you handle that?
How would you feel if your boss at your workplace would trat you like you treat your nanny???
Money can't buy a nice word., when will youever get that???
The nannies didn't leave because of money, they couldn't stand you, that is the fact.ALthough you think if was them,I am sure....the crazy one is you.
No offence, but what you expect from a nanny is unreal!You can't put in the duties of your nanny(you should look in teh dictionary to see what NANNY means:taking care of children and educating, disciplining them!!!)the duties of a maid, cook, your shrik who is supposed to listen to all your frstrations and youd door mat where you spill your anger!!!
Just try to think a bit, without atmitting toa nyone, but to yourself that what you require from a nanny you will never get, and not because the nannies are bad, but because you try to make in one person a Nanny-Housekeeper-Cook-Doormat"...and I forgot, someone who has no life or schedule...because she would have to be there for you whenever you need her.
What if your boss would tell you everyday:I need you today to work late, I need you in the weekend, I need you in the evening"?!!!!

And the most upseting thing about employers like you is that you don't see the human part in the Nanny, you don't try to understand they probably had a profession in another country maybe, or at least had some superious studies or that they are simply human beings,just like you(but better than you) and they have their needs too...need to hear something nice, need to be appreciated for their work, need to have some rest, need to have a normal schedule like you have, need to express their frustrations like you do(although they will never be as rude as you)...But you never even thought about that, did you????
Who cares?She is just the nanny and I own her!!!Right?
Well, that is wrong and untill you realise that you will probably go thru another 20 nannies.

Maybe you think I am mean, but it is the truth and the truth is not always as nice as your story.

And by the way, I am working as a nanny too and I had employer even worse than you for a while, and better than you...but in the end it doesn't matter, because as long as people can't make the difference between "working as a nanny" and "being a nanny" they will treat your like you treat your nanny...or at least close.

Anonymous said...

What really caught my attention was the nanny who left her clothes behind - - that says a lot! I once left a couple pairs of shoes, and not even once thought about going to retrieve them - because the lady was a psycho. Nine Nannies? looks like the mother is the common denominator in this problem. A nanny is not your slave - she shall not ever be expected to 'clean all your unplanned leftovers' - who do you think she is?
A Nanny's duties should not change unless you agree to a higher wage, she will drop you like it's hot! If she runs for the hills, you are most likely crazy! And yes -- she's running towards the hills where people can afford to keep a nanny. I side with the nanny In most stories that I hear -- because I've experience everything in my ten years as a nanny!