What's Good for Nannies is Good for Moms.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


One of the choice scenes from Sex and the City Two takes place between Charlotte and Miranda, the two moms from the fabulous female foursome. Miranda gets Charlotte drunk because she senses Little Miss Perfect needs to open up about how frustrating motherhood and marriage can be.


“When I started thinking my nanny and my husband might be having an affair,” Charlotte confesses to Miranda a few drinks later in an Abu Dhabi bar, “My first thought was: I can’t lose the nanny!” The scene ends with Charlotte and Miranda making a tipsy toast to less-economically-well-endowed mothers who have to take care of their kids and their marriages without “help.”


However, in reality many New Yorkers and others across our country demonstrate far less appreciation for their childcare providers. In New York and elsewhere, in-home childcare workers go without basic workplace protection: they don’t receive paid vacation or sick days, overtime, or termination pay, according to “For Nannies, Hope for Workplace Protection” as reported in the New York Times last week. If they are mistreated or paid illegally so that employers can avoid taxes, these vital workers have little recourse. Nannies – essential to all working parents, ‘cause it’s awfully hard to go to work without ‘em – are part of New York’s so-called “secret economy.”


Ok, first I need to say: I don’t understand how or why any parent would mistreat or underpay an employee who is caring for your children. Childcare providers, especially ones who care for infants and young children in the isolated work environment of your home, have almost unlimited access to and influence over your kids, and by extension, over you. They are valued employees; they are partners in childrearing in ways that many wives’ actual, legal, permanent partners are not (boys, if you don’t know the pediatrician’s number or leave the house before 7 am on weekdays, I’m talking about you). And many of these nannies are working mothers themselves: working moms, of all humans on the planet, know how hard their lives are, and we have a moral obligation to treat them as fairly as we demand our bosses treat us. (For background, please see Caitlin Flanagan’s inflamatory, incisive 2004 Atlantic Monthly article “How Serfdom Saved the Women’s Movement”.)


Parents who treat their childcare providers miserly undermine all working parents. For the record, 75% of parents work. This country needs a strong, thriving childcare economy in order for parents to toil away productively and for our kids to be well cared for when we are toiling. We won’t have this essential network if nannies are forced to work in subpar conditions as part of a Mafia-like shadow economy.


And here is the bonus for treating childcare providers well: not only are you being a fair and equitable employer, pitching in towards creating a bona fide public good for our society. But treating your nanny is better for you and your children in the short-term too. In other words, treating your childcare providers generously is unselfish and simultaneously self-serving. You will have less turnover among your nannies and babysitters. Nannies will want to work for you more than any other employer. They will help you willingly when you have an emergency or occasional unexpected need to work late. You will have a true partner in raising your children.