My latest Christmas card from the family I work for as a nanny says that they’re thankful that their daughters see me as a third parent. I’m thankful, too, but I’m pretty sure no one tries for years to get pregnant and endures two cesareans only to have their kids call someone else “momma,” even if it’s an accident. As the nanny, you don't exactly ever prepare for the moment when the kids you care for call you "mom," but it happens. Occasionally, it even happens in front of her.
For my 4 year old, it’s hardly on purpose. It slips out when she’s not thinking, after which she’ll shoot me a look that says, “can you believe that?” accompanied by a giggle, and an embarrassed, “Oops … Aliee, I called you momma.” My 2 year old will turn the corner into the kitchen and say something like, “Momma, I’m hungry,” to which I’ll typically correct with a, “That’s not my name,” or “Momma’s upstairs and/or working, what do you need?”
I’m done pretending that I’m just a glorified babysitter to anyone who asks what I do as a nanny. I’m not Aliee who comes over on a random Saturday when your parents decide to go on a date; I’m Aliee, who’s been there every week of your life since you came home from the hospital, and I love my job.
I never saw being mistaken as mom as something serious. In fact, I still don’t. Growing up, I'd fumble in school and accidentally call my teacher "mom." Who hasn’t? If a nurturing adult female who makes you feel safe is also a constant presence in your life and you also happen to be a child, you may forget her name and call her mom. I don’t view their slipping and calling me mom any differently. If I’m being real, I think it’s flattering — I’m glad the kids I nanny for like me that much, because the feeling is mutual. Both of my girls are so sufficiently obsessed with their mother to the point where I know for sure, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that they can identify who is who and our different roles in their lives. It’s literally nothing to feel pressed about. When their friends at preschool who think that I’m their mom ask me to schedule a playdate, there’s a brief explanation of who I actually am, and then we all move on with our lives.
But when I’d relate this to my friends, they didn’t find it quite as humorous. In fact, some were taken aback, telling me that they'd "want to kill the nanny if my kids also called her ‘mom.’” Even when I searched Google for what to do when the kids you nanny for call you mom, those were the responses I’d read through on many forums. No real solutions, just a lot of nanny-hate. This wasn't comforting at all to read. I couldn't find anything that corroborated a nanny-and-mom relationship that mirrored my own. Did my boss secretly hate me and I wasn't aware of it? Everything I found on the Internet made me believe that she resented me and dished about it to anyone who would listen, which would be completely out of character for her. After that shame-spiral hole I fell into online, I had to suck it up and go to work the next morning. If she resented me, which I'm sure she doesn't, it wasn't any of my business. My business is helping take care of the kids.
My boss remarked, "It's like she's your kid," and after a laugh added, "She kind of is."
For what it’s worth, my boss has never made me feel awkward or guilty about the fact that her kids accidentally call me mom, which I’m very thankful for. She used to be nanny herself, her sister is a nanny, and she hired someone who will one day have to hire a nanny (I live across the country from my family and asking my parents to help involves a very expensive plane ticket). I was scraping cradle cap off the youngest's head with my fingernails when my boss remarked, "It's like she's your kid," and after a laugh added, "She kind of is." Cradle cap removal, wiping someone else's butt, and not getting grossed out are all acts of love, because I love the family I work for and as it turns out, love makes you do gross stuff for other people. It's never a moment of pointed tension and it's only as awkward as accidentally farting in front of her may possibly be.
At my best, I just aim to be the nanny I'd one day want to hire and hope that it's enough. I’m aware that not all nannies have such a positive, healthy, non-competitive work environment, and I’m very lucky to be in the position I’m in, but frankly, I’m sick of having to downplay the role I play in a family's life for the comfort of people who don’t understand what my day-to-day routine has been like for the past two-and-half years.
I work hard. I would like to be proud of the work that I do. My formerly shy 4 year old now confidently orders her own ice cream from the ice cream truck (and says please and thank you!) and I danced around the bathroom when my youngest peed on the potty for the first time. I know how much childcare costs because I am childcare. I know that I’m expensive. I’m an endlessly creative, fun, badass investment, and I’m 100 percent worth it. In terms of getting a return on investment, mine’s pretty great, and I’m done pretending that I’m just a glorified babysitter to anyone who asks what I do as a nanny. I’m not Aliee who comes over on a random Saturday when your parents decide to go on a date; I’m Aliee, who’s been there every week of your life since you came home from the hospital, and I love my job.
As it turns out, nannying isn't like a regular job that my peers have. They're allowed to talk about their jobs at parties without criticism that they're maybe doing it wrong or loving it too much. But I can't.
Yes, a lot of people mistakenly refer to me as a babysitter. Sometimes it's a means to belittle my work as a "real" job and doesn't fully reflect all that nannies do. Beyond not understanding what nannies do, there's also a good share of people who don't understand why anyone would want to be a nanny. Those are usually the people who also don't get why anyone would want to hire a nanny. As far as anyone's concerned, nannies are people hired by A-list celebrities looking to outsource raising their children who eventually sleep with their husbands: a sentiment that's beyond rude to everyone involved. It's either that or we're sexless infinite well-springs of nurturing energy and patience, who never get frustrated, and who frequently fly off with a parrot umbrella and a spoonful of sugar. You can gently correct people who don't understand the value and function of having a nanny until your face turns blue, but if they've already cast you as either a lecherous husband-stealing, money-driven woman, or a literal magical sprite, there's very little you can do to change their minds.
Hearing that I should be embarrassed by the reciprocal sentiments between me and the children I care for is disheartening. I had a friend chastise me once, warning me not love the kids I care for. This was weird. I know she was looking out for my best interest. After all, this is a job and she didn't want me to get my heart broken if, God forbid, something were to happen wherein I'd no longer be able to see the kids. But her comments only made me feel alienated and angry. As it turns out, nannying isn't like a regular job that my peers have. They're allowed to talk about their jobs at parties without criticism that they're maybe doing it wrong or loving it too much. But I can't.
Yet I do love my job and the kids I care for. They love me, too. I’m still not their mom. I may be a third parent, but I’m also temporary, and that sucks to even think about. The weird lady with big hair who taught them how to evenly eat ice cream off a stick and was on the receiving end of their first steps won’t be around forever, even though I'll always think of them. Of course I'll always be invested in their future and their well-being, but I know that one day I won’t be their nanny anymore.
As much as it's important for me to correct the girls I nanny for when they accidentally call me mom, I also try to impart that I'm their nanny. I want that to be a word they feel comfortable using because it's not a bad word. It doesn't mean that their parents aren't involved — they very much are, and they're great at it. It doesn't mean that I get paid to love them. What I get paid to do is make sure they feel happy and safe. I help them learn and grow into the strong, silly, wonderful girls that they are. If they mistakenly call me mom, so what? I'll correct them and move on.