Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Nanny Culture

I live in a Nanny culture. Middle and upper class Brazilians are very accustomed to having this extra help. Much of the time, the nanny is the full time maid who babysits when it's needed. Let's be honest, how much work does a maid have in an apartment that's smaller than a McDonalds.

What kills me are the weekend Nannies! Since I'm not super opinionated, just a smidgen, I'll give license to the parents who do hang with the kids on the weekends and just bring the nanny with them for an extra hand. Hell, I'd love that for myself!

What gets me are the weekend nannies hanging around sans parents.  I'm not talking occasionally either. I can name at least 4 little kids at from neighborhood park who cruise Nanny-style every weekend.

I got the opportunity to chat with one of these weekend nannies one day at the park. You see, I already knew the children and the weekday nanny from said park and chatting started as the kids played.  I finally got up the nerve to ask where the parents where. I mean, it was 10 am on a Saturday!

I was very seriously informed that 'both parents are very important doctors. They work very hard.'

I see. Doctors are on-call normally. It's a stressful job. I totally get it.

That's when she added, 'so they need their rest during the weekend.'


Apparently they did not work weekends nor were they ever really on-call.  But they worked hard all week so they preferred to have a drink on Friday and sleep in/rest on Saturdays.

Did they not get the memo that you need the sleep deprivation patch in order to be considered honorary parents?

And it doesn't stop even close to there. I actually had a student, the one who offered me a job, tell me that I needed to go after a career for myself. He was worried about me.  Plus his children were raised by nannies and turned out just fine.

Fair enough, but here's the thing, I did not have children to hire someone to raise them! I get daycare. I get needing to make a living. I TOTALLY get needing a night out every week.  But to have someone literally raise your children? No, you do not get to have your cake and eat it too!

Before you get me wrong, my outrage isn't because I don't get the sleep/freedom/free time.  It's not even because I think the kids are not being raised right. You get yourself a good nanny down here and she's capable of schooling any mother upside down and sideways.  It's the family, the life, and love that both parents and kids are missing out on.

I highly believe that half the parenting happens while soothing a sick child as they vomit on you. I think you bond as you play soccer or tell them NO.  We grow up together, the kids absorbing the little cool the parents have left and the parents becoming warn down grandparents with stories to tell.

It's not easy being a parent and I can see how these new ones with nannies get sucked into handing the baby over to "better" care. I can't even tell you how many times I've seen a nanny take a small baby out of Mommy's hands because baby is fussing. Honestly, the reason I don't have one is because she would have been bitch slapped at that exact moment and I would have been sued.

All this being said, I know a countless number of families who have the help and are just as involved as I am. Of course they have washed hair, manicured nails, and can afford fat pants instead of dieting.

And to top it all off with a generalized cherry, I was once told that I don't like help because I'm too American. We Americans are overly accustomed to doing things ourselves and can't manage to delegate tasks to the help.

Well, that sounds a hell of a lot better than my being annoyed by sharing my 2 foot box called an apartment with yet another person because THIS American is used to homes with space!

Personally, it comes down to wanting to do it myself with my boys. I want to be the one running around with them.  Plus, I feel lost with absolutely no housework. I don't think it's good that my attention is only on the kids and the kids have no chores themselves.  That being said, I feel a maid twice a week does no harm at all. And you know what, you can't convince me otherwise! 


  1. Hi Rachel.
    I totally agree with you there. I don't have children, but I grew up with plenty of friends who not only had weekend nannies, but vacation nannies (which I personally never understood!)
    Both my parents worked full time, so Monday-Friday, we had a sleep-in nanny. Friday evenings she'd leave, coming back Monday morning. Thankfully, my parents had a good support system, and every now and then when they wanted to "rest/go out/have adult time" on the weekend, it was off to grandma's for the night (which I LOVED! Nothing like having a sleepover at grandma's every now and then when you're's soda, pizza and fun!!!) Nonetheless, my parents always made it a point to spend time with us during the weekends, and as a child, I really enjoyed going to the club, the beach, and exploring the city with them.
    Now, what I never REALLY understood were family vacations with the nanny. Many of my friends would travel to Club Med, Disney World, wherever, on family vacations, and their nannies would go too...THAT I never ever understood. I mean, what's the point of going to Disney World, the ultimate family vacation, and bring your nanny?! Sort of sounds backwards when your talking about "significant family time" and the strange thing is, you only see Brazilian parents doing definitely it's a cultural thing.
    I think it's helpful to have a nanny, but I think Brazilians do depend too much on them, letting them raise their kids. An acquaintance of mine who has a 5 year old recently fired her nanny b/c the kid woke up in the middle of the night with a nightmare, and instead of running to her room, ran to the nanny for comfort. Well, that's what happens when you're not there for your kids, right?! I'm sure finding the balance regarding the "appropriate" dependence you should have on a nanny is not an easy task, but as a culture, I'm pretty sure we've gone overboard.
    Beijos and have a great weekend!

