I’ll never forget the day I took my son to his first karate class. We walked into the studio early and we were the first ones there. I was by myself with my then-7-year-old, and we met with the instructor and got him registered. As we were waiting for the other students to arrive, he turned to me and asked, “Are you a live-in?” It took me a second to register what he was asking, and I think my confusion was written all over my face. I finally got it: he was asking if I was my son's live-in nanny. I finally found the words to blurt out: "No, I’m his mom.”
I know that he didn’t mean any harm by it. In fact, he apologized for even asking. I also know that I look (and am) young, but that doesn’t change the fact that it stings every single time someone assumes that I am my child’s nanny instead of his mom. And to be honest, it happens quite frequently. At the park, at the museum, during swim lessons — everyone assumes I’m the nanny before they realize I’m the mom. The whole thing is just plain humiliating.
I get it. I’m 30 years old and I had my first child two weeks before my 22nd birthday, so I realize I'm a little young to be a mom. Plus, I look younger than I actually am. (My voice makes me sound even younger — there are times when I call to place a takeout order and people will ask me to put my parents on the line.)
I pride myself on being a hands-mom, so when people assume that I’m anyone other than that, it bruises my ego a little bit.
I also live in New York City, where many moms have nannies or help of some kind. I’m a work-from-home-mom, and my family can't afford the insanely high cost of a nanny in New York, so I tend to come face-to-face with the nannies during prime caretaking hours. And in turn, I’m assumed to be one of them.
Normally, I'd have no issue with that, but it grates on me quite a bit because I'm a white woman married to a black man. Our babies are beautiful, but neither of them look much like me. At a glance, you might not think that my son is even related to me. So getting pegged as the nanny hurts my heart a little bit.
I realize that it's much more common for moms of color to be asked the "are you the nanny?" question, particularly if their kids present as white. That's due to a lot of offensive assumptions our culture makes about class and race. I can imagine it's much more painful for a mother of color to be asked that question than it is for me, but it stings nonetheless.
I pride myself on being a very hands-on mom, and I try to make sure everyone’s needs are met while my deadlines are being met, too. Every day is different and far from easy, but I try to make it work for the greater good of my family. And now that my kids are both home for summer vacation, I have to schedule work during certain hours and make plans to take them on day trips, so we’re not stuck in the apartment all day. I enjoy making memories with my kids and being there with them day in and day out. So when people assume that I’m anyone other than their mom, it bruises my ego a little bit.
At a glance, you might not think that my son is even related to me. So getting pegged as the nanny hurts my heart a little bit.
But ultimately, the bigger issue is why people feel entitled to ask this type of question, especially if the child presents as a different race than the mother. We live in a very nosy society, and that applies doubly when you become a mom. It’s sad that people have the audacity to ask a personal question about your family situation, with little regard for your feelings.
And at the end of the day, does it really matter if I’m the nanny or not? No, so why would you even ask? Maybe I need to learn to brush it off and not let it upset me, or maybe I should start taking it as a compliment. After all, if I still look this young when I’m 40, I probably won’t mind the question as much.