New York City’s CBS affiliate recently aired a news segment outlining tips to help moms protect themselves from the great domestic scourge they’re calling “the nanny attraction.” While the husband-nanny affair is, as one of their sources puts it, “an ongoing trend,” recent marriage-ending liaisons between Ben Affleck and Gavin Rossdale and their nannies ostensibly have moms feeling especially on edge.
So what can moms do to protect themselves from sexually predatory nannies, according to CBS2 News? First, don’t hire anyone too beautiful. Leslie Venokur, co-founder of parenting website Big City Moms, say that moms should screen potential nannies based on how they dress. “If they’re wearing dangling earrings, that to me is a no-no,” she asserts.
Then, CBS2 tells moms that surveillance can be necessary. Limor Weinstein, who runs a nanny agency, tells reporter Hazel Sanchez that she screens all candidates with a personality test—but sometimes she has to watch them furtively to uncover their true nature. “I did follow a very beautiful nanny that was walking on the streets and getting a lot of comments and flirting with a lot of people,” she said.
Finally, the news segment tells moms that men can’t be trusted. Parenthood writer Tamika Frye says that the most important thing is for everyone to know their role in the home because men get easily confused. “You’re bringing your competition into your house and she is going to take the place of where you are not, and that’s very appealing to a lot of men,” she says.
The two-minute long segment devotes a meager eight seconds to hearing from a nanny, whose face is obscured in darkness, as though she were a criminal. The segment ends by telling its viewers that “some families go as far as having written contracts that lay out the rules between nannies and the family.” An employer and employee signing a contract that outlines the terms of their agreement? Imagine that.
It’s easy to laugh at these parents and their mostly ridiculous strategies for preventing a rare problem. But these mothers’ fears are an overblown but understandable reaction to the strange dynamic that affects virtually every nanny/parent relationship. By its nature, the job of caring for children in their home is one in which the line between personal and professional is bound to blur. Nannies often become deeply attached to the kids they take care of, and those kids become deeply attached to them. Parents also grow emotional attachments to their caregivers; it would be hard to entrust your child with someone you felt no personal connection with. This intimacy can make it hard for both parties to know where appropriate boundaries lie—but a lot can be done to make parents and nannies feel less uncertainty about the relationship.
For instance, parents can write up contracts and have regular check-ins with their nannies. That CBS2 presents this as an extreme measure reveals the longstanding bias against seeing care work, which is usually done by women, as real work. A 2012 report from National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Center for Urban Economic Development found that formal employment contracts continue to be rare in the domestic work industry, and when they do exist, they’re often violated. A contract isn’t a bulletproof defense against employee/employer affairs—or garden-variety misunderstandings—but they can help to create a work environment in which the line between appropriate and inappropriate is more clearly defined.
There’s another shift that could help relieve moms’ anxiety about “the nanny attraction,” and it’s more of a cultural one. Moms should stop seeing nannies as their replacement, which leaves them vulnerable to feelings of insecurity and competitiveness. Nannies are professional caregivers whose work benefits both parents, not just moms. An end to working-mom guilt won’t necessarily lead to fewer affairs—Dad’s got to take responsibility there—but it will probably get rid of a lot of mothers’ irrational fear of nannies.