  2. I grew up with mom and dad. Daycare in our family was going to the "shop" with dad and playing in the sawdust. (he was a cabinet maker)

    As we got older my older sister was the responsible one. Then me.

    We did the clothes washing, we defrosted the meat for dinner, we cleaned our rooms. After dinner we did the dishes.

    Family vacations were just that. Sometimes my father would drop us off in a campground on a Wednesday and go back to work until Friday night. But we roasted marshmallows together over the weekend.

    The idea of a nanny was totally out of our experience.

  3. Rachel,

    I am totally with you, this strong nanny culture behavior is very "old school" Brazilian style, it is all inherited from the time of slaves, passed down from generation to generation. Keep in mind, Brazil never had a secession war to put an end to the slave culture like the US did.
    Did you watch "Gone with the Wind"? Do you see anything in common with the spoiled Rio women that have nannies and maids on a daily basis? Yeah, it's no are experiencing it first hand, how the US would be if there hadn't been a secession War.
    Many Brazilians who are of new European immigrant origin also have a hard time with the live in maid in small quarters...
    I am under the impression Rio and Minas Gerais are much more old school when it comes to having maids and nannies. Sao Paulo has more people originated from more recent European immigrants versus more traditional Portuguese Brazilians in Rio and Minas, hence the old habits being more preserved in Rio.
    My brother and his wife only have a maid once a week and she comes in and cleans when they are not home.
    My mother is more Rio style, she always had a maid every day of the week and a different one for the weekends. However she always believed in raising us by herself, we never had nannies.
    I have heard of some people who see their children speaking with the nannies accent, and just then they realized how absent they are from their children's lives. Too sad.
    Good for you for being a hands on mom, I am 100% with you.
    Gil and I already decided that when we have children one of us will be a stay home Dad to raise the children.

  4. I see an awful lot of young, new money families in Sao Paulo with nannies, most likely because of the status they think it implies. About a year ago a brand new, really expensive apartment building opened up across the street from me and I have a direct view into their playground area. It's always full of kids and women in white. I know a couple who lives there with their 3-year old daughter (they do not have a nanny) and they're actually thinking of selling the apartment they just bought because they don't feel comfortable with their daughter growing up in such a nanny culture. Plus they can't make friends with any of the other people who live there—they work in advertising and the rest of the building seems to be all finance types and investment bankers who host poker and cigar parties for the men and papo calcinha-type sessions for the ladies.

    One night my husband and I were walking down the street to the padaria when a kid’s birthday party was letting out at that building. We watched a little boy come out with his mother and his nanny and start to walk to the car. The little boy ran ahead and grabbed his nanny’s hand, while the mom followed them, alone with her arms crossed, about 3 feet behind. It was so uncomfortable to watch.

    I also have a friend who has a nanny who stays over 2 nights a week (she teaches at a university one night a week and they have a Saturday date night), and when they took a vacation to Lisbon and Paris last year they brought the nanny with them. She has sworn to never to do that again because, while it was kind of fun in Lisbon to go out, when they went to Paris they realized they couldn’t leave her alone because if something happened how was she going to call an ambulance in French?

    Whenever I see two parents out and about in the bookstore or at a café with their toddler AND their nanny, I always think "How much of a demon child is she that she needs THREE adults to wrangle her in public?"

  5. Rachel, I don't mean to get defensive or anything. I'm Brazilian too and I grew up in big house with a nanny and a maid or a nanny/maid.
    Since I moved to the US one of the things I do for extra money is babysitting, and guess what? On the weekends. Granted, the parents take the kids on an outing once a week, but most of the weekends I, or another nanny, am the one who stays with them. I usually babysit for the same family because I'm used to their dynamics, but I have worked for other families too, on the same circumstances, sometimes having children form different families at the same time, and it is not because mommy and daddy are working, but because they like to go to the beach and play sports on the weekends or go out alone and "relax" sans children. Do I agree Brazilian society is extremely dependent on domestic help? Yes, absolutely. But this kind of parenting (or lack of) you're talking about is everywhere and not exclusive to Brazil.

  6. Samia, not defensive at all. I welcome a different point of view. Unless things have changed dramatically, I have never experienced what you are talking about in the US. I can count, on 2 fingers, the number of people I know who have nannies. And maids, that is becoming more common in the US but not to the degree Brazilians have them.

