In Defense of Nannies

A couple of weeks ago I came across this blog post, in which the author states that children should be raised entirely by their parents (and especially by the mother); she also condemns the practise of nannying and says it is not something Christian families should consider, or Christian young women do.

As a young, Christian woman myself, who has moreover spent the past summer as a nanny, naturally this caused me to stop and think.  Are her claims correct (and more importantly, biblical?)  Was I wrong to spend my summer caring for someone else's children?  The issue has been bothering me ever since, but I think I've come to a conclusion, so I'm going to inflict my musings on all of you :)

First, let me say what I do agree with "Lady Lydia" about: a child's parents, if at all possible, should be its primary caregivers.  I don't believe a mother should, if not financially obliged, leave her child with a nanny or at daycare all day, every day, and not spend any quality time with the child.  That's not parenting.  (Obviously, if a mother must work to support herself and the child, that's a different matter.)

But hiring someone to watch your child on a part-time basis?  I don't see the problem in that.  I'm not a mother myself so maybe I don't have enough experience to make such claims, but from my own observations, it's a whole lot easier to do the shopping by oneself, rather than with three active children in tow.  If you're a gym sort of person, surely it's more comfortable to go alone.  If you have the means to pay someone to help watch your children, why not?  It seems little different than paying a babysitter to stay with the kids while you and your husband do out for dinner.

Lady Lydia also seems to be implying that the practise of nannying is completely a modern invention; that the historical record shows nothing but sweet pictures of mothers with their children.  Which, if you examine history at all, is not so.  The very poorest people, of course, did not employ nannies - but they don't know, either.  The wealthy have always had nursemaids, governesses, and other servants to help look after their children, and until very recently most middle-class families would have had at least a nurserymaid as well.  Certainly the medieval habit of children almost never even knowing their parents is not ideal.  But again, there is a huge body of historical evidence for mothers hiring other women to help feed, clothe, care for, and discipline their children.  Again, I am not saying this is the best way to do things, but certainly the idea is not a new one.

In my own experience, I watched two children (one just turned three, the other an infant) three mornings a week in their home all summer.  Sometimes their mother was out running errands or working out; other times, she took the opportunity of my presence to do chores or work around the house which would be difficult with children underfoot.  She was present, available for her kids, and never did it feel that my presence was undermining discipline or family rules.

One of the objections Lydia raised is that a nanny will teach your children habits, morals or even religion opposed to the family's beliefs.  The solution to this seems obvious; screen and interview potential nannies carefully, ask questions; hire someone you know and trust.  If rules, methods of discipline, etc. are made clear at the outset, the problem of bad habits is solved, and if one hires a nanny whose morals and beliefs are in line with one's own, there should be no issue.

This brings me to her statement that Christian young women should not be hiring themselves out as nannies.  Before I address her main concern, may I say that, if one believes that children of necessity absorb the morals and religion of their nanny, then more Christians ought to be nannies?

My greatest trouble with Lydia's view, though, is the reason she gives that young women should not e nannies.  She says "Young women need to marry and have children of their own, rather than desiring to become nannies. They can then be the nanny for their own children. If young women spend too much time raising other people's children, they [can] be discouraged from having their own children.  Mothers need to take care of their own children, because they were created for it."  This view presents so many problems to me that I hardly know where to start -- and I'm a very conservative woman myself.  I'll give the main three:

1).  The sole purpose of a woman is not necessarily to marry and bear children.  Paul speaks of some being given the gift of singleness (1 Corinthians 7) -- presumably this is not limited just to men!

2).  Even if one is intended to marry, what if one has not yet met the man God intends?  (I believe this is my own case...)  Why should a young woman not be a help to a mother, while learning valuable lessons about child rearing, and doing useful, paid work meanwhile?

3).  It seems a huge generalization to assume that every woman who nannies will lose the desire for children of her own.  I suppose if the children are wretchedly behaved this might be a deterrent -- but then what is to say that one's own kids will be likewise wretched?  I myself am more eager for children after spending a summer watching "my" two grow and learn and explore.

