Living Without a 1% Nanny

Last Saturday I sat, coffee in hand, looking through a local website’s classifieds section for a nanny. “CPR certified nanny fluent in three languages with 10 years’ experience seeks new family,” one ad read. “Do we want a sitter who’s CPR certified?” I asked my husband. He looked at me quizzically. “Well, yes. Of course.” Then it occurred to me that neither of us is CPR certified. I’m not even sure I could do the Heimlich correctly.

Seeking suitable child care, some parents scan the classifieds. Others solicit recommendations from friends or visit every daycare in a five-mile radius or enlist their relatives to watch the kids. Others still call on agencies to find them “The Best Nanny Money Can Buy.”

If you want someone who speaks Mandarin, cooks like a “Top Chef” contestant and knows how to catalog your art collection — on top of lovingly caring for your children, that is — it’s going to cost you, as much as $180,000 a year. That’s according to a now-infamous New York Times magazine article by Adam Davidson, of “Planet Money” fame.

Davidson’s piece has gone viral. I even got a call from my sister in Israel who joked that if she had known being a nanny was so lucrative, she never would have bothered getting her master’s in education.

Jealousy of the nannies’ salaries seems to be among the most common reactions to the piece. But broken down into an hourly rate, it works out to less than $30 an hour — a decent rate but hardly as appealing as $180,000-a-year sounds.

And it’s even less appealing when you think of trying to spend any of that money when you are, for all intents and purposes, an indentured servant. As Davidson writes, these employers “are paying for the privilege of not having to worry about their child’s care, which means never worrying if their nanny has plans. Which, of course, she can’t, pretty much ever.”

Some people might explain away the $180,000 salary as the apparent cost of raising a child, but to me it’s more likely the cost of buying out the nanny’s life.

Another reaction to Davidson’s article is jealousy of the employers. Clearly, if you’re struggling to make ends meet and are unhappy with your child’s care situation, then this article may rub salt in your wound. But if you’re otherwise happy, building a career, knowing your child is safe and well cared for, why would you want to farm out your parenting responsibilities so drastically?

A few years back, during a visit to Central Park, I was crossing Madison Avenue and I noticed a proliferation of nannies pushing their charges in strollers. It was a Saturday. Growing up, Saturday was always a time of family togetherness. Of course the occasional Saturday night babysitter would arrive so my parents could have a night off, but never did they pawn us off for the day on a nanny so they could get their “me” time in Michael Kors. That Saturday on Madison Avenue, I remember wondering why these parents had chosen to have children at all when they apparently never planned on spending time with them. Now, a new mother myself, I wonder what kind of parent you can really be when you never have the opportunity to take on the menial jobs that come with the birth of your child. Diaper changes, feeding time, trips to the doctor — these seem to me to be the rites of passage of a new parent. For my husband and me, it was part of the bonding process.

Plenty of people have nannies. Plenty of people have daycare, grandparents, babysitting co-ops, and return to work. But hopefully, the idea is that these people are working to live. Hopefully, not having the luxury of a six-figure nanny running the show means that these people come home at night, tired but happy, and maybe lucky enough to be there to tuck in their kids or give them a bath. Hopefully, not having a live-in to accompany your children to social functions on the weekend means that you can spend Saturdays walking Central Park together, as a family.

I may not speak Mandarin, and none of my meals will win “Top Chef,” but for the time that I get to spend with my daughter, I’m grateful — and hopefully one day she will be, too.

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