Friday, May 30, 2008

Renting Parenting

I once heard a person younger than me refer to her parents as "the 'rents" and it sounded uncomfortably odd. I've never understood what I disliked about it.

Now I am a parent and I fantasize about what my child will say about me in the future. I don't worry about it, just daydream about it. I think I'm a good parent and I accept there will be times in my child's life when she will treat me with the contempt that all parents are eventually treated by their children. It's supposed to be like that. Still, I like to think about how she will phrase her disdain.

I live in Brooklyn. I moved to New York to live in Manhattan, and we lived there for quite some time. When we decided to have a child, however, Manhattan became unaffordable and we did what others do: we moved to Brooklyn. I've grown to like it here.

A dear friend is a nanny. She is English and was properly trained in an English school and is a proper nanny. I have a very positive idea about nannies because I always think of them as being English, like my friend or Mary Poppins. They are friendly and serious, professional and compassionate, fun and goofy and strict and serious.

Mrs. Mac and I decided that since we could not afford a proper nanny, a professional child care provider, we would have to live on one income; she would stay home to raise our child at least until the child entered first grade. It's been a challenge, but it's been well worth sacrificing the second income.

Neither one of us much see the point of having a child if we weren't going to raise the child.

In Brooklyn, there are people who hire a stranger to raise the children and they call that person a 'nanny.'

These 'nannies' never seem to be English, though, or French (as in au pair). They ARE often foreigners, they are often overweight, they usually have darker skin than their charges, they always speak American English even if it's not their primary language. They don't seem to have been trained anywhere. They just seem to have taken a job as a 'babysitter.'

For me, a babysitter is a trusted person I leave my child with for a few hours. A babysitter is not a person qualified to raise my child, act as a surrogate parent, be a care-giver. A nanny - a properly trained professional - is qualified to do this.

The 'nannies' I see around Brooklyn don't seem qualified to be a proper nanny.

Today on the way home from a doctor's appointment, a 'nanny' got on the subway in Carroll Gardens with her two charges: he was about four or five and seemed to be coming home from some kind of school, she was about two and was in a stroller. The 'nanny' was about fifty, overweight (obese, really), appeared to be Indian or Bangladeshi (I know I should know the difference and sometimes I do), spoke American English well, and was perfectly aloof in the manner of a fifteen-year-old teenage babysitter. This woman was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a professional child care-giver.

The 'nanny' was cranky, the boy was uncomfortably quiet, and the girl in the stroller was asking for something to drink.

What transpired was mind-boggling! The 'nanny' teased and bullied the two-year old to tears while the boy cowered in his seat. I was infuriated by the scene and it took every ounce of will-power and God's grace to remain silent as she badgered, belittled, and teased the toddler. "Mind your own business," I told myself over and over.

I occupied myself to distraction by typing an email to my wife on the Blackberry, describing the scene. By the time I finished, they got off at the Prospect Park stop at 15th Street.

My wife's email reply was that the story did not surprise her at all. Her response included this: "You should see some of them that pick kids up at [our daughter's school], walking down the street in the pouring rain, nice and dry under the umbrella, the kid walking next to them no hood, hat or umbrella getting all wet."

Bad-parenting-by-proxy is not an uncommon sight in the areas of Brooklyn in which we travel. I usually ignore it, but today I got to wondering about parents who make these choices, and how that process must work.

Two professionals decide to have a child. They aren't wealthy, so they can't live in Manhattan and they can't hire a professional nanny; but, they decide that two incomes is better than one and within a few months of giving birth, the couple has to get back to their careers (which careers are not parenting in any way, shape, or form). So, they decide to hire a 'nanny' to raise their child. They look on the bulletin board at the food co-op and the cafes and they see the magical, much-sought notice from the other professional couple: "helping our wonderful nanny find a new job."

It often reads like this: "Our nanny has been with us for seven years and has been a loving care-giver to our children. We feel terrible about having to let her go, but mommy has decided to stay home now. If you are looking for a nanny, we are happy to recommend her. Please call us at 718-555-0000. Thanks."

What makes a parent believe that hiring a rent-a-parent from a hand-written bulletin board sign, or a craigslist posting, is a good, sane, plan-of-action for raising their child? Am I the only person who sees a problem here?

Now that seven-year-old Joshua has been raised by the fat brown lady who neglected him and scared the shit out of him everyday, and he is in school full-time, followed by music lessons, tutoring, self-defense, and music class each day, mommy is going to make the ultimate sacrifice of hanging around the house posting parenting tips about "co-sleeping" and "nurturing" on the Park Slope Parents message board all day, and building her 'consulting' business.

I wonder if mommy knows what has been happening to little Josh the last seven years? I wonder if she knows that he had to walk in the rain while the big fat brown lady stayed dry under the umbrella? (I'm sure she is convinced he wanted to walk in the rain.) I wonder if mommy knows that little Emily was teased and cajoled by the fat brown lady every day and had to beg and scream in hysterics for a drink? (I'm sure she is convinced that she was just teaching her manners.)

I wonder how a parent sleeps at night knowing that their child is being raised by a stranger whose time they are renting for twelve bucks an hour and no benefits. Imagine the conversation two adults have, two new parents, where the conclusion is that they shouldn't raise their child, that they should rent an unqualified stranger to do it.

What I saw today on the subway, and what I've seen in so many playgrounds, bookstores, Starbucks, and children's events, is deplorable. Wholly unqualified women, barely capable of being babysitters, taking charge of the daily lives of vulnerable children with no way to defend themselves or navigate the insanity of the class warfare passed-off as child-care.

If you don't want to raise a child, you shouldn't have one. If you want to have a child and don't want to raise it, then be certain you can hire an actual professionally-trained care-giver to raise your child.

If you are looking on craigslist for a 'nanny,' then there is something drastically wrong with your life. Perhaps you shouldn't be a parent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have grown so tired of Craigslist sometimes. I have found other places like,,, and where I can post without so much difficulty. Just my two cents