Today is the first day since shortly after my first son’s birth in 2001 that we’ve not had a nanny. Things change. The dynamics of our home life are radically different than they were back then when my wife and I both worked full time separated by a commute and had only a newborn to contend with. Now things are at the same time more complex, a curious four-year-old and a precocious two-year-old with an infant coming in May, and simpler, my wife works from home with flexible hours and school is ramping up to five days a week for the older boy.
We hoped to keep our beloved nanny on as part-time help and to this she agreed initially. But the fact is — and this is the bitter reality at the heart of the matter — however much you and your children may love the hired help, the parent-nanny relationship is, at root, an economic one. You pay for services rendered, even if a portion of that service is love. And if the economics of the relationship don’t make sense, then the bond is broken. There’s something slightly whorish when you look at it that way, but there it is.
In a review of Jonathan Swift’s 18th-century Directions to Servants in the most recent Atlantic Monthly Mona Simpson notes:
For generations women have been puzzling over the ethics and etiquette of “having” help. The very verb is troubling—what boys of my generation said about the girls they’d laid—because “help” has traditionally helped us with what is still, no matter the opinion of weekly newsmagazines and polite company, our responsibility first and last.
So our nanny moves on and so do we. We’ll still need help for sure. Business trips come up. The parent-child ratio is about to swing in their favor. Things change. Hello, 2006!