I recently almost posted on social media “ISO a teen girl who wants to watch my four wild and hilarious sons for random date nights.” It makes sense. I myself babysat as a teenager, along with most of my friends, none of them boys. I was also obsessed, like any logical 90’s kid, with The Babysitter’s Club book series, also girls. And finally, I was raised in a family of teachers, but none who were male and taught young kids. But I caught myself — I’d just inadvertently been totally sexist in my job post! Why did I only want a teen girl? After all, I have four sons who love hanging with older boys in the neighborhood (to learn how to be cool, of course). And I’d love if they themselves became babysitters in their teen years.
But after decades of only girls offering to babysit, and only seeing girls and women in childcare roles for my young kids, I’d accidentally defaulted to that bias. So I quickly deleted “girl” and left it with “teen.” Though only teen girls responded, it made me wonder: Should I be actively searching for a male role model to hang out with my kids? And are those role models even out there on the babysitting job market?
So, I reached out to Naveed Mardi, a famous “manny” (male nanny, for those of you who have somehow missed the show This is Us) and children’s book author who takes care of celebrities’ children in Los Angeles. The families he works with are so famous I’m not allowed to write their names. And he had some strong opinions about the stereotypes he faces as a manny and why we should all be rethinking our biases surrounding who takes care of our youngest kids.
He admitted that, at first, some people are like “Oh, it’s creepy,” he says, to have a man hoping to hang around little kids. “People are kind of iffy about it… I think it comes across as weird because it has been such a female-dominated [field]…that’s so weird to throw in a six-foot-three guy,” he says.
But for Mardi, excellent communication skills with parents eases their fears, and he’s even had a dad who came to have “the talk” with him to ensure he had pure intentions in hanging out with and caring for his child. “I feel like [I’m] carving my own unchartered path in this territory where it always has been very female-led, female run… but having a male working for you could be what’s different — different takeaways, different ways I work with kids as opposed to a female figure,” he says.
Of course, so much of all of this has to do with gender roles and presumptions. After all, fewer than 3% of preschool and kindergarten teachers are men. The statistics back up our tendency to see early childhood educators as women, says Dr. Elanna Yalow, Chief Academic Officer at KinderCare. And it continues in the rest of the education system, too. “The expectation is a little bit more that they’re being hired for being nurturing and caring, versus really talented and skilled professionals with a strong sense of understanding early childhood development,” Yalow tells me. Men might very well be up against the assumption that they’re not as able to provide “warm responsive interactions, critical to their development, she notes. And, of course, there’s the tendency towards low wages.
There’s another more glaring flaw in my logic over having a manny: I don’t just need men to babysit because I have boys. We all need to consider men as babysitters. “It’s also equally important for the young girls to see that there are adult males that are nurturing and caring and giving and loving and all those things,” Yalow says.
Both Yalow and Mardi encourage parents to strategize what traits they’d hope to see in their childcare providers, to identify your priorities. “My guess is if you write down what it is that really matters to you as a parent… gender is not likely to be on that list,” Yalow says.
Since I nearly posted my narrow-minded call for sitters, I’ve started asking friends with teen boys if they ever babysit. Our first male teenage sitter who started this week excelled — changing baby butts and playing a wide variety of games. The 16-year-old sports loving, hair flipping (Bieber style) kid showed up in my kitchen ready to take on whatever I had. He prepared a meal, played ball with the kids in the yard, and took them on in a game of Madden. His style was different from other sitters we’d had, but the kids were more worn out. Also, they couldn’t stop asking for him to come back.
My perspective shifted, and now I encourage my other friends to consider hiring him too, or other sitters who are great for the job regardless of gender. Maybe if that doesn’t work I will just move to LA and hire the Manny.
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 7, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice. She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today’s Parent, Reader’s Digest, Parents, Women’s Health, and Insider.
Alex has a Master of Arts in Teaching, and a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications/Journalism, both from Miami University. She has also taught high school for 10 years, specializing in media education.
November 9, 2022