"Hey working moms: I don't want to socialize with your nanny."
It's the kind of complaint some mothers might think, but never say to another parent’s face. And that's probably why those words were posted behind the safe anonymity of UrbanBaby.com’s message boards last week.
"i want to socialize with others whose job it is to be with their own kids. i understand, many women don't have that luxury or sanity to be SAHM [Stay At Home Moms], but don't force your nanny on me," another mom said, echoing the original sentiment.
A spray of back-and-forth e-venom followed.
"We send our nannies so we don't have to spend time with you," one working mom posted. And another wrote: "Get a life loser."
Intense? Yes. Surprising? Not according to those who've spent time researching nanny-parent dynamics.
"What's not typical is for this to be given such explicit voice," said Lucy Kaylin, author of "The Perfect Stranger," a book about the relationships between mothers and nannies (her own included). "But the emotions represented are not at all surprising."
Just the other week, Kaylin said a friend of hers -- who is a working mother -- brought up in conversation how her son rarely plays with the children of mothers who stay at home.
"There's just that divide," she said. Still, Kaylin argued that the divide isn't necessarily a hostile one: New moms like to spend their downtime talking and commiserating with like-minded women. At the same time, sitters are often looking to hang out with other nannies who can relate to their ups and downs, in much the way a co-worker might.
When nannies attend playgroups at a family's home, Kaylin said, "They're well aware that they're not there for social reasons. They're there because that’s their job."
Indeed, among the sea of mom voices was a nanny who gave her two cents. "I have no desire to hang out with you either. I'm paid to be here, and if that includes being civil and social with you I can fake it. - Nanny"
The sentiment may not be universal -- one mom wrote that she likes spending time with nannies. "Some of the coolest women I've met in recent years are nannies. I've even asked a couple to meet for coffee."
Cameron Macdonald, a professor of sociology and author of "Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering", encountered the issue while researching her book. She went further than Kaylin to say that there's more going on than just social preferences, or even the underlying issues of race and class.
"This exclusionary practice speaks to the way that stay-at-home moms vent their frustrations [with] working moms via the nanny," Macdonald said. "One of the opening scenes in my book is of this white woman yelling at a nanny from the Caribbean, whom she mistakenly thought was ignoring the child. The woman yelled out, 'I don’t blame you, I blame your boss.'"
While researching her book, Macdonald found that yes, nannies do want to socialize with other nannies who are of the same cultural background, but that doesn’t preclude them from feeling left out. What might be more surprising is that the nannies commonly felt as though they were caught in the crossfire of a debate over whether or not moms should work.
"The thing that really stood out to me when I was doing this project was that the culture of competitive mothering has intensified in the last 10 or 15 years beyond anything we've ever seen," Macdonald said.
Indeed, one of the respondents to the UrbanBaby post echoed Macdonald's findings. "This is the most idiotic way of bashing WOHM [Work Outside Home Moms] I have ever seen," she said.
Macdonald pointed to isawyournanny.blogspot.com, a website for people who want to report instances of negligent nannies, as further evidence.
"It's often, 'Shame on you for hiring such a bad nanny,' or 'Shame on you for working and not being careful about who your child is with,'" Macdonald said.
But in previous UrbanBaby conversations on the subject, moms have argued that this isn't a sign of divisiveness, but a matter of social preferences on both sides. When a working mom inquired about protocol for sending her nanny to an infant playgroup at another family’s house this past summer, many wrote in to say that having a nanny present would upset the dynamic of the group, and could make everyone -- including the sitter -- feel uncomfortable.
"So weird to send your baby with a nanny to an infant playgroup--that is for moms!" wrote one mom. "I doubt the women you are friends with will be thrilled about you sending your nanny to their moms group. Seriously," said another.
The argument that infant playgroups are really for moms to bond may hold up (after all, only one mom wrote in that she thought the exclusionary practice at that age was elitist). But as kids get older and new moms are no longer new moms, the merits of that position fade and the question remains: Have nannies become casualties of the mommy wars?
What's your take?