23 February 2011

Nannies - a fascinating observation

Yesterday, I watched as a mum finishes her gym workout whilst her son is outside being surpervised by the nanny. As mum exits the gym she proceeds to walk ahead of her son completely oblivious to the fact that the nanny is struggling to manage the boy. The mum leaves complete responsibility to the nanny even in her presence.

My first thought in seeing this is how de-sensitized the mum has become in relation to the care and discipline of her own child. The nanny is doing the rearing and caring.

To be fair, the nannies are a great source of help for dual income families where both parents work long hours. The children are safely cared for by someone they trust. The nanny is in charge of the cooking, cleaning, school pick up/drop off, food shopping, playground/pool time and any other supervision required.

However, in the 3 weeks I have been here, from 5pm onwards the playgrounds are full of kids playing with all the nannies in tow every single day. Of the quantity of people in the play area 85% are the nannies.

Where are the parents? Do they play with the kids when they leave the playground for dinner time? Interesting questions, which I'm sure I'll learn about over time.

It has also not taken long to be able to tell the nannies from the parents. They are all the same height, give or take 5cm. They all wear knee-length shorts with fitted T-shirts. They all have long hair hanging just past their bra line. (How do they even wear their hair down here. I haven't seen my hair down since I arrived. It's like a woolen scarf on my back.)

Nannies will typically be from the Philippines, Indonesia or Sri Lanka. The Philippino earn about AUD$300 per month whilst the others about $200 per month. Those paid less is because they usually don't speak any English at all. They will be lucky to get a day off per week. Usually they get 1-2 days off per month. They will usually get transport and mobile phone allowance and be flown home to visit family either yearly or bi-yearly. All in all they are cheaper than having a car here. It is not surprising why so many expats flock to the idea of having a nanny who can manage the household and the children.

One of John's colleagues told him that a nanny is entitled to 8 hours off a day and that's to basically sleep. She cannot share a room with a male but can share with another female or with children. It is common practice for nannies to have a nanny mattress (basically a piece of foam maybe 1.5m long) on the floor beside the kids' beds. She gets the extra bonus of caring for the child if he/she wakes up in the middle of the night. Some nannies have the misfortune of sleeping on a mattress by the front door or a hallway. It depends who hires them. It is widely known that expats take better care of them than some locals and nannies usually prefer to work for expats as a result of it. This is largely because expats are not accustomed to this kind of help/service whereas for the locals it is just a way of life. In our apartment the store room which measures a measly 2m x 1m would be the nanny's room if we had one.

But here's the counter to all this doom and gloom. For most nannies who have limited education and come from poor backgrounds, these opportunities are a luxury. They get to live in a room all their own, rather than on a dirt floor with family members as those back home. They get to earn a better income than they would back home. If they have good employers, they would be able to learn some English which is highly sought after here given the expats population.

So it is certainly convenient if you need one, don't mind your privacy being invaded and is obviously very affordable.