Welcome to my blog. I write about fitting in, sticking out, and missing the motherland as a serial foreigner.

On nannies

Nannies are very much a part of the family landscape here in the UAE, more so than anywhere else I've lived. I grew up in the United States, where nannies (at least in the socioeconomic circles I ran in) were almost unheard of. Where they existed, they were for the very rich, or it was just a precious term for the 13-year-old who came over on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to help with the kids.

So it was quite an adjustment to move here and have to reorient myself around an entirely new nanny paradigm. Here, nannies are the norm. They are almost exclusively live-in nannies - in fact, many (if not most) of the larger apartments and villas have a designated maid/nanny room built in to the floorplan. This room is at worst as small as a closet and at best a real bedroom. I heard that some regulation has decreed that all such rooms are supposed to have their own bathroom. Ours does, though I've heard of some that don't (and of the occasional apartment/villa that has no such room at all).
Our "nanny room" when we first moved in. It's a bit more jazzed up now.

There is no universal standard on the nationality of nannies, though they tend to come from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia. There is also quite a range of salaries. Most of the nannies I know are probably paid around 1000 - 2000 dirhams ($270 - $540) per month. If they are here legally on their employer's visa, the employer pays additional (and substantial) fees to the UAE government for the privilege. I'm sure these fees vary widely as well, but I've heard they can be thousands of dollars a year. Housing is obviously an included benefit for nannies. Other benefits vary, but could include things like certain regular days off, transportation to somewhere else (a cousin's house, a friend's house) on their day off, a plane ticket to their home country each year, a clothing allowance, a cell phone, etc.

Even with all these differences in nanny situations, I have to say that the greatest variable I see is how these nannies are treated. Some of them are like members of the family, not just out of necessity because hello, they live there and they see everything, but because the mom and dad of the family value them as such. One of Miriam's KG2 classmates last year was brought to school every day by his nanny, and she came to all the school functions and participated in the role of a parent. She carried herself confidently and looked you in the eye and generally seemed to be her own real person independent of her job as a nanny.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Some nannies here seem to be very oppressed. They wear ridiculous maid-like scrub uniforms, even out in public, and shuffle along with their heads down at all times, a good ten paces behind their employers. If you see one of these nannies at the park with their charges, don't count on having your presence acknowledged. They usually avoid eye contact and are hypervigilant about avoiding anything going wrong with the kid(s) they're in charge of. It makes me sad, and I can only hope that the situation they're in now is better than the one they left to come work here.

Some families elevate nanny-ing to the next level and employ a different nanny for each of their children. Really! At Miriam's ballet class, there is hardly ever a place for me to sit down because there are so many nannies there with the kids. Even without multiple nannies, I often find that I am the only mother at the park with my kids, or at swimming lessons with my kids, or at the grocery store with my kids. And I often get sympathetic looks from passers-by, who seem to say, "Why doesn't she get a nanny?" In fact, I've been approached at the park by nannies who ask if I'm looking for a nanny for my kids. It's just that weird that I would be at the park with them myself.

Now, before we get all judgy - as I would have been tempted to do before I moved here - let me say that I wholeheartedly support the institution of nanny-ing, at least when it's done properly. Here's the thing, people: having a nanny is like having a wife for the wife. Think about it. A nanny is someone who is paid to take care of the kids while mom is out or at work. Someone who can run the kids to the park for some fresh air and fun while mom is working on a project or organizing the filing cabinet. Someone who can help make dinner, and then help get it on the table, and then help clean it up. A nanny is someone who will put the kids to bed if you ask her to, and who will be at home, watching over the children if you decide to go out at the last minute with your husband. A nanny is someone who will make you her special tea when you're sick (this literally just happened to a friend of mine) and make sure you don't strain yourself with the housework. Don't worry, mom, the nanny's got it under control.

So what were all those negative things we were going to say about nannies? The only nanny employers I judge these days are the ones who seem to treat their employees abominably. Otherwise, I see healthy, functioning, happy families who make the nanny paradigm work for them. You don't even have to be a working mom to have a nanny, did you know? I didn't, not before I moved here. SAHMs have nannies, too.

You may be wondering why Jeremy and I don't have a nanny. Believe me, we have thought of it. And it's not beyond the realm of possibility that someday we could employ one. But for now, we're managing just fine. Honestly, I think we're too introverted to have a nanny. Just the thought of someone else being in our house all the time (even if she does have her own room with a bathroom) makes me feel all shy and awkward and less inclined to walk around in dishabille.

And that puts me in a certain minority. I was at a neighborhood playgroup the other day and while the moms, not the nannies, were in attendance with their kids, I was the only one without a nanny at home. The thing is, these women didn't hire nannies to replace themselves, or to get out of raising their own kids. In fact, they think it's strange that the traditional American construct has us putting our kids in crowded daycare programs to avoid the cardinal sin of outsourcing periodic parenting to a one-on-one, loving caregiver. They have a point.

I've definitely seen a revolution in the way I think about nannies ever since moving to the UAE. Do you have any anti-nanny attitudes? Where do you think we pick up those attitudes, and has this post turned any of them around for you?

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