A mother may look at a nanny and see someone to help.
A father may look at a nanny and see someone to help him not help.
"This is not the Nannygate story you may expect. I am not about to tell you that if you hire a live-in nanny, your lovely Normal Guy husband is going to morph into Jude Law, schtupping the sitter when you’re not looking. I will, however, tell you that the nanny could drive a wedge in your marriage, simply by making it easy for one parent to take his foot off the gas.
Moms often see the nanny as a stand-in — a valued, caring stand-in in the best of circumstances. Ideally, a live-in au pair or full-time, in-home daycare provider allows both spouses the freedom to focus on work, errands and other tasks, allowing quality family time in the off-hours. “My au pair makes bath time a game, whereas I see it as a chore,” says Andrea, a pediatrician and mother of two in San Francisco. “So I delegate that. And if she’s cooking, and my husband and I are playing with the kids, or vice versa, I see it as a win-win.”
But increasingly, I’m hearing about dads who see the nanny, at least subconsciously, if not overtly, as a parent-substitute. Even Andrea told me that she noticed her surgeon husband, Lance, is completely hands-off in the diapers, feeding and bathing arenas, but much more involved in playtime now that they have the au pair.
“Every single father I know says he’s an awesome dad,” my friend Carrie, who is a mom to two boys in Scarsdale, NY, remarked recently. “But hardly any of them are hands-on with the kids when they’re home. They’re deferring to the moms and nannies.”
The dad’s perspective is interesting; none I spoke with copped to being bad, out of it or otherwise detached. Instead, they saw the sitter as an essential ingredient to both relieving their guilt for not being available to do certain tasks and for not wanting to do them, either. “I’m off the hook for a lot of the diapering-feeding-bathing, but I play with my kids more, because the sitter is there,” says Lance. “It’s like getting to eat ice cream without having to eat the broccoli.”
It’s true, too, that when talking about raising children we don’t hear a lot of dads say they feel guilty or conflicted about working or having childcare, or that they feel obligated to spend an extra hour with the kids rather than go to the gym. In fact, Carrie told me that when she asks her husband to skip his workout and come home early, his response is, “Why should I come home when the nanny is there?”
And friends, there’s the rub."