How to Speak Nanny

The title of a story (by Hilary Stout) in the Home section of the NYT on February 4. It’s not about nanny-speak, but about communicating with your nanny, something that many professional women find difficult to do (their husbands seem to have little to do with these arrangements).

These women, feeling guilty about hiring their child care out to others and uncomfortable managing an employee in a domestic (rather than work) setting, often fail to give clear instructions to their nannies or to complain when the nannies do things they disapprove of. Lisa Spiegel, a director of a family counseling center in Manhattan,

witnesses such communication issues all the time. “I’ve seen C.E.O.’s, heads of companies, professors,” she said. “These are women who are very successful in work relationships, but the idea of talking to their baby sitter about unloading the dishwasher will give them cramps for a week.”

And then Stout tells the story of a nanny who trimmed a boy’s hair (at his request). The boy’s mother

planned a don’t-ever-do-it-again speech.

The nanny arrived the next morning. Ms. Quan said, “Good morning.” The nanny brought up the haircut immediately and explained the situation, as the son had done the night before: it was in his eyes, and he wanted it trimmed.

“O.K.,” Ms. Quan said. She thought the nanny understood that her look meant don’t do it again.

As so often happens, though, she was wrong.

As parents so often tell their children: use your words.

2 Responses to “How to Speak Nanny”

  1. irrationalpoint Says:

    I’m slightly reluctant to take the heavily gendered nanny-specific angle of this article at face-value. That seems to overlook the fact that telling someone you thought the job they did was unsatisfactory is difficult in *any* situation, because it’s a face-threatening act. And the more you have invested in your working relationship with that person, the harder it is.

    The difficulty isn’t that CEO moms become inarticulate blobs of spineless feminine jelly when speaking to their nannies (sexist stereotyping, much?) — it’s that the working relationship with the nanny is important. As the employer, don’t want to piss off the person who’s taking care of your kids, ironing your work shirts, cleaning your house, and cooking your supper. That’s even more the case if the nanny is live-in. But compare to, say, telling your boss or your officemate that they have Done A Bad Thing. Most people do agonise over that, because it’s face-threatening and because the consequences are disproportionately large compared to having a go at the guy who works two floors away in Marketing, or whatever.


  2. Just say no? Linguistics in real life « Modus dopens Says:

    […] things this week that reminded me of one particular linguistics paper. One was the linguist Arnold Zwicky who blogged this NYT story about communication difficulties that professional women report with their nannies. […]

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