Searching for Mary Poppins: Women Write About the Intense Relationship Between Mothers and Nannies Edited by Susan Davis and Gina Hyams
The forward and introduction to this book drew me in. “Sometimes a whole week goes by in which I never see my nanny.” A sentiment I can echo as there have been weeks go by where I only see one of the parental figures of a household where one just works seemingly endless hours- both moms and dads. “..themes familiar to those of us who outsource some of our parenting: gratitude, guilt, resentment, relief.” Also a sentiment I can identify with as I have felt each of these emanate from nearly all mothers.
The book is comprised of 24 essays written by mothers about their experiences with women in the nanny profession. In some ways the experiences vary quite a lot. Nannies come from all ethnic, financial and familial backgrounds, although the majority in this book are lower class immigrants. Some young but mostly middle aged and above; one male but mostly female.
In the forward, Pamela Kruger is quoted “In talking to other mothers, I quickly found out that many of us had been dumped unexpectedly by our nannies…” I was almost offended. And as I read on, I was quite upset to find this statement to be true! Many nannies leaving their families, the precious children in their care, with no warning, explanation or forwarding information. Difficult to read.
This is a very thoughtful book and has challenged me on many fronts. I find myself wondering what my previous employers would say…cringing at the thought of some and encouraged by what I hope others would say. I have not been a perfect nanny by any stretch of the word, but I hope and pray that I am learning and growing and becoming a better nanny every day. I find myself questioning the mere existence of nannies in our culture. Nearly every mother in this collection of essays, acknowledged that at the end of the day, they are who the child needs and longs for the most. To become a nanny is to purposefully place yourself as second best- and try to be second best as best you can. This bothers me. But it seems to be a necessity of our culture. Mothers work; Babies need caretakers. So what characteristics make up the ‘best second best’? From what I’ve experienced and found throughout the pages of this book, I propose the following.
- Engage with the children in your care from moment one of the interview to beyond your final day at work. Don’t ‘act like a professional’; show that you are passionate about kids. Parents don’t like it when you come for an interview but don’t engage with their child almost as much as they are bothered by a nanny who leaves their child wondering why the nanny left and where she went. (If this one is particularly challenging for you, then perhaps being a nanny isn’t the best career choice!)
- Be honest and generous in relaying your professional and personal life. While maintaining some boundaries, its important to try to keep a balance between how much you know about them and how much they know about you. Withholding when they have little choice but to divulge only causes suspicion that you have something to hide. Dishonesty on either side results in a painful situation when you are this deep into each others lives.
- Punctuality and dependability are important for a reason!…Even if the mom or dad works from home and no matter if they are healing cancer or taking a nap. Its not about the minutes but about character. This is one of the few aspects of your career that is observable by your employer. A nanny is rarely observed on the job and even more rarely has anything to show for her hours of work. Being where you say when you say speaks volumes about your quality of care.
- Contracts are a must in order to keep expectations and needs clear on both sides. A good contract contains a detailed job description, clearly laid out compensation package and mutually respected position ending procedures. To begin a job without any of these discussed and agreed upon is a breeding ground for disappointment and difficulty. Once the contract is signed, stick to it.
Searching for Mary Poppins is worth the read if you are at all interested in understanding the nanny phenomena that is growing in our culture. I fear that it is a bit more negative than positive in its portrayal of nannies and that it doesn’t incorporate nannies like myself or several of the friends I have made who also strive to be excellent nannies. At the end of the day, the collection of painful stories in this book made me wish that there was not a need for nannies. That families were close knit enough to care for their own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. That more women were willing and able to make the sacrifice in their careers for the sake of their child’s first few life-molding years. But as long as great nannies are needed and sought, I will do everything I can to be one and facilitate others toward that worthy end. To be the best second best possible.