I met a charming woman at the playground the other day. She cares for a healthy, active toddler 50 hours a week. He obviously adores her and she attends to him in a manner that might make the casual observer assume she's his mom. His parents take advantage of her in ways I thought only existed in the pages of The Nanny Diaries. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but her stories left me speechless.
I've never worked as a nanny. My experience caring for the children of others involved the odd baby sitting gig during my teen years. As I recall, my duties consisted mainly of tying up the phone line and raiding the fridge while the children slept and their parents snuck out for dinner. But even without the benefit of firsthand insight, I feel comfortable laying out a few ground rules, in the hopes that someone will read them, recognize these people and help them to extract their heads from their derrieres.
So here goes:
It is NOT okay to pay the nanny for regular hours, say 9 to 6, when you rarely walk in the door before 6:30. She is an hourly employee. Pay her for the extra 2.5 hours per week. And yes, she notices you stiffing her.
It is unacceptable to expect the nanny to pick up the tab for your precious darling in restaurants. It is doubly rude to ask her - routinely - to front money to pick up your dry cleaning, buy your groceries or pay your cleaning service.
It is beyond the pale to take the nanny along on your vacation and pay her a measly $25 extra per night on top of her regular weekly pay, when she is working a solid six hours of overtime a day, giving up her leisure weekend time to make your life better, and sleeping on a half-deflated air mattress in the living room of your rental condo.
Nor is it alright to take the nanny on vacation with you and proceed to get so intoxicated Saturday night that you are only crawling out of bed to puke on Sunday morning. This after you woke up your six-month-old for the day at 3 a.m. with your drunken antics AND invited more than a dozen people for Sunday brunch, which you left the nanny to organize. Again, for no extra pay.
And furthermore, it's just plain tacky to complain to said nanny about your "outrageous child care expenses."
Once I gathered my jaw from the floor, I asked the nanny, "Why don't you quit?" She said, unsurprisingly, that everyone asks her the same thing. She has two answers: she's off to grad school in the fall, so this is a temporary job. Plus, she loves the kid.
I guess the parents luck out in this case. The nanny's affection for their son keeps her from telling them where they can stick their air mattress.
But consider: now famous flight attendant Steven Slater loved his job. Until one day he lost it and deployed the emergency slide. Do you really want to push the person responsible for your child to the point that she pulls a Slater?
Obviously this Mr. and Mrs. X of the South End are an extreme example of boorish employer behavior.
But for about as long as I've perused the local moms' message board, I've been stunned by many of the ads people post requesting validation for doing the wrong thing by their regular sitters. They want to bring the nanny to the Caribbean, but ask if it's okay to make her pay for her own ticket. They're having another child and don't want to give the sitter a raise. They don't want to give a holiday bonus. They don't want to pay the regular rate for overnights. One gem of a prospective employer asked if she could dock the nanny's salary for naps.
A significant number of well-to-do people (I make this assumption based on the fact that parents seeking private nannies have ruled out more affordable day care options) also seem hellbent on outsourcing the care of their children to the lowest bidder. In the past months, I've seen posts insisting, for example, "I paid $12 before, so why should I pay $18 now?" In that case the family had relocated from the Midwest. Thankfully, several moms chimed in to answer her, "Um, because you live in Boston." I would add that you get what you pay for. People pay $13 or $14 an hour for fantastic mothers' helpers who assist with child care while mom gets other things done around the house. Occasional evening sitters of the student variety routinely charge around $15, plus a cab home. Really good grad student type sitters routinely charge about the same rate.
But if you want a real Mary Poppins type, genuine professional nanny to assume primary child rearing responsibility while you're gone 45-60 hours a week, you're delusional if you think the rate starts below $18-20/hour.
Sometimes the nanny wanted ads include not-so-subtle warnings that applicants could find themselves working for a real life Mr. or Mrs. X. Often these contain no overt reference to compensation.
Nobody wants to work for someone who starts an add with, "Seeking nanny for exceptionally gifted and special 4-month-old." Um, gifted at what exactly? Pooping? Formula eating?
My very favorites are the ads that seek a person to do things that no sane mom would do herself. There are people - maybe even your neighbors - who expect their nannies to stay inside the nursery at all times. Really? I go stir crazy if I'm in the apartment all day with my own kid, let alone someone else's. If you're not going to trust the sitter outside the watchful glare of the not-so-well disguised nanny cam, then do her a favor and don't hire her.
Others seem confused about the role of the nanny as compared to that of the housekeeper. Sure, making snacks and doing the odd load of infant laundry go with the territory. But let's be real: do you think of vacuuming and scrubbing bath tubs as "light housework?" No? Well, neither does your nanny.
You might wonder why I spent time today writing about an issue that doesn't affect my life or The Grape's. Ultimately, in a bad economy, many people are glad to have jobs, even if it means working for terrible bosses. The nanny in question can choose to find her backbone or not. But what really bugs me about our Mr. and Mrs. X is what they're teaching their child. First, that taking care of him all week is menial work. Second, that it's alright to take advantage of people who make your life better, day in and day out. So much for the golden rule.