By Sarah Toce, January 2018 Web Exclusive.
While researching a story this afternoon, I stumbled upon this one from ParentMap: “Do You Mind Paying Your Nanny a Living Wage?” And the floodgates opened.
One of the “side” jobs I performed after starting my publishing business was caring for two infants in a nannyshare situation during the day. It has been some time now, but as I recall, I was paid a flat rate per week and the employers (parents) did not pay my taxes since I was an independent contractor. No medical, social security, paid time off, or unemployment insurance was withheld. I was encouraged not to be sick because it would disrupt the parents’ schedule. When the children were sick, I was asked to stay home or care for the other child at their home. Luckily, my resilient immune system cooperated.
To be fair (and as a parent who has a wonderful nanny for her own daughter) it’s not an unreasonable request. Saying that, I’d never reprimand my daughter’s nanny for falling ill. It wouldn’t be the first thing to come to mind. “How are you feeling?” might be first, followed by: “If you need to be out another day, please take care of yourself and we’ll find alternate arrangements.” But to each her own.
She Can Rest While They Nap
While the children napped and played, I was expected to clean up after them and keep the environment safe. I was responsible for helping to nap train the kids; I sang to them when they were sleeping or unable to settle down; read them book after book to help them develop a penchant for literature; took them for long walks through the neighborhood for fresh air; shared lessons with them about shapes and colors; and was the goofball to their existence while they were in my care. They were fed, clothed and hit all of their milestones. I took notes for the parents and updated them throughout the day. It was important to me to keep things light and fun – while also providing balance and structure.
I’m sure many of us have thought this same sentiment: “She can rest while the girls nap.” Except that’s not the reality when you’re a nanny. You’re preparing food, bottles, cleaning – and, god forbid – taking the opportunity to visit the bathroom alone. You are not taking a break. You’re existing – and that’s okay. It’s what you’ve signed up for and there are no real breaks when two young children are waiting on you for their every need. We accept that as nannies and parents because it’s a genuine reality and it’s okay. What’s not okay is yelling and reprimanding your nanny because she didn’t clean your refrigerator, throw out your old food or prep your dinner for the evening. Had this been agreed to at the time of employment, 100 percent. In this situation, not so much.
Every now and then I would write while the kids slept because I was on deadline and still had to somehow fit the story into my day or evening. When the kids went down for their naps (at the same time as they were nap trained to do), I would pop open my tablet and draft an article for publishing. I’d do this here and there to keep up with my own commitments and obligations. One day the wifi password was changed. When I asked about it, I was given the “I don’t know what happened” response by one of the parents. A few weeks later, I received a phone call from HuffPost Live. They wanted me to pop onto a live video chat from New York the next day to discuss marriage equality and how Washingtonians would be affected should it pass.
I knew it would inconvenience the parents, so I was upfront and asked them directly about the possibility of one of the four of them taking the kids for 30 minutes so that I could further my public career and take the interview while the kids were appropriately cared for in the home. I was their nanny and took the job seriously, but it wasn’t going to be my forever job and we all knew that to be the case. Their children would one day go to preschool and I’d move on whether it would be to another family or an entirely new career.
I proposed that I could go in the next room while they napped. I’d wear my headphones, be quiet and not disrupt their day. I was told it was absolutely not an option. I would have to go outside of the home. For 30 minutes. Because that wouldn’t inconvenience anyone… I ended up doing the interview with HuffPost at a coffee shop because one of the other parents worked nearby and wanted me to take the opportunity. I am forever grateful for the respect she showed me. It’s been over five years since then and I’m still working with HuffPost on various news assignments and features.
Eventually, I decided the stress from the one set of parents was not worth my energy, time or focus. I gave the standard two weeks’ notice and knew that the minute I walked out the door for the last time I’d never see the children again, but it was something I had to do for my own sanity and well-being. While I may have missed the girls for a few months following my departure, it was the best decision I ever made to respect myself and walk away from a toxic situation. I often think of them with fondness. We shared their formidable first months together – and I’ll forever be grateful for that blessing and opportunity.
Recently, I ran into the ex-friend/employer and awkward is not nearly enough of a word for how it felt. I was short with her, not meaning to be – but what was there left to say? No, I did not want to talk about my child with you and share intimate details of my life. You treated me horribly while I loved and nurtured your daughter. You talked ill of me to mutual friends and acquaintances and became upset at me when I discovered it on accident while searching for a contact in your home (I take responsibility for part of this, by the way).
The reality is: you taught me a few lessons I needed to learn while I was busy teaching your daughter one of hers. Know what you stand for in life and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Respect yourself and others. And when someone is serving you urine instead of lemonade, confront it.
This post is dedicated to all the nannies out there and also the media because sometimes we are both.