I suppose, then, that I agree with "Lady Lydia" in her most basic point: children are better off with their own mothers as much as possible; a 24/7 nanny is probably not the best idea.  But I disagree that every young woman should marry immediately and start having her own children -- again, what if she hasn't met the right man yet? -- and certainly I see nannying more as a good way to learn about child rearing than a deterrent to having children at all.

But I welcome the responses of others.  As I said, I'm not a mother myself.  Does that make a difference?


  1. I used to read Lady Lydia's blog. I had forgotten this, but I remember now why I stopped.

    Sadly, I think there are some older married women, particularly ones who married young, who have forgotten what it is like to be single, lonely, and waiting. They make insensitive remarks about how young women "should" be married, as if it is the young woman's job to find a husband, and as if it is failure on her part (or perhaps her family's or church's) if she is not yet married.

    The view (completely lacking in biblical support) that single women should not care for other women's children is new to me, however, and more insulting than the typical statement that we "should" be married.

    God says that women will be saved through childbearing. Mrs. Joseph Bayly has some amazing insight into how that applies to women without children of their own: (comment 18)

    If you can show me a young woman who is purposefully avoiding marriage and children who reads these sorts of blogs, I might think these posts matter. But women who don't want to get married and have children don't read home-making blogs. Thus, posts of that type serve only to make unmarried lonely women feel more isolated and insufficient. Or exasperated, in my case. That is why I stick to Femina and the Girl Talk blog. Those blogs are actually encouraging to single women, and all the content is scripturally sound, not just the bloggers' opinion.

  2. I've worked as a nanny in a couple different families. One, the mother was extremely well attached to her children and worked out of necessity (the youngest, adopted, has severe cleft palete and they need the insurance her job provides). She and her husband attended the same Sunday School as my husband and I; our beleifs and morals lined up nicely. She prefered to have her 4 children (infant to 16yr)in their home. It was a blessed summer all around.

    The other family I worked for, also proclaiming to be Christian, was a hot mess. I basically had to mother those children the days I was there, while Mom pursued opening a small business. I was one in a line-up of child care providers that were in and out of the house all week. That situation stressed me out.

    Basically, I'm saying there's as many different situations and experiences as there are families and nannies. It is naieve to make a blanket statement ("nannying is bad") when there is too much variety. Each situation needs to be approached with discernment. I think nannying is a great option for young women who 1) know they want to be wives and mothers "someday" and 2) know that it isn't the right time yet. I learned so much!

  3. One thing that was a risk back in the days when young women did a lot of summer babysitting (before they were called "nannies") was being alone with the father of the children, in the house. This inappropriate situation caused some of the girls to be hit on by the young father, and still today there are stories of the fond relationships that someimes develop with the father, who sometimes comes home before the mother, or who makes friends with the nanny.

    Also, as someone who used to babysit (I now have grandchildren) I decided not to suggest that my daughters babysit as a summer job, because of the added risk of the children's health and well being. Several nannies have been sued for problems the children had while in her care. Today my children all homeschool their own children and none of them have used sitters or nannies, prefering instead to help each other instead of allowing paid professionals in their home. If we all went back to family type living, where the grandmother helped once in awhile when necessary (not just because the mother preferred to work to fulfill herself or wanted money for a vacation or some material thing), there would not be such a big nanny business. In England in the early 1900's there was a school for nannies, where they were taught how to make it a career, with uniform and all. Some of them remained unmarried, preferring to care for rich people's children. That brings up another reason for not being a nanny: how many eligible young men would this put a single girl in contact with? Other jobs give you more chance to meet potential husbands.

  4. Hannah, thanks for the links to those other blogs! I don't really read Lady Lydia's blog, actually; I went to look at it because another blogger I admire recommended her - and this post on nannies was the very first thing I read.

    Jenny, I've had babysitting jobs that were lovely (like this past summer) and others (fortunately just evening engagements) which were so awful I refused to do it again, even though the parents were pleased with me. So I know what you mean!

