Opinion

The Invisible Nannies of Instagram

We’ve reached a point where it’s applaudable to show the messes of motherhood on social media, but the women who help clean up those messes—or hold the baby while mom gets the lighting just right—are often out of view.

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Illustration by Erin Lux

On social media, my two sons are the ever-evolving guest stars of the hopefully charming, sometimes banal story I tell about life as a 41-year-old mom.

If you follow me, you know that I reuse the teabags at my women-only co-working space, and that I do conference calls on mute while drying my hair. You know that my 7-year-old, Teddy, has a doll called Boy Baby that he can’t live without, and that my 10-year-old, Will, is valiantly attempting to code his way to better gun control laws.

What you don’t see is that Boy Baby has been mended more times than I can count by our dear former nanny Jean. And last month, while I was choosing the right Stories font with which to label my teacup, our current after-school sitter Meghann was schlepping Will home from his coding class in a snowstorm. Then there’s the running inside joke my boys have with our Saturday night sitter Nairoby, about a film noir jewel heist that … well, never mind. I’m on the outside, and they love it. These three women have made some of my life’s messiest moments look downright magical.

So here’s a question: Why has it taken me this long to craft a cute caption and brag about them?

It took seeing a recent post by Hilaria Baldwin (yogi, author, podcaster, and wife of Alec) to make me slap my head and ask that question. Hilaria had put up a picture of herself sitting on a sidewalk with three of her four kids, all of them crying. In the caption, she thanked her nanny for finding some levity in the situation and documenting the moment. It was refreshingly honest, but it also made me scroll back through her feed and suspend my disbelief. Until then, I didn’t even know I’d been disbelieving. Of course she has a nanny, I realized idiotically, probably several. Hilaria went on to explain in the comments on a later post that her caregivers are like family but that she has to protect their privacy, which I do respect.

But I’m no celebrity. And neither are so many of the awesome, open, hilarious women I follow. Women who, come to think of it, are posting because they consider that part of their jobs. Many of these women left the traditional workforce after having their kids and are cobbling together a new entrepreneurial career alongside a new sense of self.

Around the proverbial water cooler in office land, working moms thank God for their nannies and daycares all the time. There’s no shame to hiring childcare when you are here and your children are there. Someone has to watch them. But those of us who have gone off on our own as entrepreneurs, whose income doesn’t come in a direct deposit every two weeks, and who have swallowed the big glistening sticky spoonful of self-promotion required to have a successful woman-founded independent business? Yeah, we’re big into Instagram. But many of us don’t acknowledge there’s a caregiver in our lives at all.

"Many of us don’t acknowledge there’s a caregiver in our lives at all."

The irony is that we’ve reached a point where curation is passé. It’s actually applaudable now to show the messes of motherhood. But the women who help clean up those messes, or who hold the baby while mom gets the lighting just right, are often invisible. We’ve come around to exposing the #MotherhoodUnfiltered realities of things like unmade beds and Target toy aisle tantrums, but not to this one: None of us can work without help. And this one: Often the people who are helping us are working mothers themselves.

Certainly, some of this invisibility is due to implicit classism. Of course it is. A more generous interpretation might be that—as I’ve worried about myself—sharing adorations about your Mary Poppins is tone-deaf. The last thing I want to do is alienate those of my followers who don't have access to the quality childcare we all deserve, by raving on about our nanny. Or, privacy: Maybe many nannies don’t want to be a character in their employers’ lives. They’re doing a job, an intimate one, but that doesn’t make them yours.

But if I’m being honest, I’ve probably cropped Jean, and then Nairoby, and then Meghann out of my feed because of reasons that have more to do with how I feel about myself than about them: First, there’s control in curation. When we prop-style our images, moving a flower petal or pizza box lid just so, we aren’t just tweaking the image we put out into the world, we’re buying our own bullshit. A week goes back, you scroll back through, and yes, that really was the best pepperoni of all time. See? I don’t need as much help raising my kids as I thought! And second, in spite of all of my Twitter-preaching to the contrary, I still do feel conflicted about some of the things I don’t do for my children while I’m working for myself. Or, more likely, I feel conflicted about outsourcing the dirty work. I actually like a lot of the dirty work. But it doesn’t pay.

In late 2017, I wrote a story for The New York Times pegged to the rollout of New York state’s new Paid Family Leave, which, notably, includes self-employed individuals, like domestic workers. I went into the reporting asking the question: What happens when nannies need maternity leave? And I came out with a broader, cultural takeaway: When we, as a society, formally recognize nannies’ work in the home by granting them the same benefits as professional working women, we elevate all women’s work. All of the cooking and laundry sorting and mental-load carrying that typically goes unpaid suddenly has quantifiable value.

Lauren Brody
The author pictured with her son, Teddy, and former nanny, Jean, at an Eastside Westside Music Together class.
Bobbie Cohlan for Eastside Westside Music Together

This is the moment to pull our nannies, daycare providers, and grandparent caregivers out of the shadows. Stay-at-home dads too. I see you! When we lift up the work of all of the other people who care for and love our children, we legitimize our own work and our own love.

So let’s get on it! Someone come up with a hashtag and make it happen: #MyVillage, #CaregiversAreSaints, #ThankMyNanny #HeLearnedItAtDaycare. I could go on all day. Jump in. I will no longer fight for working moms’ rights without acknowledging the women who enable me to do that work.

Let’s share photos of refrigerator magnets made under the crafty, patient auspices of Miss Molly at BrightHorizons backup daycare, and food shots of Jean’s garlic broccoli, which was the last vegetable to pass Teddy’s lips two whole years ago. The Wing just opened its first onsite daycare; WeWork too. Let’s social-market the crap out of that stuff. Share your Fork the Patriarchy kale quinoa bowl and your Universal Childcare sippy cup (@lololevine and @audreygelman, feel free to steal that one!).

Because if you love my children, you deserve to be in the picture.

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