    As for lack of parenting, oh yes, that is everywhere. I totally agree with you there. I give props to the parents who have the responsibility to hire someone to parent when they won't. Often, the kids are taken and left to "entertain" themselves as the parents do their thing. And to be honest, I did that this morning. Of course, it was a brunch in a child friendly home with a large group of parents. We all took care of each others kids and got some time to talk to adults.

    I am not against nannies and babysitters. I love maids! I'm just saying, if you have kids you should not be gone all week working and then spend the weekend relaxing away from them. I'm talking about parents spending quality time with their kids. It's a problem everywhere but I don't live everywhere. I live in Brazil. Thus, the Brazilian version is my topic.

  7. I think it really depends on where you're living. I live in downtown Chicago and my boyfriend lives in the suburbs, so I've had the chance to pick up a little of each. It's definitely two different worlds. Maybe what I'm experiencing is a city thing? I have this American friend here who used to babysit on NY's Upper East Side and she tells bizarre stories of parents who leave their kids to nanny care. I truly admire hands on parents who take time to be with their kids, even when their work schedules are crazy. After all, why do you become a parent in the first place?

    I don't see the same for maids though, some people do have maids every other week, maybe every week, still it seems less common than babysitters from where I am standing. And I totally agree with you that it's far less common than it's in Brazil. Sometimes I'm curious as to whether this is true of all of South American countries (having regular/live-in maids) because of all the poverty we have there or if it's a Brazilian thing only.

  8. A couple days ago I ran into a friend of mine who was completely frazzled because her nanny is going on vacation this week. I do have a maid, but I don't work right now, so I don't have a nanny (just can't justify it when I gave up my career to be with my daughter in the first place...) She knows this and said to me "Well, if you don't have a nanny you can't imagine, but if you do, and you're used to having them, it's really difficult when they go on vacation." She has one daughter. One who spends most of the day at school. No judgement, my friend takes her daughter to the same ballet class as mine, and she always goes instead of sending her with the nanny (most of the others are there with their nannies). But the idea that you need someone at your beck and call to help with a child is, as mentioned, is deeply infused in the culture.

    My Brazilian sister-in-law (who doesn't work) has her world scheduled so that her week and weekend nannies overlap, so there is not one single minute she needs to be alone with her two children.

    My mother raised four children with no help. Sure, I'm the oldest, so at some point I was considered "the help." We all survived, including my mother. So, I'm with you Rachel, I just can't relate.

    However, in New York City (as mentioned by Samia) there was much of the same. I would see the kids during the week at the playground with one nanny, and on the weekends with another. And these kids were always the ones throwing sand and ripping toys out of kids hands (not judging, not judging...)

  9. I've been intrigued with the nanny culture here ever since we arrived in Rio from the US about 6 months ago. I don't have a nanny for my 3 year old, just a babysitter that comes for a few hours on Saturday night once our daughter is in bed so hubby and I can have date night.

    Otherwise, I do everything by myself, and truth be told, I wish I did have help! Being a SAHM drains the life and soul out of me, my entire world revolves around my daughter's needs (and whims!), and I'm certainly not any happier because of it!

    The truth is, children radically change one's life in ways that one can never understand until they become a parent themselves. Having a full-time nanny helps to buffer this shock because mom is not forced to change EVERY SINGLE detail about her life if she knows her child is in good hands and the unending drudgery of childcare has been delegated to a trusted caregiver.

    I look at my friends who do have nannies with a bit of envy as I see how they have been able to preserve most of their sanity and lifestyle because they haven't had their world turned upside down and inside out.

    I was once told by a Carioca mom that her theory is that Brazilian couples have "better marriages" because the nanny takes care of the nitty gritty of childcare (except for discipline!), leaving the parents to enjoy the same life after kids as beforehand. Interesting theory!

  10. I've lived in Manhattan and Wash D.C. before and I experienced this there as well... people who had 2 full time nannies for 3 or 4 weekend during the week and weekend at all times. Kids who would call their nannies mommy... I live in Italy now and most the kids I see on the streets are being raised by philippine caregivers...
    But most people I know in europe and us dont have a full time maid like in brazil ( unless they are rich).

  11. 3 or 4 children*

  12. agreed. 100% agreed. the very high end wealthy in Brazil are confused between how to show off their richness and how to look as if they are living in the nineteenth century.

