Nanny in NYC

A modern day Mary Poppins

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Let's Begin with Controversy

In the summer of last year a controversy began with an article in the Style section of the New York Times. The author, Helaine Olen, wrote about her obsession with her nanny's online journal and her eventual decision to terminate the nanny because of it. Apparently the details in the article made it very easy for readers to tract down the blog in question. The nanny, who called herself "Tessa," used it (understandably) to voraciously defended herself before abandoning the blog for a more anonymous forum.

Honestly, I find it hard (not to mention irrelevant) to take sides here. When I decided to begin blogging about my own experiences as a nanny in Manhattan, however, I couldn't resist the temptation to enter the (albeit almost year old) dialog, as it almost perfectly frames the most common area of friction between even happily employed nannies and the families (most frequently mothers) they work for.

In many ways I identify with Tessa. I am 28 year-old college educated woman and my choice to work as a nanny has a lot to do with getting through a transition period in my life. I absolutely love children and am grateful for the fact that I am able to make a living working with four wonderful kids. That being said, of course there are days when I bitch copiously to anyone of my friends who will listen about children, parents, babies, etc. and vow to never have children of my own (or at least not that many!). I'm also guilty of occasionally being too forthcoming about my personal life to my employer, so I understand the impulse that led Tessa to offer up her blog, despite the disastrous results.

On the other hand I can imagine how Ms Olen felt. Frequently I have criticized friends for blog entries that I believe are inappropriate. It often seems like people who blog about their personal lives un-anonymously manage to conveniently forget that anyone can be reading them. My little sister blogged about her sex life, copious drinking at college, school problems and her financial indiscretions and she was incensed that our mother was reading the blog all along. (A little bird gave her the address.) She did not like her big sister pointing out that she should have known better, but that didn't change the fact that she simply should have known better! There are things that we don't tell our employers and other authority figures, and we shouldn't expose them to those tid-bits of information if we can help it.

What this situation highlights, more than a blogisphere-fueled catty back and forth between disgruntled employer and ex-employee, is the horribly ambiguous relationship that more frequently exist between working mothers and the young women they pay to watch their children. Often, especially in urban areas such as New York, these mothers are women who did not grow up in homes with domestic servants. The admirable impulse to treat the nanny as a member of the family can often become perverted by denial of the basic realities of a monetary relationship.

It is my opinion that there is no perfect mother/nanny relationship. Ultimately there is an inherent possessiveness to motherhood and the nanny will always be an interloper. That does little to change the fact that in New York, and all over the country, there is more and more of a necessity to have that type of interloper as part of the family's daily life.

Over the next few months I intend to try and chronicle my existence as one of those interlopers. My job, in a very unique way, is a balancing act and I will do my best to accurately record my failures and triumphs both for those readers who are nannies themselves and those who employ a nanny.

I welcome your comments and questions.

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