This little sweetie is the newest addition to my nanny crew - and also the 30th baby I’ve cared for in my career. I turn 30 later this year, and the recent release of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list has got me thinking about milestones and the types of work our culture celebrates. The young entrepreneurs, authors, CEOs, and athletes Forbes highlights are absolutely amazing, make no mistake. But the undeniable truth is that a nanny is never going to make that list. She could be the best nanny in history, set a record for most babies cared for, or raise the next Gandhi or MLK, and nobody would ever know. Our work is hidden behind closed doors, our success perceived as a threat to our employers, with no path to advancement or even possibility of permanent employment.
It’s no coincidence that the Forbes list has historically featured disproportionate numbers of white men, while most nannies are women of color. The undervaluing of childcare work is inextricably linked to misogyny and racism. The roots of modern American domestic workers can be traced back to slavery, when enslaved black women cared for white children, cooked their meals, and cleaned their houses. After the abolishment of slavery, and as increasingly more women returned to work after having children, this model of childcare has barely changed. The majority of nannies are women of color, underpaid and unrecognized, silent caretakers in homes we’ll never be able to afford.
Our society doesn’t have systems in place to formalize childcare and domestic work, let alone honor childcare providers. I don’t resent the recipients of mainstream societal recognition. But as Ai-Jen Poo of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance says, caregiving is the work that makes all other work possible. As long as institutions like Forbes ignore domestic work, they’ll have a flawed understanding of success.