Would You Hire A Manny?

Filed under: Opinions

Some mothers say they could never trust a male babysitter. Image: sxc.hu

Is gender a factor when you choose a child-care provider? That's the question on the mind of "Boston Globe Magazine" writer Lylah M. Alphonse, who asks exactly how we can expect our husbands to be hands-on dads if we don't trust men with our children.

Alphonse has a point, but babysitting, day care centers and nursery schools are traditionally dominated by women. This "social norm" has become the dominant paradigm for childcare in the United States, says Joe Keeley, founder of College Nannies & Tutors, and a former "manny" himself.

"Many parents never had a male babysitter or nanny as children, so therefore do not think of males when it comes time to find a caregiver for their own children," says Keeley. "However, College Nannies & Tutors has seen an increase in families not only being open to a male, but specifically requesting them."

I asked a few women I know whether or not they'd be open to having a male nanny or babysitter, and the responses were divided right down the middle. Roughly half the moms I polled said they would be more than open to the idea.

Chicago-area mom Sara says she's "intrigued" by mannies. "I've had many traditional nannies and babysitters," Sara says. "I always think there would be something great about my son getting the male perspective on things like sports and play activities."

While she has no issues with a feminine caregiver, Sara does think that men bring a different energy to the job of child care. "I don't mean to stereotype, but while young girls are cute and very nurturing, sometimes I wish there was a man around more often to 'toughen him up,' and I think male babysitters can provide a little of that perspective."

That's what I thought, too -- until a young man applied for the part-time babysitting position I advertised recently. The ad was very tongue-in-cheek, asking for someone who could leap block towers in a single bound and conjure up a mean mac and cheese.

The best in-kind response came from a young, out-of-work pilot looking for a little side income until he could find a full-time gig. I went as far as asking him for his child care references -- and then he said he didn't have any. While this would have been a problem for a female candidate, as well, it was especially troubling to me because of his gender.

Totally prejudiced, right? Maybe. But like one mother I know, I couldn't get past the societal unease about men and young kids.

Betty (not her real name) doesn't use sitters very often, and tends to rely on friends or relatives on the rare occasion when both she and her husband leave the house. Betty was adamant that she would never consider a male caregiver for her three kids.

"I have several grim stories about people trusting teen-aged boys with their children," she explains. "In one case, a woman I know was told by her daughter that the teen-aged boy who was babysitting her and her siblings had molested her."

That isn't the horror story she's heard about a male sitter, she adds. "So, no. I would never hire a male babysitter for my children. I do not care particularly if this is sexist, or not."

Betty admits she is "ferociously picky" about who cares for her kids, mostly because she's known other families who haven't been as choosy and who have suffered as a result. "I have known people who have made woefully poor choices in female childcare providers, so I don't think at all that this is a simple 'Man Bad, Woman Good' issue," she says.

Or is it? I think most parents are careful when it comes to choosing a child-care provider, and unless you're willing to run a background check, there's always a wee bit of risk involved. I do believe that parents look a little more closely when that person is a man.

Case in point: My daughter's cooperative nursery school required all parents to work in the classroom. One of the parents was a stay-at-home dad, and that sure raised some eyebrows when it was his turn for potty duty. This is a parent whose child was in the class, and who had been fingerprinted and had his background checked, for good measure. And still, some moms were uncomfortable with the idea.

As with most parenting decisions, this is a decidedly personal one. I, for one, was surprised at myself for turning down the seemingly nice and funny young man who wanted to be our babysitter. I guess I'm not quite as enlightened -- or gender blind -- as I thought.

Would you hire a manny for your kids? Why or why not?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.