I Guess Nannying Is The New Extended Breastfeeding

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Pictures of toddlers nursing on magazine covers? Reality shows about attachment parenting? So last month. “Having it all“? We’re done with that. Now it’s time to focus on nannying, and the uncomfortable idea of paying someone to love and nurture your child for you. Because we know that’s so controversial!

The New York Times just published a splashy new essay called, “Love, Money and Other People’s Children.” It has an accompanying photo essay featuring the “Other Mothers of New York,” nannies and the children they care for. Much like the TIME expose on extended nursing, this piece attempts to give a balanced view to the world of domestic care. The author, Mona Simpson, talks about her time getting to know local nannies while she was raising her kids. She speaks fondly of the Filipina ladies she socialized with at the park.

But Simpson also acknowledges the difficult dichotomy of nannying relationships. She told the story of one nanny, the CEO of Santa Monica’s Filipinas.

Her next charge was a girl who had given $5 to another girl at school to be her friend. The nanny had never had this problem at home. With her own daughters, the problem was the opposite: too many friends.

“When you try to buy things that should never be sold,” she said to the girl, “they turn into something else, like the princess who turned into a bird.” She said, “Money cannot buy love.”

But maybe it could. Her employer paid her, and she loved the daughter.

Simpson found the crux of the nannying relationship, and why it’s so fascinating. Nannies raise our children, not because they love them dearly, because we pay them to. And yet, it’s difficult to spend that much time taking care of child without forming an emotional attachment, without wanting that child to succeed and grow. Mothers can either appreciate that commitment to their child, or they can exploit it. Nannies can either try to keep it at bay, or they can embrace it.

We never know how it will turn out, but that choice by nannies is one that people find infinitely intriguing. We’re curious about this set-up, often because it seems so removed from our personal experiences. Unfortunately, anything that’s curious about parenting seems to be prime for media exploitation.

Extreme parenting isn’t the only thing getting a reality show. ABC Family recently premiered “Beverly Hills Nannies,” which features attractive caregivers gossiping about dads hitting on them and mothers being lazy. It’s attempting to look at the “Real Housewives” idea of reality that our current culture seems to love gawking at. There were even obvious and sad attempts at label dropping from women who shouldn’t need to point out, “Look at his Hermes scarf,” about their children. Like most parenting reality shows, it seems to have almost nothing to do with the children involved.

The nannying relationship is a complex one, and it’s personal for every family that experiences it. But it’s also proven ripe for movie adaptations and tell-all books. The Nanny Diaries told us about the horrors of rich women who saw nannies as second-class citizens. Uptown Girl, the Brittany Murphy classic, highlighted the important (if fairy-tale-like) relationships formed between young kids are their paid caregivers. In fact, one could argue that nannying was the OG parenting hot topic, and it’s just coming back around for a revamp. I can’t wait to see what gripping mommy controversy will dominate the media next.

(Photo: New York Times Magazine)