No one can do it all, especially working mothers.
Nannies are becoming more essential to the economy and an integral part of nuclear, functioning families as the American economy demands more and more two-income households. In thousands of U.S. homes, nannies are working long hours for little pay, held by the love of the children they care for and serving as a second parent -- a role that can lead to conflict.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data from 2010, in families with children, 58 percent of households had two working parents. Karina was one of the nannies who helped care one such family.
For two years, Karina, whose name has been changed to protect her identity as she is an undocumented worker, nannied four girls (ages 3, 5, 7 and 11) on the Upper East Side of Manhattan alongside the family’s live-in nanny of three years. She came to the U.S. as an au pair in 2008 from Mexico and now says she can’t believe she lasted as long as she did with the family. Karina not only cared for the children, but also did housekeeping, working close to 12 hours a day with an hour commute from Brooklyn.
“I would have to be there at 8 a.m. and stay until 7 p.m., maybe even 8 p.m. sometimes. There was never any time to stop. And, I was only getting paid $130 per day,” said Karina. “Plus, the kids get so attached you. And, the drama of watching four little girls, from doll snatching to sticker stealing ... The kids were always fighting over something. It was emotionally straining.”
Being a nanny is like being a second parent. “Nannies want to form lasting bonds with the children. They recognize they won’t be there forever, but they do want to be recognized for their hard work,” said Cameron Macdonald, author of "Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs and the Micropolitics of Mothering," to The Huffington Post.
Macdonald, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, interviewed 50 nannies from the Boston area, expecting that wages and working conditions would be their primary complaints, but realized they wanted recognition for their role in the children’s lives. She also interviewed 30 mothers who worked full-time and needed child-care workers the most.
In her book, she describes a “shadow mother” as a nanny who takes the mother’s place for up to 60 hours a week without threatening the mother’s role as primary parent. One mother, Macdonald recalls, almost quit her job because her 1-year-old preferred the nanny, then father and then finally the mother. The mother said it was infuriating.
It's a situation many nannies know all too well.
“The worst was when it was bedtime, the kids wanted me and not her. It felt so strange. I could tell she was mad at me but I didn’t do anything wrong,” explained Karina, who tried her best to convince the kids to ask for their mother at bedtime.
Coincidentally, a similar personal situation led Macdonald to research her book. At the age of 15, she was a nanny for a 18-month-old, but was eventually fired for becoming too attached with the child. “The baby fell and the mother couldn’t calm her down so they had to give her to me," she said. "I was never officially fired, but after they dropped me off at home I never heard from the family again. I was confused more than anything else, I wasn’t sure what I had done wrong.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a report from 2010 showed that out of 1.2 million child-care workers, 244,000 were foreign-born. McDonald found that undocumented domestic workers and au pairs were treated more poorly than those with working papers.
That also was Karina's experience. “I think she took advantage of me. If I worked over nine hours a day, she wouldn’t pay me overtime. Plus, if I wanted to sit down and take a break, the mother would say to me, ‘Are you sick?’, which of course meant that was not allowed,” said Karina.
Karina doesn’t work for that family anymore; she was eventually let go. “As soon as she let me go, I thought to myself, ‘Yes! I’m free! Freedom!’, but then it hurt because I knew I would miss the kids,” said Karina.
Now, she works for two lesbian moms in Brooklyn for only nine hours a day, gets paid overtime if needed, and only has to watch two children, ages 2 and 6, to whom she happily teaches Spanish.
“If I had known that I could have worked for such a lovely family that appreciates me so much, asks me how I’m doing and lets me take a break every once in awhile, I would’ve left the other family a long time ago.” said Karina. “I never knew it could be this good.”
The Brooklyn couple also gave Karina the option of going to the gym where she could leave their 2-year-old at the gym's day care there.
According to Macdonald, being a nanny can be an excellent job, if respect is included. But there are two obstacles at play: society and the workplace.
