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Comments by YACCS
Sunday, October 01, 2006

Lording it over the nanny

Only soy milk in his latte's

Memo to Nanny: No Juice Boxes

Published: September 28, 2006

IN posting after posting on the new Web site, anonymous whistle-blowers describe alarming baby-sitting behavior they witness at playgrounds or supermarkets: the nanny in the Seattle suburbs who may be drinking on the job; the sitter in Greenwich, Conn., preparing for a date with the children’s father; the one near Atlanta pouring Dr Pepper into the sippy cup of her young charge.

Alcohol abuse. Adultery. Carbonated beverages?

One of these things is not like the others. But in an age of organic everything, rampant childhood obesity and widespread food allergies — not to mention poisonous spinach — the feeding and misfeeding of children has become a tense, awkward point of debate between parents and baby sitters.

Just a few years ago, giving lunch to a 1-year-old was a simple matter of popping open a jar of the Gerber mush du jour. But many parents now feed their children with the precision of chemists and the passion of Alice Waters, and expect sitters to do the same. Fruit juice, once a childhood mainstay, is now considered a sweet slosh of empty calories, and soft drinks are a potential firing offense.

“Twenty years ago you would feed kids anything,” said Marci Thomas, who has been baby-sitting for New York children for that long. “Just feed the child hamburgers, and that was great back then. Now it’s so precise. Don’t give them that at lunch, make sure she eats that at dinner.”

The issue is a trying one even for those gifted in the delicate art of parent-nanny diplomacy. The conflicts are partly a result of the educational and economic divide that leaves many nannies less knowledgeable (or neurotic, take your pick) about nutrition than their employers. But it is also partly a struggle over the emotional issues involved in leaving a child in another person’s care.

The result is a state of affairs in which nannies innocently serve children Yoo-hoo, believing that it is simply chocolate milk, or defy parents by sneaking their charges forbidden candy bars or simply notice that a child’s dinner costs more than their hourly rate.

Many parents, meanwhile, now ask sitters to document their children’s every bite in feeding logs, and fumble over how to tell an otherwise beloved nanny that the pizza bagels and chicken nuggets she has been serving to several generations of children — including her own — are unacceptable.

“It’s not unusual for parents to make a huge list of what is and isn’t allowed,” said Genevieve Thiers, who is the founder and chief executive of, which matches more than 150,000 baby sitters with parents. Her site receives so many queries about food, she said, that she is preparing to post an online worksheet on which parents can specify diet preferences.

“I’ve seen parents list calorie counts, lists of ingredients in foods that kids are and aren’t allowed to have,” she said. “They’ll name an enzyme or a sugar.”

Nannies, meanwhile, find it demeaning “when parents are overly scrupulous,” said Julia Wrigley, a professor of sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center, because they are implying that the sitters do not know or care enough to feed children properly. “The deeper emotional issue is how much judgment and authority the caregiver can exercise,” she said.

Sitters can hear a parent’s dietary requests as criticism of her education level, cultural traditions and personal eating habits, and as harbingers of extra work.

“You have to prepare the meal from scratch,” said one older nanny who complained bitterly as she pushed a little boy on a swing set in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and then asked not to be identified for fear of losing her job. “It’s organic organic all the way, but even the YoBaby yogurt has too much sugar,” she said, referring to Stonyfield Farm’s organic line for babies. “You have to get special organic produce and then prepare each meal.” Nannies, she said, must now be personal chefs while also supervising mischievous toddlers, and all without an increase in pay.

Stay the fuck home with your kids if you have to be so goddamn picky.

Now, before the you don't have kids choir starts, I know more about this than you. Unless you worked in a daycare.

My mother was a home daycare provider for 14 years. She was supervised in what she could feed toddlers every week, with home visits and the like. She got a menu and a list of approved foods and there was no soda on them and no Frosted Flakes. And guess who shopped for this food: me. Until I had gainful teenage employment, food shopping was my chore.

This is lording it over the nanny. Pure and simple. Food from scratch? Please. You contract out child care, not to a day care center, where they are legally mandated to feed your kids healthy food, but to an immigrant, whom you barely pay a living wage, and then expect her to cook like a sous-chef at Chez Panisse.

Kids should be active, juice is a treat and milk should be limited. And feeding them tons of sugar is stupid. But this pickiness has less to do with food than guilt. If mom wanted to, she could hire a chef to cook a week's meals, and have them ready for the kid. Or make lunches centered around simple items. If you can afford a full time nanny, you can afford to hire a chef to cook a week's meals.

But it makes them feel less guilty to lord it over an employee and come up with an insane list of food. I mean, are the nannies supposed to watch the kid or be a sous-chef? When my mother cooked for kids, she had to watch them and the stove at the same time. Three two year olds. Many a day, I was dragooned into watching them in the living room while she cooked. Now, guilty mom wants to take out her issues on the nanny and organic food.

Now, I'm all for feeding kids the best food you can find. Pouring Hawaiian Punch down their throat isn't good. But there's a smart, intelligent way to do it, and a stupid petty way. I see little kids and their nannies eating pizza every day. They still run around like chihuahuas jacked up on speed.

And given the way some kids don't eat, or pick at food, it's hard to feed them at times. Playing Whole Foods roulette isn't fair to the caregiver or the child.

posted by Steve @ 12:03:00 AM

12:03:00 AM

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