Nannies deal with so many of the same issues moms deal with: tantrums at the park, spit-up in their hair, sore backs from schlepping strollers and diaper bags all over town... and even being shamed for how they handle all of those things (and everything else). In fact, nanny shaming is as much of a thing as mommy shaming these days — and both moms and child care workers are fed up.
Nanny shaming made headlines recently in an article for The NY Post which detailed an incident involving a bystander posting a photo of a "cellphone-toting baby sitter" and her 9-month-old charge at an Upper East Side playground to the 18,000-member Facebook group NYC Moms (the post was then shared on other groups, including the 36,000-member UES Mommas). According to the caption:
“This nanny… kept a baby tied in a stroller for two hours and her older sister, Aria, [sic] unattended in the playground today. Please tell their family.”
It's not hard to guess what happened next. Commenters split into the usual camps: one in support of the person who posted the photo (“It takes a village"); the other in support of the nanny — or at least, if not in full support, willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Except that, really, it's more complicated than that. Because included in the "it takes a village" category of comments — those comments backing up the poster — were other sentiments that had nothing to do with the welfare of the infant in the nanny's charge, or even the nanny's caretaking skills, instead addressing her "dirty" nails, calling her "a hood rat." One has to wonder: If the (black) nanny in question looked like a typical Upper East Side mom (i.e. white, wealthy), would the person have posted the photo in the first place?
“So many assumptions are made after chance encounters,” 25-year-old child care worker Grace Lee told The Post. “How do these posters even know the woman is a nanny and not the mother? African-American and Caribbean women are more often assumed to be nannies, while white women are not."
“As an Asian, I got lucky because the last few kids I was looking after were mixed-race,” she added. “As an American citizen, I can stand up for myself. But lots of other nannies can’t. One misunderstood post could cost them their livelihood.”
And oftentimes, these posts are just that — misunderstood. Such was the case with the "cellphone-toting baby sitter" in the headline-making post. The night when the post went viral, the baby's parents were "understandably alarmed," according to The Post. But Randy Howk and his wife Elle Sherman "didn’t immediately contact their sitter of more than a year" because "it was late." When they did call their nanny the next morning (who was pretty upset about the post herself), her explanation made perfect sense to them: She "insisted that Alexandra had been sleeping on and off in the stroller, while her outgoing 4-year-old sister, Ariah, ran around talking and playing. 'I would never neglect your girls,' the nanny told Howk."
Her explanation lined up with what the parents thought was going on anyway. Howk told The Post that the sitter had even sent the parents a photo of their daughter sleeping in her stroller. "At the time, we thought, ‘It’s good that she’s taking a nap.’ She was safely harnessed, not ‘tied in.’ "
As a mother of three who worked as a nanny for years (it's a great gig for a struggling actor), I generally find myself in the "benefit of the doubt" camp when these scenarios arise (assuming, of course, that no obvious abuse or neglect is happening). Here's the thing: Nannying is a tough job. I'm not going to say it's as hard as parenting, because good lord! Nothing is as hard as parenting. But nannying is hard for many of the same reasons that parenting is hard, and yet we hold nannies to a ridiculous sort of standard that we would never apply to other parents. Would anyone ever post a photo of a mother on her phone at the playground with her child strapped in stroller? No, because sometimes moms need a dang minute. And sometimes nannies do, too. If you can find a nanny who loves your child, treats them well, and fits into your family comfortably, does it matter if she needs to scroll through Insta for a few while she takes a breather (as long as the kids are safe)?
As The Post reported, a "rash of recent posts show nannies shopping with their young charges in stores like T.J.Maxx, or sitting at the hairdresser or a nail salon, talking on their phones. Some posts have even shown them sleeping — or at least closing their eyes — on the job." Okay, obviously no one wants their nanny dragging their kid on errands all day or dozing off at the park. But it's not cool to jump to conclusions and assume that's what's happening, or that's what always happens. Especially if you're only going to make that assumption for what boils down to mostly racist reasons.
“It happens a lot,” Lee told The Post. “Nannies are increasingly afraid in case they are going to be called out for some perceived infraction."
These snap judgments can cause hard-working nannies their livelihoods, and that's not fair... particularly when you take into account the fact that many women who work as baby sitters and nannies have limited resources and career options.
That's why what Randy Howk and Elle Sherman did when their nanny was shamed is so important. Not only did they ask the poster to "delete her 'wrongful' shaming photo, but Sherman (a lawyer) posted an "open letter to the original group, describing the 'hurt' the poster had caused with her 'disdain and disapproval toward my black baby sitter.'" Howk also posted "the accuser’s own headshot on several mommy Facebook groups, naming her new employer and sharing links to her social-media accounts.
Then he went further, contacting her workplace 'to let them know that their new employee tried to sabotage the career of a young woman.'"
And *that* is how it's done.