We don’t have a nanny, or a babysitter even. Nonetheless, I’ve noticed that when parents who do have help __get together, the topic is one of major strife.

  • Is it OK to have two working parents and a nanny?
  • Is day care better?
  • Is a foreign-born nanny better than a U.S.-born one, because of the linguistic advantage?
  • What’s better: a 19-year old childless au pair from Norway who speaks perfect English or a 40-year old nanny (and four-time mother) from El Salvador who speaks almost no English?
  • Are nannies going to take good enough care of your kids?

Obviously, I can’t answer any of these questions. Perhaps, though, I can expose some tidbits about nannies that you who don’t use them might not know. I see them pretty much every day at the playground or our other baby activities, and here’s what I’ve noticed:

  1. Most nannies are just OK. They watch the kids well, but they are cautious (and who can blame them, really!), and if they can, they’ll let the kids play by themselves or with other kids. These nannies like to socialize with the other nannies of their linguistic group.
  2. Some nannies are un-freaking-believably good with the kids. We’ve got one of these supernannies in music class — she’s got her own charge and another 11-month old (a tag-along) and she can keep them both interested, keep an eye on them both, and teach them both something. I’ve learned tons about parenting infants from this woman. She sees her job as a profession and seems to be treated accordingly.
  3. A very slim minority (only one I’ve met regularly) are just horrible; either disengaged and neglectful or actively mean. I keep a close eye for abuse (I’m a mandatory reporter), but these are just short of it.

Unfortunately, I’ve also realized that:

  • If I were interviewing nannies, I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference between Types 1 and 2. Type 3 might even be able to hide her proclivities in an interview.
  • There’s no particular sign — age, national origin, hair color — that differentiates them, either. Some of the best nannies are young, some are older; some are native-born, some are from other parts of the world. For that matter, one of the supernannies I’ve met was a man.
  • The Type 2 nannies seem to always work for the really rich families. I presume they make a little more than the others, and I also expect that rich folks poach the good nannies from people.
  • Even Type 2 nannies can have a Type 1 day every once in a while. (So can I, for that matter!)

More questions than answers, I know. Can I just suggest, then, this bit of advice for parents with nannies:

Once every couple of months, accompany your nannies to their usual haunts — the playground, swim class, or wherever — and get to know some of us stay-at-home parents. I’d love to be able to know you and fill you in about the good and the bad!