    Anonymous - first, thanks for commenting :) The father aspect is one I hadn't really considered, and I suppose it could be a problem, but I'm not sure it is one which would stop me from babysitting/nannying, or from letting my own daughters (should I ever have any) take such a job themselves. I guess that comes down to choosing the jobs you accept (and families choosing their nannies) with care, doesn't it? I wish it were possible to live in such a "family situation" as you mention, but for most people in today's society it doesn't seem possible. Certainly if my mother or sister were nearby I'd love to have them help with my (potential) children. But again, I really do see babysitting as a great way for young women to get experience with children, so if there was a girl I trusted, and I had the money, I wouldn't hesitate to have her watch my kids.

    The whole nanny business I think is a different matter. (Although, again, this is not a modern invention; for centuries women have been nurses as a profession, either by choice or because they have never found a husband.) Maybe this is what Lydia was really addressing, but that was not made clear.

    As far as meeting eligible young men - what about church? I agree to the higher likelihood of meeting men in jobs other than nannying, but I also think that husband-hunting is not a good reason to take a job, or to refuse one.

  5. Here is a link to something The Thinking Housewife blog was talking about a few weeks ago, about the nanny industry:

    and this one deals with the personal relationships that some girls get themselves into via the nanny jobs. Whether or not it is all true, I do not know, but I have seen similar situations in the past when girls did summer babysitting while the mother did seasonal work.

    I think your situation is not about nannies. You are babysitting, or hslpinv mothers at home, and that is not quite the same as a professional nanny.

  6. Can I just say that even in Biblical times children were most likely not exclusively raised by their parents. There was this whole extended family that pitched in. I really wonder how this woman would feel about the children being watched by a grandmother or aunt.

    Also, a second, more rant-ish point: How are the children supposed to be socialized? How are they supposed to learn to act around other people, and eventually maintain their own lives separate from their parents without being apart from them a bit while they are young? Obviously it is bad for the child to be away from the parents all the time, but it almost seems unhealthy for them to constantly be with their parents because then, when they hit school age they will freak out.

    Third, shouldn't we as Christians be willing to help others? Isn't that exactly what a nanny does?

    Ok, sorry, had to chime in. I know whoever wrote the original blog probably meant well, but from what you said it just seems that she has unrealistic and over zealous expectations. Thank you for bringing this up though. I had never really thought about the issue before.

  7. I think when all is said, only when you become a mother for the first time will the bonding and spiritual issues kick in, and there will also be a relationship with a husband to consider, who may object to babysitters and nannies. The whole dynamics of the situation changes when you marry and have your own children. Emotionally, things change. Children, too, have emotions, and want their mothers more than their nannies. Sometimes girls idealize their situations and say they will get babysitters and nannies, go to the gym, or out for coffee with girlfriends, but when they get a child, they want to be with them, and do not want feel the same, and some mothers do not want other people too involved with their child, and prefer to be more independent of other people.

  8. Some mothers certainly don't "want other people too involved with their child"... but presumably those aren't the ones who hire nannies? I've already said I don't think the "professional nanny" is usually a good idea, but I've also said that, if this is what Lydia was talking about, she did not make that clear. It's the blanket condemnation of the whole class of nannies that bothers me, along with the incorrect historical aspect.

    I was what I would call a "part-time nanny" - I did not watch the children 24/7, but when I did watch them I had full care of them. That's a bit more than babysitting, I think.

    I think we'll have to agree to disagree - although I believe we really agree more than you realize.

    Nikki: thanks for your thoughts :) I hadn't even considered the socialization bit, but that makes sense too. Probably this woman considers that all children should be homeschooled and taught by their mothers, also.

  9. Only just seen this post. Gillian, I agree with you completely! I really don't see a problem with nannies being used to look after children when a mother needs to go shopping, visiting, exercise etc. And it gives girls/women who haven't had much contact with children valuable experience. It's very easy for someone to say, oh just get married and have children, but you're quite right, it's not that simple! And what if you're married but can't have children?! I really don't see what the big fuss is? I agree that the practice of giving your children to a nanny full-time is not ideal, but for a day here and there? Surely children are looked after by relatives for that length of time?

  10. I also agree with you that women's sole purpose is not necessarily marriage and children! And it's not even the sole purpose of those christians who do marry and have children. I find it frustrating when this is suggested!


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