Written by: Rachael Nachtwey (a Brooklyn Nanny)
So I up and moved from Milwaukee to New York City last fall. This was shortly after hitting official burn-out as a master’s level social worker in close proximity to my 31st birthday. I had been working in child welfare, pretty consistently since my college graduation and one day, I simply had had enough. What was next, I wondered? I still wanted to work with kids and I certainly had racked up a good amount of knowledge about what kids needed after a few hundred home visits. I decided to look into the realm of children’s media. Since it was a completely foreign land to me, I was not very successful on the job hunting front. After dozens and dozens of resumes going out with either no response or swift rejections, I finally decided to buck up and resort to an internship (un-paid!) at a production company in New York City. It was reason enough for me to pack up and move to New York, like I wanted to do anyway, so I was happy enough with my decision to work for free in an entry-level position. I could pretend I was an 18-year-old poor but carefree college student again, I rationalized. (Sigh).
Because the internship was unpaid, I had to quickly determine how I was about to pay the bills. As I have always done through periods of unemployment (or in times of surprise car repairs, increases in student loan payments, sudden urges to travel to Spain, etc.), I have cared for children for extra cash. Since I do have a knack for working with kids, it has always been a no-brainer kind of job. I get to play with kids and be a kid myself all day? Sweet!
But let me tell you…this nanny thing in New York is a whole different ball game from what I experienced in Wisconsin. Well, let me clarify. My experience has been quite similar…95% of the time, I’ve worked for stellar families who have treated me with the utmost respect and this continues to be the case. The big difference is what I see on the streets and on the playgrounds of New York. It’s quite a far cry from Wisconsin child care.
Let me preface this by saying that the families I worked for in Milwaukee were not some Pabst swilling cheeseheads. (Okay, I realize that for the majority of you, that probably didn’t even cross your mind but after some ridiculous questions about Midwestern living, I can’t help but get a little defensive)! Most of the families I worked for in Milwaukee were part of the upper middle class. They tended to be highly educated mothers who chose to volunteer rather than return to the workforce while their children were young. They were parents who were highly involved in their children’s lives and had decent disposable incomes (i.e. ability to hire a part-time nanny to allow them to do their volunteer work). Of course, this is not the norm for Wisconsin families. Most families do not have the financial luxury of having their own nanny (full or part-time). Most resort to day care centers which albeit costly, are typically nowhere near the expense of a personal caregiver.
My impressions of New York parents? Well, let me back up and tell you that I have nannied for only one family since I’ve been here. They lived in Manhattan and I cared for their infant son two days a week while the mother worked outside of the home. Recently, however, they moved to the Brooklyn. Not only have I witnessed great differences between the care of children in Wisconsin and New York, but now I even see a difference between Manhattan and Brooklyn parents!!
But first, back to my Manhattan experience. The family lived close to a hopping park in a bustling area of the city so as long as it was not freezing, baby and I typically made it there at least once a day. More often than not, the park was full of busy children and their…parents? Or maybe their nannies? It wasn’t clear at first. Of course, I got talking to enough of these people to discover that many were indeed nannies. Otherwise, I could tell from their conversations with the children. I would guess that 90% of the adults at the playground on any given day were nannies, not parents of these children.
And that was what struck me so funny. At a Milwaukee park, even in a “high class” area, chances were, the adults with those children were their parents. The bottom line was that if a couple had the money that allowed one of them to stay home with their children, that was what they chose do. In Manhattan, I’m not sure if it is choice or necessity that both parents tend to work outside of the home. Are people in Manhattan generally making a good enough salary that their child care costs do not cancel out their wages? In Milwaukee, that was typically not the case. In general, it simply didn’t make good financial sense for people to pay a child care provider while they worked. They ended up coming ahead only a few pennies and at the end of the day, the sheer exhaustion and the lack of contact with their children simply wasn’t worth it.
Or is it that people in New York generally have better careers that they do not want to lose by being out of the work force for long? Considering that this city tends to be a mecca for a whole lot of highfalutin companies and booming industries, I assume that there is much more for an employed NYC parent to lose compared to someone in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
But here’s the other funny thing…just recently, the family I nanny for moved to the Park Slope area. Now baby and I are hitting new parks and playgrounds and I must say, I enjoy them so much more than the Manhattan ones! And here’s why…it seems like the parent/nanny ratio is almost opposite of that in Manhattan. I see tons more parents with their children and the best part is…they seem to be having so much fun with one another. (Granted, many of the nannies I have seen also seem to be having a genuine good time with their charges but then again, I’ve also seen plenty of blank stares and text messaging as they robotically push little Jack on the baby swing but I digress…)
I am the first to admit that I am no mind reader but I just get the sense that these Brooklynite parents (and I am speaking of both moms and dads) are not feeling an incredible rush to get back into the workforce. Rather, they seem to deem their parenthood as the number one priority…not the promotion they could be missing because they have chosen to be home with little Sally. Don’t get me wrong… I do understand that someone needs to bring home the bacon to pay for all the expenses that come along with bringing little Sally into the world and I certainly realize that every family situation is different. However, I just wanted to give a shout out to those Park Slope moms and dads who seem to be striking a good balance. Kudos to you. From someone who has worked with tons of kids and has seen neglect on both ends of the spectrum, I give you a credit for really trying to make things work for your families. Your kids will really appreciate it someday. I’m quite sure of it.
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A Blogazine, based out of Park Slope, Brooklyn, that features fun and interesting articles. Topics include: parenting, society, real estate, career, style, spirituality and more. Written contributions are always welcome!