Just Like Family: Inside the Lives of Nannies, the Parents They Work for, and the Children They Love
Like Tasha Blaine, I once took a job working as a nanny. Also like the author, I thought it would be a relatively easy gig that would allow me the freedom to write while working in a nice, supportive environment. We both quickly realized that working as a nanny is one of the most intense, draining, undervalued, and emotionally taxing jobs in our modern society.
In Just Like Family, Blaine combines her personal insights, her MFA, and several years of research to closely follow the lives of three different nannies in three different cities over the course of one year. The portraits she paints read more like a novel than the sociological study they really are, and that makes her book as entertaining as it is informative. There is Claudia, a young mother who came to New York City from Dominica and still dreams of a career in nursing; Vivian, a college educated career nanny in Massachusetts running for nanny of the year; and Kim, a nanny with twenty years of experience who accepted a live-in position in Texas on the eve of her second divorce.
It is the intimacy of these stories that make the book so compelling. That level of absorption allows a unique opportunity for Blaine to educate readers about how complicated it is to work in such an emotionally intense environment. A nanny is not only charged with raising young children, but must navigate the complexities of another family from the inside, all the while enduring the stresses and hardships of a primary care giver in a society that still holds childcare near the bottom rung of the economic food chain.
Whether or not to have children, and then how to go about raising them, will be a central issue of feminism as long as a feminist movement is necessary. Childcare is simply not very highly valued here in the United States. It is not monetarily valued, and it is not socially valued. The author Ann Crittendon said that someone once asked of her, “Didn’t you used to be Ann Crittendon?” when she was home with her first child. I know how she felt.
When I decided to stay home with my twins, I found that even those closest to me suddenly treated me as though I’d died and been mysteriously replaced by a cardboard mommy cutout. Having no idea how completely consuming it is taking care of small children, they assumed my sudden loss of interest in pop culture (and personal hygiene) must have had more to do with my giving up on life than with not having time to spare for it.
There is a widespread cultural bias against the work of childcare that completely ignores how much time and energy it takes to raise a child. And in a culture where human resource and intellect is fast becoming the most important currency, it is astonishing that childcare is dismissed as something less than absolutely crucial to our survival. If I could afford a nanny, believe me I’d have one, but I’d be a much better employer for having read this book.