Nanny Wars

April 20, 2006

Exurban Mom reminded me of a Caitlin Flanagan article that was published in the Atlantic Monthly last year, and I figured I should post about it up here. It’s a juicy topic.

Her article is entitled “How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement: Dispatches from the Nanny Wars”, and unfortunately, you can only access it online if you have a subscription to the Atlantic Monthly. But that’s what libraries are for!

It was a timely and controversial piece, and made many good points. However, the article left a bad taste in my mouth because again, she was dealing with a small subset of women and generalizing greatly. But I’ll get to that later.

Her premise:

And, as many of us have learned, the mother-nanny relationship has the potential for being the most morally, legally, and emotionally charged one that a middle-class woman will ever have.

Her point is that feminism has led women to believe that they can have both a stimulating career and raise children at the same time. The problem is, according to Flanagan, that for women to achieve this dream, they must do it on the backs of an army of underpaid illegal immigrant women who are raising other women’s kids and not their own. And that’s not very feminist, now is it?

My counterpoint is that it needn’t be exploitative nor unfeminist if mothers apply the golden rule when drawing up employment agreements. Nanny positions can be a decent-paying step into middle class for recent immigrants without college degrees or good English language skills.

The article was addressing a situation like my own (I work outside the home and employ a first-generation-immigrant non-English-speaking nanny) but her analysis did not fit my situation. Our nanny is no serf. She’s a real pro, and as a first-time mom with no family nearby, I often turn to her for childrearing advice.

My nanny is also a working mother, and she gets paid almost as much as I do (I split her wages with another mom, Elisa).  We extend to her the same paid sick day and vacation day package that I receive, and total flexibility when it comes to her own mothering needs. She brings her own kids to my house when they have a day off school. Hell, my nanny owns her own home and I don’t.

That said, the women who Flanagan writes about certainly exist. I just wish that she hadn’t painted with such a broad brush, because I firmly believe that the mommy-nanny relationship can be equitable, respectful, and mutually beneficial.

I also wish that Flanagan had done more research on the nannies’ perspectives, and whether they view themselves as serfs. That struck me as a glaring hole in the center of the piece, and somewhat indicative of the author’s own feudal tendencies.