One of my favorite scenes in the movie Sex and the City 2 is when Charlotte and Miranda, holed up in their posh Abu Dhabi hotel, commiserate over cocktails about the struggles of being a working mother. Charlotte confesses the first thing she thought of when she had fears her husband Harry was cheating on her with the nanny was, “I can’t lose my nanny!”
I along with many other working moms cracked up at this because we know a great nanny is worth her weight in gold. My girlfriends and I joke if we ever had to choose between our husbands and our nannies, we were going with the nanny no question.
A great nanny will pick up the slack when your tot needs to unexpectedly go to the pediatrician and you can’t get away from work. She will do arts and crafts galore, even if you don’t have a crafty bone in your body. She will make sure your child is clothed, fed and tucked into bed while you are making that big presentation in London.
If you have a great nanny, you know you can’t live without her.
She becomes a natural extension of your family. Actress Julie Bowen may have raised eyebrows at the Emmy Awards when she thanked the “sister wives” who cared for her child but I know exactly what she was talking about.
Nannies are the unsung sheroes of many American families.
So why are so many treated like shit?
The reality is that many women who become nannies and domestic workers come from developing countries. They often come to the US as undocumented workers looking to better their families’ lives. Go to any park mid-day in Chicago or New York and you’ll see women from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico or the Philippines watching after their young charges. Often, they are black and brown women speaking Patois, Spanish, Creole and Tagalog.
Yes, you read the rare story about the nannies who makes $150,000 a year and help parents prepare their children to get into the best prep schools and make the “right” friends, but they are exceptions.
The vast majority of nannies and other domestic workers barely make minimum wage.
These women are the most vulnerable to exploitation.
Earlier this week the National Domestic Workers Alliance released the not so shocking results of a recent study. Domestic workers they interviewed reported long hours, low pay and wage theft among a long list of grievances; demonstrating we have a long way to go in protecting the rights of women who work in our homes.
As a mom you entrust your nanny with what’s most precious in your life – your child.
So I get pissed off when I hear about reports like this and how some families treat their nannies. D2′s nanny Eva has been with us for three years now and while we have a very close relationship, I never forget that she is my employee first and she deserves to make a good living with good working conditions.
Eva has shared with me horror stories of friends who work for families where the caregivers are expected to look after multiple children, cook, run errands, clean house and be available on call seven days a week with no vacation or breaks.
Her own former employer was a family with eight children. Since her departure, they’ve gone through nannies like dirty diapers because the workload was too heavy for a single caregiver.
As women we should stand up for the women who do the work we can’t or won’t do.
Currently, most labor laws offer domestic workers very little protection so up it’s up to you as the employer to do the right thing. I believe any family who is truly dedicated to their nanny’s well being will absolutely have the following in place to protect her and you:
- A contract that establishes her salary, hours of duty, and specific duties to be performed
- A clearly articulated policy (or established norms) around overtime requirements and pay
- Regularly scheduled breaks during the day and vacations
- Predictable pay periods with regularly filed payroll taxes
If you are confused about what’s fair to ask your nanny to do, here is a short-list of activities I think are within boundaries:
- Watch your child during your work hours and designated non-work hours
- Pick your child up from school and transport to activities as needed
- Cook for your child
- Clean up common areas where your child plays
- Do your child’s laundry
- Arrange for play dates, do art projects and crafts
- Help with or supervise completion of homework
You should negotiate all of your nanny’s duties upfront and if you need to expand her responsibilities or ask her to work overtime, you should expect to pay her more.
It’s true that money is tight for many families now and the cost of childcare is insane. Truth be told, the US is woefully behind other industrialized nations when it comes to affordable childcare.
But it’s time to put mothers on blast who are taking advantage of their nannies and other care givers.
If you can’t afford to pay your nanny a living wage and provide her with good working conditions, you can’t afford a nanny. In 2010 New York became the first state to pass a domestic workers bill of rights which guaranteed among other benefits, overtime pay.
Unfortunately, the governor of California recently vetoed a similar bill.
Many of us have mothers and aunties who worked as domestics. Dr. D.’s late mother, one of the most honorable and amazing women I had the privilege to have in my life, worked her entire life as a domestic. My late maternal grandmother worked as a domestic for much of her young life.
I’m willing to risk sounding like a preachy sanctimommy to stand up for women like them who worked so hard to allow women like me to do what I do.
I know not just a few short decades ago, being a domestic might have been the only work available to a black girl like me. I owe them.
Your turn. What do are your thoughts about domestic workers and the possibility of taking advantage of them? Am I being too harsh? Not seeing the bigger picture? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.