Tasha Blaine received her MFA from New York University and became a nanny in her early thirties. She traveled across the country and interviewed several nannies for her new book, “Just Like Family: Inside the Lives of Nannies, the Parents they work for, and the Children they love.”
What inspired you to create this book?
Well, I worked as a nanny for about six months, on two different jobs, so it was only three months on each job, and it was just a much harder and more complicated job than I anticipated. Then, I was just drawn into the whole world by talking to other nannies and then I started to get the idea. I have a background in fiction writing, I got my masters in fiction writing. So I had written but I hadn’t thought about non-fiction and when I became a nanny I just was intrigued by the world and it sort of flowed through that.
What kinds of difficulties did you encounter?
I think I just thought it was going to be more like a simple baby-sitting job, where you take care of the basic needs of the child. But any nanny whose been in the job for a while knows that you get attached to the child, you might have conflicts with parents and things just come up. Mostly the conflicts of the job will come up between the parent and the nanny not so much between the nanny and the child. So, I would hear stories from nannies about things that have happened with parents, everything from a horror story, like one nanny who got dragged into the middle of a divorce between the parents and had to go to court, or a nanny who got chased around by a drunk employer, to the more everyday, subtle things, like learning how to say goodbye to a child after you’ve taken care of them for years, and how sad that is for them, and how they sort of learn to be attached to a child, but understand that they’re not their child at the end of the day.
Is this a career you’d recommend to others?
I think that it’s a really tough job, and if it’s your calling, then I would absolutely recommend it. I met nannies that get a lot of joy out of the job because they just love watching a child grow and develop. So, I think it would depend on the personality. I think it has its difficulties, just working in someone’s home is complicated, it can be isolating and tough. But I think if it’s your calling and you love children then it’s definitely something that people can be happy in.
In your book, you’ve interviewed nannies from Texas, Massachusetts and New York. Do you think working as a nanny in California would be different?
I think working as a nanny in different parts of the country is different. I think, in New York for example, the majority of nannies are women from other countries. Because New York is so concentrated, you can go to a playground and there’s gonna be a whole community of nannies there, and not just a community of nannies as a whole, but a community of nannies that are from your home country. You can easily get a social network. There are other parts of the country where nannies are more spread out, they may be more isolated, that kind of thing. There are parts of the country where nannies are very common or not so common, so I think it does vary. I think even within California the experience would be different. Being a nanny in Sacramento is probably different from being a nanny in L.A.
How has the economic downturn affected nannies?
I am hearing a lot from nannies whose hours have been cut. The parents are trying to keep them on the job, but might have to do something like a nanny share, where they might bring another family in to help with the cost. They’ll pay the nanny slightly more, and then the nanny will take care of two children or more than that. That’s how a lot of families can lessen the costs for themselves but still have work for the woman. There have been a lot of stories written recently, that it’s a “buyer’s market” now for families whereas before families might have felt that they might have to offer extra bonuses and things like that for nannies, especially in urban areas like New York. They don’t feel that pressure anymore. But I would caution that you still have to make sure that you’re paying your nanny a living wage and she can cover her basic bills, or else you’re gonna run into problems.
How do you think nannies feel about their employers?
I think that’s too broad a question for me to answer in one way. My perception has always been that they love the children, they might have some conflicts with the families, but they also form relationships with the families. It depends on the situation. Some families, over the span of their career, will work with families they feel really integrated and connected with, and then they might have one family where it just wasn’t the right fit and it didn’t work, so there’s no way to generalize how they feel about their employers. It’s kind of like, how the American family itself is so vast and varied, so is the nanny’s relationship with those families.
Would you consider the nanny as an addition of the family?
I think that’s a complicated answer. The title of the book is Just Like Family and you can take that both ways. It’s like you’re sort of part of the family, but you’re sort of not. You’re inside the family, but you’re not really inside the family. I think it’s both.
What advice do you have for parents who are considering hiring a nanny?
Do as much research as possible, come up with as many questions as you can think of. Think of somebody who is going to compliment your style of parenting. You may not want to hire a nanny who’s just like you. If you want full control over your children’s lives, you might not want a nanny who expects to come in and be a full charge nanny, you might want somebody who’s gonna take your lead. If you’re very busy, and you need someone to come in and run the household, then you do need somebody who’s full charge. Think about who would be most compatible for your family. Also, make sure that, when you’re interviewing them, it feels like a natural conversation instead of a question and answer session. And go with your gut on who’s right for you.