Nanny Nation


In Mecca, around the days when the Prophet Mohammad was born, it was common for newborns to be sent to the desert away from their parents, each with a hired wet nurse, only to return to their families after the age of 2. The reason for this practice was because Mecca’s air was contaminated due to the large number of people who come for the annual pilgrimage (it still is), making children more susceptible to illnesses. Additionally, there were many accents and dialects intertwined with the local Arabic language due to the large number of merchants, traders and pilgrims in the area. Therefore families sent their newborns to live in a place of cleaner air, where they can learn a strong uninfluenced base of the Arabic language.

The practice of hiring help with the rearing of children is not new. Princes, nobility, the rich, and so forth, all hire trained professionals to help them raise their children, sometimes more than one. One would teach etiquette, another equestrianism, maybe fencing, and the likes.

Nowadays, all of a sudden, subconsciously at least, everybody thinks that their children are royalty, and the nannies are professionals, set to help their children adapt to the noble stature

. Only these nannies happen to also cook, clean, do the laundry, clean the car, iron the clothes, and a handful of other tasks, and none speak the local language of the family that hired them.

Three months into our marriage we became pregnant (at least its not a honeymoon baby), and my wife was surprised at the strong petitioning she got from several people around us, family and friends alike, at the importance of getting a housemaid. Amongst the phrases that she would hear are “The most important thing in life after getting kids is a nanny,” or, “I rediscovered my marriage after I got a nanny,” and from more than one source, “Having a nanny is marital bliss!”

So for 3 years we would always hear comments about the lack of help in our household. Whether it was an indirect remark on our financial inability to afford one, or maybe our selfish approach to childrearing, in a sense that our child will not learn to be independent with their parents around all the time, or sometimes a blatant reminder of “when will you get over with this and get a housemaid already!”

Our nanny-less lifestyle gravely affected our social life. Parenthood in general does that, but without a nanny it becomes nearly impossible to have one. We felt somewhat left out from social gatherings. We did depend on my mother for help sometimes, but that help was selective and exceptional. We worried that we may fall into the lines of the “socially forgotten”.

Our home meals were always a burden. Cooking involved juggling nap times, diaper changes and play time. Eating in somedays happened solo, where one of us held the child while the other ate. Housework was a negotiation between us, with factors of levels of tolerance and patience were at stake on who to do what. I opted for the dishes in most cases.

We consciously resisted getting a housemaid until things became more difficult to manage (I still think our decision is based on our spoilt selves). I wouldn’t classify our house as tidy, I mean our house was clean but our closest and cupboards were another story. We both had nannies growing up so we weren’t used to doing things on our own.

At the arrival of our second born and at the expense of our borderline chaotic environment, we decided to get help. We both agreed on several conditions: that she wouldn’t cook, wouldn’t tend to the children at all, and wouldn’t work past 6 pm. It was agreed between us that the minute our children are old enough to contribute to the house work, we would cease to have a full-time domestic helper.

My wife became a part of this ‘nanny club’, and a whole new dimension of stories started to pour in. What once was looked at as the solution to all problems, now became the source of all pain and troublems (not a typo!). The popularity contest of who can attend social gatherings, who had the best nanny, why they were better wives and mothers because of their nanny, now evolved in who had the worse nanny. They would go into lengthy conversations as to how to best manage the help. Long lost were the phrases of rediscovered marital bliss.

There was never a single gathering that they wouldn’t discuss housemaids (yes I eavesdrop a lot). Every single gathering, all generations, my mother’s and my wife’s, the women would bring up the topic of housemaids. “How’s your new one?”, “My housemaid does this,” “Mine does that!” “Mine ran away”. The amount of complaining heard about housemaids is enough to write an Arabic version of the book “The Help” only the victims in this version would be the wives.

There appears to be some sort of an obsession with nannies, not on a personal level, I am sure some people have nannies that they don’t depend on on everything, and other families with more than 2 children actually don’t have one (gasps!), but on a societal level there is a huge cultural problem.

When parents are not present to play with their children in the park but instead a colony of gossiping nannies keep an eye at the child at play. When nannies hold the child in the doctor’s waiting room so the mother wouldn’t rummage her appearance by carrying her sick child and instead would button at her phone or flip through a magazine. When a man and his wife sit at a restaurant table while the nanny rocks their new born nearby, or when kids run to hug their nannies happy that the nursery day is over. When kids sleeping in an empty house wake up to the sight of their nanny to sooth them to sleep. When signage in public play areas say “Mothers/Nannies” (or was it “Nannies/Mother”) should remain in the play area at all times is displayed on entrance. When a family takes their child of 4 to a speech therapist since he has yet to speak his first words only to be told that their child is pretty fluent in Tagalog. When in the late afternoon, past working hours, kids are strapped in a stroller, munching on a bag of crisps and chocolates at the entrance of my building while their parents are resting, sleeping, socializing or catching up on their Turkish soap opera. When the mother’s day event at my daughter’s nursery has the postscript “Please do not accompany your nanny to this event. This event is strictly for mothers.” When I see all these situations happening everyday and everywhere, then I really start to question what sort of relationship will mothers have with their children when they grow up.

Children exhibit empathy. They can feel when a parent is happy or sad just like they can feel being unwanted. They have been passed on to their nanny enough times that most kids prefer their nanny’s company to their parents simply because the nanny can give the child something their parent’s can’t, undivided attention.

We seldom remember how lonely it was to be a child, and that the sole source of praise, entertainment, solace and trust comes from the parents. Sadly, we live in a time where a culture of housemaids is the norm. We seem not to be able to tend to our lives without having someone do it for us (even our help is imported). Housemaids are not unheard of in past cultures and societies, but when it come to tending to one’s kids I think someone, somewhere needs to draw a line.

Mother’s don’t get the praise they deserve, may God bless their hearts. But when help is hired to do everything while a mother tends to her looks, social life, and a father is away making money without a care to his family, then it may be a reflection to how dysfunctional our society is. If the parents need 2 incomes to survive (not to maintain social stature), or the parents are out finding ways to save the world, a cure for cancer maybe, ending poverty, then knock yourself out, hire the help.

Happy Nanny’s Day


4 responses »

  1. Wow! Even though i visited the middle east a number of times during my youth, and observed “nanny nation” i guess i never understood how much nannies were used and depended upon.
    Arabs that live this lifestyle and have nannies that accomodate it seem so out of touch to me. Mothers that dont work yet cant sustain their households? Puleeze. It’s interesting to read the sad state of joining nanny nation or raising your kids as parents and possibly dealing with
    using your mom or a babysitter once in awhile to sustain
    your social lives maybe?
    You don’t delve into why these nannies don’t speak native language. They come from phillipines or other third world countries and live as slaves not nannies. I observed firsthand how many nannies are
    treated and how little they are paid. And I’ve heard the defense that the amount they’re paid will buy them a home when they return to their countries.” Whatever helps you sleep at night.

  2. Having been in your shoes (resisted hiring help at first, then giving in), I completely agree with what you are saying. Hiring help to care for our children is just that, ‘help’. The help should never become the primary caretakers of our children but sadly, that is not the case. At best, you are lucky, and manage to hire supernanny who is college educated and speaks three languages but eventually leaves (leaving your abandoned child heartbroken). The worst possible scenario is hiring someone who is not only incompetent but a source of neglect and abuse who causes irreversible damage to your child. Anyway, great article Wissam! Some important issues to reconsider.

  3. Pingback: The Sunrise | Words of WissDom

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