“We as a society have to step away ... from the nuclear family. We have to accept that multiple loving adults are a part of the child’s life and that there is nothing wrong with it. Attachment to multiple loving adults, as long as it is stable, is good and healthy for the child. Popular media leads us to believe that it’s the mother’s love or nothing,” explained Macdonald.
Yet, the pressure on mothers to be the be-all and end-all still remains. Macdonald said that mothers must have a life outside of the office and cannot work as if that factor does not exist. That tension leads to unhealthy relationships between working mothers and their child-care providers.
Macdonald’s take-away message from nannies: Give your child-care provider flowers on Mother’s Day. She is not taking anything away from you. She is enhancing your life. It can be a win-win situation.
TAKE A LOOK AT LATINA LEADERS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY:
The Civil Rights Leader: Dolores Huerta
Mexican-American civil rights leader and activist Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) with labor organizer Cesar Chavez in 1962, and served as the first vice president the United Farm Workers (UFW). Today, she is President of the <a href="http://www.doloreshuerta.org/" target="_hplink">Dolores Huerta Foundation</a> (DHF), and Secretary-Treasurer Emeritus of the UFW. The DHF continues to organize with communities in California's Central Valley. Among her many accolades, Huerta is the recipient of the 2002 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, which recognizes those who've "challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative and socially responsible work of significance." In 1993, she was <a href="http://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/dolores-fernandez-huerta/ " target="_hplink">inducted into the National Women's History Museum</a>. She is set to be portrayed by actress Rosario Dawson in the film "Chavez."
The Journalist: Maria Hinojosa
Mexican-American journalist, Maria Hinojosa's <a href="http://www.pbs.org/wnet/need-to-know/staff/ " target="_hplink">resume is out the door.</a> Formerly host of <a href="http://www.npr.org/people/2100638/maria-hinojosa" target="_hplink">Latino USA on NPR</a>, and senior correspondent for NOW on PBS, she is the recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Reporting on the Disadvantaged. Last year, she developed radio program, "<a href="http://www.radioproject.org/2011/06/re-humanizing-immigrants-reflections-by-maria-hinojosa/" target="_hplink">Re-Humanizing Immigrants: Reflections by Maria Hinojosa</a>" which delved into the lives of and experiences of immigrants in detention. As well, she contributed interviews with prominent Latinos -- Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Eva Longoria, Sonia Sotomayor, John Leguizamo, and Pitbull among others -- for Timothy Greenfield-Sanders' HBO documentary "<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/16/hbo-documentary-the-latino-list-featuring-eva-longoria-and-more_n_966685.html" target="_hplink">The Latino List</a>," which aired in time for Hispanic Heritage Month last September.
The Co-Founder: Rosario Dawson
Actress Rosario Dawson is the co-founder of <a href="http://www.votolatino.org/about " target="_hplink">Voto Latino</a>, a non-partisan organization dedicated to "bringing new and diverse voices into the political process by engaging youth, media, technology and celebrities to promote positive change." Since its founding in 2004, the organization's civic engagement campaigns have reached 55 million Latino households nationwide and registered more than 120,000 Latino youth to vote. She is also <a href="http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118051147 " target="_hplink">set to play iconic labor organizer and activist</a> Dolores Huerta in the film, "Chavez," about United Farm Worker's co-founder Cesar Chavez. In this photo, actress Rosario Dawson attends the MALDEF and Voto Latino launch of the Multimedia Campaign for the 2010 Census at Miguel Contreras Learning Complex School on March 10, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
Head of the U.S. Department of Labor: Hilda Solis
Appointed in 2009 by the Obama Administration, Solis is the<a href="http://www.hispanicbusiness.com/2009/2/24/hilda_solis_is_the_new_us.htm " target="_hplink"> first Latina to hold the post of U.S. Secretary of Labor</a>. But this is not the first time she has made history. Solis is also the first woman of Hispanic descent to be elected onto the California State Senate. In 2000, she was <a href="http://www.dol.gov/_sec/welcome.htm " target="_hplink">awarded the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award</a> for her environmental work.
