For most parents, reliable childcare is nothing short of priceless; however the New York Times Magazine recently put a very real, very hefty price tag on what some parents are willing to pay.

According to the article, the nannies who cater to New York’s wealthiest families command up to $180,000 per year and enjoy perks such as high-priced housing and luxury cars. Such compensation is not without exacting demands: nannies are expected to be available around the clock, provide specialized meals, be fluent in a second language, and, in one notable instance, drive a Zamboni across the private ice rink.

Ling, a pseudonym, is a Chinese American who has been nannying in the Seattle area for the past five years. She started out as a high school teacher in China before coming to the United States. Her first job here was at a daycare center in Issaquah where she was popular with students and parents alike, enough so that one mother suggested Ling might better her circumstances by offering her services to a single family. This same mother introduced her to Annie’s Nannies, a local childcare placement agency, and within a week they secured her a position.

So how does Seattle, a city with its fair share of tech and start-up millionaires, compare?
First: the pay. Ling jokes that her son’s tuition at the University of Southern California is greater than her annual salary (Suzanne Royer-McCone, president of Annie’s Nannies, confirms that salaries generally top out at $70,000 for the wealthiest families; a comfortable amount, though a far cry from their East Coast counterparts). Compensation for housing, retirement, and insurance is strictly at the discretion of the family, though Ling says medical coverage tends to be more standard than a 401(k) and it’s not unusual for an employer to provide paid time off.

While the salaries tend to be lower, so are the expectations. Rather than constantly being on call, Ling will work anywhere from 44 to 50 hours, 4 or 5 days a week, based on the needs of the family. The one commonality she has noticed is an increased demand for second language instruction. Ling’s current family consists of a Chinese American doctor couple and their two school-aged sons. In addition to basic child-minding, her duties include daily Mandarin language lessons, which she believes would be the case in a non-Chinese family as well. In many ways this provides an advantage for native Chinese speakers.

However appealing a career path it may be for foreign nationals, there are hazards, particularly for those with limited English proficiency or precarious immigration statuses. Some people may remember the sad, local case in 1999 of Helen Clemente, a Filipina brought to the US as a domestic worker via a sham marriage to her employer. Instead of the promised arrangement, Clemente found herself an unpaid indentured servant whose wages and passport were withheld under threat of deportation. When Clemente managed to escape, her employers made good on their threats and reported the fraud to authorities, sparking a years-long legal battle for Clemente to remain in the country with her new husband and their young children.

To mitigate vulnerabilities, potential caregivers should go through reputable agencies that vet employers as well as nannies and follow up with placements.

When Ling’s first employer transitioned from working mom to stay at home mom, she [mom] posted Ling’s availability on a local mommy internet forum. Although there were several interested families, Ling opted to go through her agency instead. She was unaware of situations like Helen Clemente’s, but she liked that someone from the company would call to check up on her and reassure her that they could find her another job if the family was unsatisfactory.
There are additional challenges as well. Even without signing over any and all free time, there is little room for a personal life. On days that one of the parents stays home, Ling is still required to be at work. She has also started preparing dinner once a week and anticipates taking on additional familial duties, even as the younger son starts preschool. Ling considers herself fortunate that she likes the family but in the future she would ultimately like something less demanding.

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