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Call Me a Hypocrite, But I Won't Use the Word Nanny

Photograph by Getty Images

I'll never forget the four fateful words that startled me from years ago.

"You need a nanny!" a mother of 3 and surgeon pretty much shouted at me. My husband and I were at a party with all sorts of accomplished men and women, some with kids and some without. I'd found myself in the middle of a conversation between a few of us new moms, talking about normal changes between life, work and babies entering our worlds and how to readjust and reconcile it all. You know, that inevitable conversation that happens when you get a bunch of new moms who don't know each other very well together in one place. (At the time, my first born was almost a year old and I'd just found out I was secretly pregnant with my second daughter, which had me even more sensitive than usual.)

At the time of this party, I was living a mostly stay-at-home mom kind of life while just starting to build my blog during baby nap times. Sitting on a bench at the beautiful home estate at the party, I made the mistake of sharing how some of my mommy duties (diaper-changing, cleaning our home, cooking dinner) were keeping me nonstop busy between trying to figure out what the heck the term SEO meant and why I needed to pay attention to it for my then-new blog. (And no, I wasn't complaining. I was legitimately just talking and trading tales.)

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"You need a nanny!" she proclaimed. I know she didn't mean anything rude by it, but I remember feeling weirdly offended in some way. She may as well have kicked me with her Tory Burch flats and smacked me on the head with her Louis Vuitton tote. Her instant reaction and remedy struck me as classically "entitled" as if to imply, "Why are you wasting your time folding clothes and making meals?! You can hire people for that!" Yes, I suppose folks can hire help for things like that if they're physically not home and working off-site. But I didn't feel like I needed a nanny at that time. I was actually enjoying feeling busy and productive balancing my days between babies and blog work. I guess I didn't want a nanny. And, for some reason, I felt awkward by her accusation.

Nannies didn't exist in the childhood I grew up in. Nannies raised kids if the mom couldn't, or, didn't want to, be around. Nannies lived in Britain. Nannies were for rich, snooty people.

"No, that's not really my style," I replied. We continued on with conversation, on our pristine bench in the vast garden with my baby sitting on my lap and her kids playing on the swing set (with her nanny, for the record). I know now that we were just two different types of moms, one of us no more right or wrong than the other, just different perspectives and opinions.

I often think back to that day and am confused by myself. You see, at that time, I did have a sitter coming to my house here and there, pretty much on a once-a-week basis so I could write and look up "how to get more traffic on your website" without being interrupted for a few hours, but I refused to call her a nanny. She was my sitter—a 50-something sitter who also loaded the dishwasher when needed and was game to iron my husband's shirts should one need ironing on the day she was there. My sitter that did all the duties a typical nanny would do.

So why couldn't I say the word "nanny"? (Why can't I still say it?)

The word itself scares me, makes me feel awkward and seems so ... well ... entitled and outside of normal reality. When I was a kid, there were no "nannies." The only nanny I'd ever heard of was Mary Poppins. I mean, one of our childhood friends had an "au pair" and that was like, Whoa, what the heck is that? Nannies didn't exist in the childhood I grew up in. Nannies raised kids if the mom couldn't, or, didn't want to, be around. Nannies lived in Britain. Nannies were for rich, snooty people.

Oh. There it is. The stigma of rich, snooty people. I had issue with being classified as a "rich, snooty person" ... even if that label existed only in my own mind.

I know how ridiculous this sounds, but I can't shake it. I mean, I have big enough issues keeping my daughters in check with a housekeeper twice a month.

Tina Fey can't bring herself to use the word "nanny" either, for this exact same reason. She writes in her book, "Bossypants":

“I know it’s bullshit that I say 'babysitter' instead of nanny. What I have is a full-time nanny, and I should be roundly punished for trying to make it seem like the teenager next door comes over one night a week. But I don’t like the word 'nanny.' It gives me class anxiety and race anxiety. And that is why I will henceforth refer to our nanny as our Coordinator of Toddlery."

The thing is, I know that nannies aren't just for rich, snooty people these days. They're for working parents who need someone to hold down the household in the safest, most positive and practical way. Sure, I know a lot of rich, snooty people who probably enjoy saying they have a nanny only because of that entitled stigma I just mentioned, but I know a lot of nice, decent, normal, hard-working and hands-on parents who have nannies, too. Nannies are lifesavers to many (myself included these days, with my twice-a-week help).

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So why can't I still use the word without feeling icky? I don't know. I tried using it a few times and just felt ... well ... that it wasn't my style. (Old misconceptions die hard?) The implications, the undertones, the underbelly of the antiquated attitudes that I associate with the word itself and I don't sound like "me" when I hear myself say it. I've tried to get with the times, but apparently this old dog can't learn new tricks. So I will continue on with my sitters ... because they're fabulous and practically perfect in every way.

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