The Philanthropist: Eva Longoria
Named Philanthropist of the Year in 2009 by the Hollywood Reporter, the actress's charitable contributions and involvement with countless organizations is <a href="http://www.looktothestars.org/celebrity/64-eva-longoria" target="_hplink">too long to list</a>. Most recently, she launched the Eva Longoria Foundation. In a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-longoria/eva-longoria-foundation_b_1296200.html" target="_hplink">blog post published on the Huffington Post</a>, she writes that, "Our mission is to help Latinas build better futures for themselves and their families through education and entrepreneurship. We will support programs which help Latinas become college ready and college graduates. And we will provide Latinas with career training, mentorship, capital and opportunity." In this photo, actress Eva Longoria attends the Vanity Fair and Chrysler celebration of The Eva Longoria Foundation at Beso Hollywood. (Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for VF)
The Environmentalist: Susan De Anda
Environmental activist, Susan De Anda is the Founder and Co-Executive Director of <a href="http://www.communitywatercenter.org/" target="_hplink">Community Water Center (CWC)</a> in Visalia, California located in the state's very own breadbasket of the world. In a podcast with <a href="http://www.ecocentricblog.org/2010/04/27/a-conversation-with-susana-de-anda-co-founder-of-the-community-water-center/" target="_hplink">ecocentricblog.org</a>, De Anda said this about CWC's mission: "We work directly with a number of low income, primarily Latino communities to address problems that range from chronic drinking water contamination to working with local government water boards. Our center ultimately seeks to ensure that all low income, people of color communities here in California have access to safe, clean and affordable drinking water. Our mission is to create community- driven water solutions through direct organizing [and] education advocacy here in California. We believe that clean water is a basic human right, not a privilege." She is one of two U.S. Latinas named among the "<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/features/150-women-who-shake-the-world.html " target="_hplink">150 Fearless Women</a>" in the world by the Women in the World Foundation and The Daily Beast in honor of this year's International Women's Day.
The UNICEF Ambassador: Shakira
The Colmbian singer and global education advocate was named <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/10/shakira-person-of-the-year_n_1085914.html" target="_hplink">2011 Person Of The Year</a> by the Latin Recording Academy. The award took into account not only her musical accomplishments but her worldwide humanitarian efforts as well, including her leadership with the <a href="http://www.fundacionpiesdescalzos.com/" target="_hplink">Pies Descalzos Foundation</a>, which provides educational opportunities to underprivileged children in Colombia. The foundation opened five schools in different regions of the country, and serves more than 4,000 children with educational, nutritional and psychological resources. Shakira also has worked as a <a href="http://www.unicef.org/people/people_58988.html" target="_hplink">UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador</a>. In this picture, a woman teachers her how to process rice grains in the Modhu Shudanpur village of the Rajshahi district in Bangladesh. As a UNICEF ambassador, Shakira visited coastal villages that were affected by the November 2007 cyclone. (Photo by Shehzad Noorani/UNICEF via Getty Images).
The Colonel and Military Attorney: Maritza Saenz Ryan
Colonel Maritza Saenz Ryan is Deputy Head of the Department of Law at West Point Military Academy, which makes her <a href="http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/ryan.authcheckdam.pdf " target="_hplink">the first woman and first person of Hispanic origin</a> to serve in that capacity in West Point's 210-year history. You can watch more on her life and career at the <a href="http://vimeo.com/americanbar/review/27861700/907cd6f73e " target="_hplink">American Bar Vimeo page</a>. She is one of two U.S. Latinas named among the "<a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/features/150-women-who-shake-the-world.html " target="_hplink">150 Fearless Women</a>" in the world by the Women in the World Foundation and The Daily Beast in honor of this year's International Women's Day.