The M's Home, Somerville, Massachusetts
Today I had the most random epiphany about nannies. Basically, I realized they are actually pretty cool and I'm not sure why people make such a big deal out of them. I guess I actually do know, because I was one of those people. But it seems so silly after my epiphany today.
When Ruthie and I started nannying, I felt like the women we nannied for were kind of pathetic, especially the one's who only wanted "mommie's helpers." It made sense logically to have a nanny if you worked either from or out of the home, but it didn't make any sense to me for a woman who didn't work at all to hire another woman to help her out. Real women should be able to do it all alone.
But what I realized today is that this practice is simply going back to the old tradition of having a female companion. It's very American to hold the idea that we must do everything on our own. Our most pronounced national virtue is being able to singlehandedly maintain our own lives, independent of all aid, and this has been applied to even “mommydom.” Moms are supposed to be so good and independent at mothering that they would never need another woman to assist them. Only the weak or needy want help raising their children.
But this flies against everything female culture has centered around for centuries, if not millennia. For much of history, it has been very common for women to work with and support each other in the raising of families. Mothering has never been more lonely and isolated than in this, our 21st century.
For much of history, being a wife and mother meant that you were the head of the household economy, not the lone ranger on the isolated prairies of your family life. Under your supervision were not only a brood of children, but the group of helping hands you assembled to work alongside you. From hired help to live-in relatives, you were almost never alone in the maintenance of your household. In fact, being alone in it would have been considered an overwhelming burden, a sign of abandonment and suffering. Most likely, your younger female sister or cousin would have been sent to live with you indefinitely to work as your right-hand woman until she too married. If no such woman was available, you would have considered hiring a local maid, even if you were not in the upper echelons of society. A woman’s home was an institution, and as such, the role of wife and mother more often looked like that of a manager rather than that of frontier cowboy.
I have no idea when or how this was lost in modern America (I'll have to research it sometime), but it does help me see how ridiculous judgement of nannies is and how awesome they really are. Nannies as household companions in the old-fashioned sense truly would be a remarkable cultural revival. Nannies as substitute mothers are, of course, hideous. Nothing ever excuses a mother for not being the mother. But if a family does not have female relatives close by or friends who are able to help fill the role, and they have the financial means to hire one, having a nanny does not have to represent a selfish shirking of responsibility. Rather it can be household building and community producing relief for women going through what I hear are some of the loneliest times in life. Having other women around to help with children and household is something that does not have to compromise the nuclear family. It could be a revival of feminine institutions and the household economy.
(Image by Anna Pasternak, "Motherhood.")
About the Project
This is a very personal project. It tracks my growth and development as I journeyed toward motherhood over the recent years. It doesn't document every experience I had, and probably neglects my more joyful and peaceful moments in the frenzy of trying to communicate my fears, anxieties, and doubts. If you are a friend or loved one, please do not let anything you read here overshadow what you know of me personally. If you are a stranger, please remember that a living and flawed person stands behind these words. To all my guests here, please understand these are not political statements and try to extend me grace, even as I share my failures and foibles - I have repented of much of what I share. I don't share this journal as an exemplar, but rather out of the desire to share my hope that entrance to motherhood does not need to be a fearful thing - despite the very real fears I have fought against. Motherhood is simply a part of life and one through which I am discovering more of myself and my God.