Confessions Of A Governess: Do I Need To Be A Doctoral Candidate To Watch Your Kid?

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Confessions of a Governess is a Mommyish series from the perspective of someone who gets paid to watch other people’s children. Moms, take a deep breath.

All families have different markers for assessing potential babysitters and nannies.

In my nannying years, nothing is as golden as a strong reference from another family as regardless of how many siblings I grew up taking care of, what my education is, and how many years of experience I claim to have, nothing holds as much weight as another mother singing my proverbial praises — until I graduated college.

After I finished my undergraduate education, I moved to a different state and started babysitting while I looked for a new post-graduate job. I found that once I wasn’t bound to scholastic track anymore, parents had a lot more questions regarding my education and future. While rocking their infant, they asked me what my plan was now, whether I would be pursuing graduate school, and what I had in mind in the “long run.” I recognized a lot of it as polite small talk — touchstones in which parents could engage with me and not just rattle off orders.

I told them the same answer that I told parents when I was a student: that I wanted to be writer. The many books in my purse, often forgotten on nightstands and on kitchen counters were a testament to my love of literature, and I remember some mothers accepting my book recommendations eager to get their hands on something that had nothing to do with parenting.

But even so, I found that once I wasn’t in pursuit of some type of degree, parents were unsure what to make of me — or perhaps what type of box to place me in. I juggled internships and freelance writing all with the part-time care of children, but I began to sense that many parents liked tobrag about their babysitter being a student with a particular university’s name to attach. As a nanny of many years, bragging rights seems intrinsic to many people’s experiences of parenting and an intern here with a published piece there just doesn’t garner the same reaction as a student at Yale, if you follow. And considering that there is even noted tension among nannies and babysitters when it comes to who has the best resume, complete with study abroad, languages, and a child psychology minor, it doesn’t really surprise me that parents too have certain tidbits they like to see in a potential nanny’s history.

While I certainly empathize with parents who want their children handled by someone with a particular education, I also think it’s in their best interest to recognize that education comes in many forms. While I probably won’t be Rhodes Scholar in my lifetime, I can probably get your kid started with a near perfect reading list, engaging them over dinner about the importance of strong fiction heroines, why it’s important to consider that Jane Austen wrote in a time when few women did, and quiz them on how many books they encounter in which the girl’s story simply concludes with marriage. I can question sons on why exactly they think they can’t be seen playing with Barbies and counsel them through arguments with their peers in which stabs to their masculinity are made.

Parents can testify that caring for children requires a wide set of skills, all of which aren’t necessarily guaranteed with a degree.