I just started a job as a nanny, and if you ask me what I do in public, chances are I will probably whisper about my new profession rather than proudly declare it. The reason behind this is honestly pretty complicated.
Like some of you reading this article, I’m a senior who is struggling to juggle online school, working to pay some substantial bills (remember my last article about studying abroad? Yeah, that’s not cheap) and also staying motivated to pursue my career goals all while trying not to panic about being a senior already. It’s a lot, and to help pay some of those bills and for my living, I decided to move from a dead-end job at a grocery store to one that is more fulfilling — taking care of children. Honestly, I was really excited about this at first. I really like kids and spending time with them, and I don’t see very many at my stage in life. But as I watched online training videos for the company I now nanny for, I was filled with dread and anxiety.
And the dread and anxiety isn’t about what you would think it is about. I don’t dread the temper tantrums and dirty diapers and I’m not nervous about being a child’s caregiver, I’m worried about letting myself down. Because you see, here’s the kicker: I didn’t realize this until I started nannying, but I never wanted to take care of children in my 20s. Every time I would talk to my grandmothers or great grandmothers about my dreams of becoming a well-known photojournalist, I always either felt that they didn’t get it (because if I have a career, how could I also raise children?) or that they understood but then shared one of their dreams that didn’t work out because they had children young. I see this even in my own mother, who generations later, got married young and had children early just like her mother and her mother’s mother and so on. This scares me.
While I don’t have my own children — it’s not like the kids I will be nannying for will suddenly be claimed as dependents on my tax returns or I’ll have to attend PTA meetings — the position has felt like a threat to my persona of being a strong, independent and career-driven woman. And this has left me wondering, why? My feminist outlook didn’t feel under pressure when I was at the dead-end grocery job, a job just as unrelated to my future career as nannying is. But caring for children every work-day of the week has struck a nerve.
When people ask me if I want kids someday, I always hesitate. I usually start with a long, “Umm . . .” and finish with, “Someday maybe, but way down the road like in my mid-to-late thirties.” And with that, the conversation is usually dead because my answer never sounds very reassuring. I think that somewhere, deep down inside, I fear that I will find myself giving up on my own dreams so I can raise a child, and apparently that feeling comes even when the child is not my own. This experience has been eye-opening, to say the least. I’ve realized through nannying that while our society has really come a long way with feminism, we have a long way to go. Finding or providing childcare, whether the mother works or not, is still largely her responsibility and generally it’s the mother who is giving me last minute details or handing me complicated schedules she’s written as she rushes out the door to her 9-5.
I have nothing against mothers that want to stay at home and care for their children. Children are full of joy and as I mentioned earlier, caring for them is fulfilling. But as a nanny, I have learned that every mother has the right to pursue a career if she wishes to and in a country that mostly needs dual income to pay for living, I think our society has a lot of work to do to ensure that childcare and housekeeping responsibilities are divided evenly and that these tasks are not gendered. Another thing I have learned is that, though I feel like I’m betraying my career-minded self, I do enjoy spending time with kids a lot more than working at a grocery store.
Nannying has given me the break from writing, studying or reading about politics that I needed to learn to cherish these moments I’m spending with kids because if things go according to plan, it will be a very long time before I have some of my own.
So, while nannying has challenged my sense of being a feminist, it really has been fulfilling. No matter your gender, it can be really refreshing to spend time with little humans that do not have to worry about paying rent, relationships, or homework. I have really had to work with myself and remind myself that no matter how many hours I spend running after kids, I am worthy and strong and still working hard in pursuit of my dreams.