Mary Poppins was not a horrible bitch. Neither was Maria from the Sound of Music. Both women were strong yet wise with the purest of hearts and kindest of intentions. They were also nannies. So what’s with this god-awful $10m ad campaign from the tobacco industry trying to convince us that plain packaging is a bad idea by hiring an actress who looks like The Freak from Prisoner and railing against a ‘nanny state’?
Tobacco People, this is so many shades of wrong, it’s hard to know where to start. How about here: it seems ‘nanny-state’ has become the new ‘politically correct’ – a derisive term used to sneer at anyone who advocates tolerance, respect and consideration for others. “Un-Australian” is often used in the same way (* waves to gambling industry *). They’re blunt, lazy, dumbed-down terms, which do nothing but try to shut down debate.
And what’s with the demonisation of nannies, anyway? Like all other childcare workers, nannies have a singular purpose: to care for vulnerable people who aren’t old enough, smart enough or responsible enough to make the right decisions. Decisions which can have negative consequences for themselves and others.
Are there teens and adults who fit that same criteria and who could benefit from a bit of Mary Poppins style guidance? So many. Like the ones who drink and drive or don’t put seatbelts on their kids. The ones who smoke with children in the car or flick lit cigarette butts out the window. Or take drugs. Or drive dangerously. Surely that’s the job of a government; to protect its citizens from each other and sometimes from themselves. That’s why we have laws. And the plain packaging legislation simply seeks to protect vulnerable people from being influenced by marketing to take up a deadly habit.
Maybe you’re a smoker and you don’t think tobacco-marketing influences you and perhaps you’re right. But this isn’t about you. This is about people younger than you. Not as wise. They’re the ones we need to protect. There’s no other reason for plain packaging legislation. Really. So bring it on.
Okay, now back to nannies for a moment because I’m perplexed by the way they’ve been cast as villains. I’ve never met a nanny who looks or acts like The Freak. The ones I’ve known and employed over the years have been lovely, professional women (haven’t met a Manny yet but I’m told they’re fantastic) who work damn hard looking after other people’s kids. Just like any other type of childcare worker except inside your house.
Of course we must acknowledge the economic elephant in the room: it’s expensive to employ a nanny and those who can are fortunate. Absolutely. Like most parents, we’ve had a hodgepodge of childcare arrangements since I returned to work part-time when our first child was four months old. This has included everything from grandparents, to day-care, pre-school and after-school care. When we’ve had nannies, they’ve mostly been part-timers; girls who’ve done a few days on the side while they finished uni or worked another job or saved some cash to go travelling. However long they stay though, it’s an oddly intimate relationship. Who else gets to see your family dynamics up so close not to mention the natural state of your house? Gulp.
When it works, a nanny can become a unique hybrid of sister, wife and friend. When it doesn’t, it’s like having another child. Or worse. I once hired a nanny who – I discovered later – came to work hungover and snoozed all day on my couch before stealing bag-fulls of my clothes. But it’s always been a theme in my life that my worst experience of something (job, relationship etc.) comes right before my best. And the nanny I employed after that spectacular disaster is now on maternity leave after being with us for five years. She has been the most wonderful influence on our kids and a balm on our chaotic household.
Still, there’s a lingering sense of guilt and shame in some circles about admitting you have a nanny. “I never say ‘my nanny’, I say ‘my babysitter’” says one friend in the public eye who resents the implication that because she has a nanny who looks after her daughters while she and her husband work, she doesn’t spend any time with them. “Yes, I know I’m lucky to be able to afford to have my childcare come to me but how does that have any bearing on what type of parent I am?” she wonders defensively.
You most often hear this gripe when the subject of celebrity parents comes up – the idea that they have a fleet of nannies who raise their kids while they go gallivanting around the world to red carpets and film sets. The inference: bad parents.
But we know little of what actually goes on in other people’s families, famous or not. Having a nanny does not necessarily mean you are an absent or disengaged parent. Just like not having one doesn’t mean you are a present and involved one.
So enough with the demonising. Let’s remember: nannies (and their employers) aren’t the bad guys. Tobacco companies are.
Here’s one nanny state ad…
What do you think?