Seattleites Amy and Tim have an excellent nanny: devoted to their children, punctual and reliable, all in all, an excellent employee. You might even say he’s one of a kind.
That’s right: “he.” Without meaning to be, Amy and Tim are on the front edge of a growing child care trend: hiring male caregivers to fill that traditionally female job of nanny. Call them “mannies.” They’re large and in charge, and some say, here to stay.
“We — my husband especially — did a bit of a double-take when we considered interviewing him for the job,” says Amy of their manny, Nat. Yet Amy and Tim say they were comfortable with Nat immediately. They did a thorough reference check and then hired Nat, who had been referred to them by a mutual friend. Three years later, everyone, including Amy, Tim, 4-year-old Thomas, and 10-month-old Helena, is thrilled with the results. “Anybody who meets Nat sees that he is absolutely devoted to these children,” Amy says.
The gender barrier
What began as a home-staffing anomaly in the mid-1990s, mannies have met with noteworthy coverage over the years. The popular sitcom “Friends” chronicled the trend in an episode in 2002. “The One with the Male Nanny,” features Freddie Prinze, Jr., as the recorder-playing, sickeningly sweet Sandy, male nanny to Ross and Rachel’s daughter Emma. In the end, the capable and sensitive manny is sacked by a weeping Ross who can’t overcome his misgivings about the circumstance. The show plays up the gender barrier that is ever present for some men wanting to take on traditionally female jobs. Assumptions about sexuality and a disposition toward pedophilia are obstacles some prospective male nanny candidates face.
Heather, a Tacoma mother of two boys, ages 3 and 6, is thinking about hiring a nanny for the next school year. She teaches classes and serves as a program director at a local community college. Her husband, Mike, works in law enforcement. Heather says she’s giving serious thought to hiring a manny. “I’m actively seeking male mentors for them, besides their dad,” says Heather. “They tend to respond well to male energy.” Heather says her youngest son was particularly quick to attach to a male art teacher at a recent day camp. “He loved the experience. It wasn’t about being at summer camp; it was about being around such a great male role model,” she says.
But, like many in her position, Heather feels torn. “I worry about the obvious things: predatory behavior and sexual molestation. Also, I worry a male nanny might focus on aggressive activities like war games,” she says.
But despite her reservations, Heather thinks it’s an idea worth pursuing, “If it’s natural for a man to want to be a father, why not a nanny?”
Leann Brambach, founder of the Home Details, Inc. (www.homedetailsinc.com), a recruitment agency based in Seattle, can attest to the stereotypes a male nanny candidate confronts. “Parents think they might be sex offenders or up to something fishy and can’t be trusted around children. They might also think they won’t have the maternal instinct necessary, the intuition, to care for children.”
But Suzanne Royer-McCone, president of the large Seattle-based placement agency Annie’s Nannies (www.anihouseholdstaffing.com), says a male nanny is often just what a family needs. “We’ve witnessed that male nannies can be just as capable as female nannies, and in some cases, they are purely a better match for a family than a female nanny,” Royer-McCone says.
Even though the agency counts just three male nannies among its current 300-plus placements, Royer-McCone says that the trend is strong enough to sustain itself into the future as more people become aware of the option. “Parents of older children and parents of boys tend to be the biggest candidates for giving male nannies a shot,” she says. Not surprisingly, Royer-McCone says they also tend to be on the “progressive end” of the social spectrum.
Regardless of the gender of a care provider, all agree a prospective family should do their homework before hiring anyone to take care of children. Families should be prepared to conduct a thorough background check or have an agency do one on their behalf. The check should include Social Security number verification, driving record, employment history, references and a criminal background check. Agencies like Annie’s Nannies and Home Details, Inc. check employment, driving records and criminal histories dating back seven years for every state the applicant has resided in. “Agencies are not legally allowed to hand over a person’s background check documents to other parties,” says Royer-McCone, “but we let the prospective family know if there is anything on a background check, and of course, do not use candidates that have a bad background check.”
When it comes down to it, the connection between the candidate and family, regardless of gender, is the most important qualifier. As Amy says, “I wouldn’t recommend that people go out in search of a male caregiver any more than a female one; the thing that matters most is how well they care for your child, and that is a purely individual trait.”
Jesse Michener lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her brood of three girls and funny husband. She serves as the education manager for the Broadway Center Conservatory (www.broadwaycenter.org) and knits, writes and takes pictures whenever she gets a chance. She has a blog at www.thefreelancemama.com.