I have never been a “real” nanny–one who works full or even part-time over the long haul of a family’s life with small children. I have never employed such a nanny either. But having both been a semi-regular baby sitter and having employed several of same since I started working part-time when my first child was about a year old, I am just connected enough to the industry to appreciate the stories of real nannies in Tasha Blaine’s revealing profile of the job, Just Like Family: Inside the Lives of Nannies, the Parents They Work for and the Children They Love.
Blaine worked as a nanny herself, for a year after finishing grad school and she found the job excessively difficult and demanding. Whether it’s due to high drama family dysfunction or just the same monotony that mothers everywhere face, but with more reward, nannies are under constant pressure. Though Blaine collected hundreds of vignettes from hundreds of nannies in her research, she goes closely and in depth to profile three women, and encompass as much of the nanny experience as she can. One woman is working “off the books,” one lives in with her employers, one is active in a national professional organization for nannies, jetting off to conferences and even organizing her own while working 60 hours a week caring for twins.
In some ways, the book is a voyeuristic look into the lives of the wealthy. Many of the parents who hire nannies prove to be annoying control freaks and sometimes even cold-hearted abusers. And the book is decidedly in the nannies’ corner–giving the reader a glimpse of the pain of mothers who leave their own children behind to care for others; of infertile women longing for babies of their own as they raise strangers’; of women who love their charges as much as any parent, but have to leave them behind with little explanation when the children outgrow them and they are dismissed.
But the parents who employ nannies are not simplistically or simply vilified. Many mothers develop close partnerships with their nannies–partnerships that sometimes rival those of mother and father. Many women worry almost as much about the well being of their nannies as of their children, helping them escape abusive romantic entanglements, get into safe apartments, pay for night school.
In a world full of reality tv “nannies” and “housewives” who come across as nothing if not pure air and fantasy, Blaine’s thoughtful and rounded examination of this unique style of cooperative child rearing is a welcome change.