College Grads Flock to Nannying. Is That Good?

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Sept. 13 2013 6:06 PM

College Grads Flock to Nannying. Is That Good?

166038593
What makes a good nanny, anyway?

Photo by Radek Mica/AFP/Getty Images

Elizabeth Chuck of NBC News reported this week on a “fast growing segment of the nanny industry”: American-born college graduates. Since the mid-nineties, the profession has seen a rise in these well-credentialed caretakers, who “could go into law, medicine or other fields but are choosing to become career nannies,” often because they cannot find work elsewhere. The economic desperation of the lavishly schooled classes is good news for those parents of little ones who seek ever more enrichment for their kids. “For some parents, the ultimate nanny candidate has multiple degrees, including Master’s degrees,” especially in early childhood education, writes Chuck.

Katy Waldman Katy Waldman

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

Cliff Greenhouse, president of New York City’s Pavillion Agency for personal service placement, confirms it. “More and more families are saying, ‘I just want someone with a Master’s degree,’” he told me over the phone. “Whether or not it’s in child psychology or some other field, it shows a commitment to education that families believe will rub off on their children.” Fine arts diplomas are especially in-demand, because of the “level of creativity” they bring to childcare. (Whilst other nannies are gluing noodles onto construction paper, presumably, MFA grads can teach your kids how to make the latest Frank Gehry building out of play dough.) Parents also swoon for guardians who can scold their children in several languages, especially Mandarin Chinese. Greenhouse has received requests for nannies with self-defense training, the ability to drive a Zamboni, and a pilot’s license.

Advertisement

What should we make of families’ desire for nannies with the varied, extraordinary expertise you’d expect from career polymaths and/or CIA operatives? I don’t want to use the word “overqualified” in a cultural climate where nothing is too good for our children. But. Are these caretakers overqualified? Or rather, for all their training, do they possess the right qualifications?

Academics don’t have much to say about nannies: how they influence kids; what qualities make for a great one; the role of demography, educational attainment, fluency in ancient runes, etc. “It would be nearly impossible to get permission from nannies (often paid under the table) or their employers” to run a study, explains Adam Davidson in the New York Times.

But experts generally define a good nanny as nurturing, responsive, loving, sensitive, patient, and knowledgeable about kids. “The best ones understand what to expect of children at different ages,” says Amy Hunter, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Child and Human Development. “They know how to deal with two year olds that bite. They are prepared for all kinds of challenging behavior.” Hunter believes that how caretakers acquire this preparation—through formal study, nannying experience, mothering, or daycare training—doesn’t matter so much. If your nanny shares your childrearing philosophy and won’t freak out when your toddler puts sodden Cheerios in his hair, you’ve chosen wisely.

Which makes an emphasis on extravagantly diploma’d babysitters kind of ridiculous: the kids themselves might be just as well off with a career Dominican abuela as with a white California-born twentysomething who missed her LSAT registration date. Or better off. (Isn’t the diversity of experience the former brings to the table a huge plus? Isn’t that one reason the system of international au pairs has thrived for so long?) Opportunities for poorer and less educated workers are dwindling. It would be a shame if parents’ misguided preoccupation with academic credentials forced qualified people out of one of the few fields that remain viable to them.

Greenhouse assured me that race has never factored into his clients’ requests—that he has placed comparable numbers of whites, blacks, Latinas, and Asians in a range of homes, and that they make comparable salaries. It's simply that, in the wake of the recession, homegrown college grads are pursuing new career options. And that, as Greenhouse told NBC, moms these days "aren’t going to work full-time unless they can leave their children in the care of someone they consider a peer." Who counts as a peer, exactly, is never specified. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories to the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 12:44 AM We Need More Ben Bradlees His relationship with John F. Kennedy shows what’s missing from today’s Washington journalism.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Quora
Oct. 22 2014 9:51 AM What Was It Like to Work at NASA During the Challenger and Columbia Disasters?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 22 2014 9:54 AM The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here I feel like a kid in some kind of store.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 8:43 AM Thunderstruck: Rock Out With Mother Nature’s Evil Side
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 9:39 AM Gertjie and Lammie, a Magical (and Bizarre) Friendship
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.