One Sunday morning when I was 13, I asked my mother if I could join her working childcare at our church (mostly to avoid sitting through another mind-numbing, guilt-inducing service). She let me come and help. There, I learned the nuances of the toddler room: How to hold babies and power up the bubble-blowing machine if several kids were crying at the same time, and that men weren't allowed to change diapers—a sexist rule, but one with which I was happy to comply.
Over the next few weeks, I gained a reputation. When a parent dropped off a fussy child, my mother or one of the other women would say, “Just give him to Michael.” I had the patience to sit with each one and rock them until they became interested in something, forgetting all about mom’s abandonment. Occasionally, babies would simply fall asleep in my arms thanks to the combination of my unnatural physical warmth and my calm, comforting disposition.
Those mornings spent holding babies and encouraging toddlers to press buttons on a Sesame Street toy evolved into my career, my life, and my purpose.
Yes, I’m a manny.
I’m also a big kid in some ways, so being compensated for playing football in the park, watching Pixar movies, and debating Batman villains sounded incredible.
Being a male nanny wasn’t exactly my original intention. After college I sought a job in film, television, publishing, or theatre, sending resumes into what felt like an abyss. Struggling to make any progress, I met with a friend to talk over our resumes. She was working as a nanny while applying to grad schools. Thinking back on my experiences in the toddler room with my mother, I thought I could give nannying the ol’ (post-)college try. In swift, miraculous succession, my friend referred me to a family, I interviewed to be their afterschool sitter, and started the job the following Monday.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that working with kids made sense for me. Not only did I have the patience and body heat, but I’m also a big kid in some ways, so being compensated for playing football in the park, watching Pixar movies, and debating Batman villains sounded incredible.
That first job was with twin 5-year-old boys. We bonded over baseball statistics, Pokémon, and string cheese. I enjoyed the job and the perks it provided: Weekend mannying in the Hamptons, free food, and, since my workday began after the twins’ school day ended, never having to set an alarm clock.
I decided to take on a second childcare gig in the mornings to complement the arrangement with the twins. Again, I quickly found a great family who needed someone to watch their sons Robert and Logan.
My days became an epic journey through the trials of being a childcare provider. I left my Brooklyn apartment around 6:30 am for the morning job. After a half-day with Robert and Logan on the Upper West Side, I headed downtown in the afternoon to pick up the twins. After putting them to bed, I’d wait until their parents made it home (at whatever unpredictable time), some nights as late as 11 pm.
When I first became a manny, I consciously decided to be strict...: Rules, punishments and rewards, and the clear presence of adult authority.
The combination of early mornings and late nights took its toll. As I became increasingly exhausted, I lost the energy to deal with the boys’ when they acted out. The toddlers would fuss over breakfast, the twins would evade homework, and my fuse got shorter and shorter.
When I first became a manny, I consciously decided to be strict, utilizing the same traditional parenting methods my mother and father used to raise me: Rules, punishments and rewards, and the clear presence of adult authority. As I tightened the reins in response to their defiance, the kids just yanked on them harder. Robert refused to get dressed. Logan demolished his brother’s magna-tile building. The twins prodded eachother with newly-learned curse words. I punished. I lectured. I imposed, “Because I said so!” more times than I care to admit.
When I started, I expected children to misbehave from time to time, so I excused their behavior as typical and my reactions as necessary. But because I was so worn out, the daily struggles became unbearable.
Eventually, I came to the conclusion that nothing I was doing was beneficial, efficient, or sustainable—especially when it came to developing capable humans. Not to mention, I was mentally drained. I decided to abandon my preconceived notions of parenting and start fresh. I read books on parenting and child development and experimented with different approaches. As I tried new techniques and improved my skills, I saw the boys’ moods stabilizing and their behavior improving.
I discarded the authoritarian structure, practiced clear communication, and emotionally detached myself from the kids’ transgressions. But one of the biggest changes was when I stopped trying to control things that simply cannot be controlled, like a child’s actions. By ignoring annoying behaviors instead of correcting them, I unburdened myself, which in turn meant that the boys had to find constructive ways to get my attention, thereby improving overall behavior. Unencumbered by stress, I focused more on myself and modeling behavior I wanted to see from them. They quickly responded and started acting, not like kids, but like people—still imaginative and playful, but also mindful and capable.
Once I built a new methodology for how to work with children, I loved being a manny again. I gave the children respect and responsibility, structure and support, independence and input. And their positive responses invigorated me. I loved the analysis of parenting practices and the results I was seeing. I was myself again instead of the person who doles out punishments and decides who’s earned dessert.
When I started mannying, I just wanted to play Xbox and have a willing audience for my silly voices. But after refining my craft, I found fulfillment, too.
Working with the boys was no longer work. The homework got done, the apartment was clean, and everyone was in bed when they were supposed to be. Plus, we had a lot more time to play indoor sock-ball golf or rock out to the Beastie Boys. We were growing and learning and developing skills and having a kick-ass time. (Yes, that’s an intentional “We.”) When I started mannying, I just wanted to play Xbox and have a willing audience for my silly voices. But after refining my craft, I found fulfillment, too.
Now I get messages from my parents, the people who raised me, asking for advice on how to deal with my niece. My phone is filled with the numbers of neighborhood moms so we can set up playdates for the kids. I regularly have conversations about breastfeeding and potty-training. And when someone asks me what I do, I answer proudly, “I’m a manny.”