  13. Nannies are taking over the world!! ahhhhhh

  14. I wholly agree. We are American girls, we are not comfortable or accoustomed to handing our kids over to someone who, honestly, we don't know all that well to tend to the most important years in our kids lives. NO WAY. I waited a long time to have a child and I actually WANT to raise him and be super-involved in his life. Wow, my husband and I have had so many disagreements in this area, just because getting out as a couple is difficult, but I never could, or would hand my baby/child over to someone full time like what I see first-hand here. **A good thing to note is that getting a true "babysitter"is not common here. You employ someone for part of the week, full time. My son's friends, they have day nannies, night nannies, weekend nannies, one or TWO travelling nannies...I mean..I just don't get it. I know I am the only mother who takes her child and picks him up from school every day, I take him to futebol, I take him EVERYWHERE with me, even if it's not the best thing to bring him along to my Dr.'s apts...sometimes I have no other option so...that's what we do and it always works out and he's always really well behaved's a question of culture, of means, of priorities. I just couldn't do that, especially when I am not working. HELLO!?! Plus our apartment is tiny and having someone here all of the time is annoying. I'd rather just deal with it the normal way a Mother should.

  15. more thought to conclude my son says the most funny and clever things, and I am the only one who gets his humor, because I am with him all of the time, I know what he does, who he's around and what he watches, I know his references, and it's not lost on me. We're connected and you don't get that when you have someone else rasing your child for you, whether out of necessity or not, and here where we live, it's most often not out of necessity. It's by choice. But not my choice. I wouldn't miss out on this for anything. I love the amazing person he is and he makes my life so full and rich.

  16. I'm with you Stephanie. Some of these parents are really missing out. I gave up a lot to have this time with my daughter and I've never looked back.

  17. I miss having the me time, but I feel that's a HUGE part of motherhood. You should definitely get a break but not one that includes never taking your child to school (for example).

    And I don't mean to judge. I know there are many situations where nannies are necessary. I'm only talking smack about that small proportion of parents that do the minimal parent stuff possible.

    I met one Brazilian friend of a friend and she was totally terrified I'd judge her. She was told that I was a stay at home Mom. No nanny, no full time maid. The first sentence out of her mouth was "I always take my kids to the doctor!" Quickly followed by " ...usually." That's pretty much what I'm talking about.

    If you consider the pediatrician's office quality time, we have a problem.

  18. Hahahah. I'm a little behind on this. I just wanted to say that I'm so happy that Ray mentioned "Gone with the Wind." This s*!t reminds me of that book/movue all the time. I like to tease Alex and call his "mãe de criação" his "Grand-Mammy." Except he has no idea what I'm talking about so it's only funny to me.

    Rachel, I think it's awesome that you spend so much time with your kids. They'll be better for it.

  19. My husband's father has his Maeinha. She basically raised him. And my 86 yr old teach was called hers her black mother! Crazy.

    And thanks! I hope so. Or more screwed up but it's be my fault so that's ok ;)

  20. Rachel, after reading your piece, I just realized aomething at odds with my Carioca wife who would never allow a maid in our houses here in France or in the US. She takes great pride in cleaning the house, washing and ironing the clothes herself. However, when she goes back to Rio every year to spend months with her aging mother, she has no problem with the fashinhera who comes once a week to do the heavy cleaning like window washing, vaccuuming, etc. plus the full time maid who cooks and washes dishes but doesn't clean the house but her main responsibility is to take care of her mother when she's walking outside to do shopping and banking. My wife said she will maintain both ladies when she moves back to Rio.
    We had a maid in Mexico because it was cheap and the apartment was big. Here our house is big but my wife doesn't want any other person messing around in it.

  21. A Brazilian friend of ours was in Japan. She went into a big Japanese department store where there are lovely girls to greet you at the door and plenty of people to help you. While she was looking at some things, one of those helpful girls took her son to the playroom so mommy could shop without worrying about the child. This is normal in Japan but when she turned around and found her son gone she freaked out. She didn't speak Japanese and they, of course didn't speak Portuguese so it was quite a scene until someone figured out that it was about the child who was promptly fetched and returned to the mother. The Japanese thought they were doing her a favor but she didn't know about this custom in such big stores.

  22. In Latin American countries it's quite normal for strangers to admire your child and even hug them or kiss them. An American friend in Mexico found this custom unnerving at first because she thought the people wanted to steal her child but once she was informed that it was a sign of respect for the parents, she was calmer when it happened again in the future. Here in France, neighborhood kids come past and give me kisses on both cheeks as will their mother's. It's just a friendly way to greet your neighbor or friend. We Americans don't touch each other as much as Latin's do.

    1. The touching never bothered me, I experienced it myself here so I figured my children would also be subject to it. It's a loving thing. Brazilians are touchy feely lovey. I do, however, find it weird to accept sweets/popcorn from strangers. It is quite common for an adult you do not know to offer your children popcorn. Imagine how this American, who was raised with accept nothing from strangers, to see her husband let the kids eat some random guy at the park's popcorn!