Nannies shaping history in an oblivious way
Nannies have been a part of different cultures since ages. They have played a significant role in molding the lives of some important figures in history. While some feel that the word nanny may be rooted in the “na” sound which is made by babies, others relate it to the Greek word nana which is translated into aunty or the word nain which is Welsh for Grandmother. Some also see similarities in the Russian word nyanya which refers to the nursemaid.
The Oxford English Dictionary first recorded the word nanny in 1785. But we all know that the profession had been in existence for centuries before the word ‘nanny’ was coined. In early history, nannies were often called nursemaid, wet nurse, dry nurse or simply just nurse. Nowadays, nannies are often called mother’s helper since they help mothers in household chores and look after the children too.
Traditionally, nannies lived and worked in royal palaces and aristocratic houses as a part of a large servant staff. Mostly, nannies were considered to be a senior member of the servant staff, and she shared a closer bond with the rest of the family because of her connection with the children. It’s hard to trace back the history of nannies to identify the first nanny since they were an oblivious part of the society who usually worked in the background while the mothers took the foreground.
Many historians determine the position of a nanny to be a precarious one since she existed in a space between the family and the household staff. While the family members loved her, she was hardly their equal, and while the domestic staff looked up to her, they barely accepted her as their own. Their world was limited to the children they cared for. Most of their lives they spent in the homes of their masters where they may live from childhood till old age and care for more than one generation of children.
Nannies in the Ancient Era
In ancient times, nannies linked to social class. Nobles and Aristocrats usually employed nannies – wet nurses or dry nurses – who would look after the children. Many ancient cultures have stories which involve wet nurses. The Bible also makes references to nannies who looked after children from their birth. Since the nanny is a recently coined word, most ancient stories speak of wet nurses or nursemaids who acted as nannies. A wet nurse is one who breast feeds the baby in addition to caring for the child.
In ancient Roman, people who belonged to the noble classes would pick a nanny from their slaves or freedwomen, or they may choose a woman who is a professional nanny. During the imperialist era in Rome, it was unusual and old-fashioned for women to breastfeed their children. Not only did the nobility employ a wet nurse, but some women of the working classes also had their babies nursed.
It was deemed very important for families to choose a wet nurse carefully because milk transmits many properties to the body of the child. It can impact the child’s physical and mental growth, and it can even carry diseases from the nurse to the child. Wet nurses had to follow a special diet and give up their sexual life so that the milk remained pure. According to the Romans, nannies of different ethnicities had different attributes. Egyptians were good with children because of their fondness of kids, Thracians were devoted to the children and were very robust in their work, Spartans made for tough nannies, but the most preferred ethnicity was Greek. Greek nannies could help the children learn Greek and also teach the children about their culture. These wet nurses were early nannies of the ancient era. They played an important role in the growth of the children.
The Prevalence of Nannies among the European Colonial Empires
In Britain and France, wet-nursing was a respectable and popular profession for many women between the 17th and 19th century. Many wet nurses earned more than their husbands who were laborers. A royal wet nurse was very highly regarded. There was a second type of wet nurses, who were poor and took up wet nursing to provide for themselves. They were not professionals and earned very less than professional nannies.
Most of the children were sent away from their original homes to live with the wet nurse till the age of three. But instances of early deaths among these infants were very high. This is why people began to employ nannies as a part of their household so that the children can grow in the presence of the parents.
The French and English colonists brought wet nursing to other regions of the world as they began to explore and colonize in different countries.
The idea of using a nanny became more common with the European Colonial Empires where European officers would employ the local women as a nanny for their children. Many nannies who worked for the administrative officers were brought along when the officers transferred from one country or city to another. In the United States, English colonists would often use enslaved Black women to wet nurse their children.
It is not clear whether they were paid or not for the services they rendered in early times, but it is believed that they may not have been paid and if they were paid then the pay would have been very meagerly because they lived in the same household.
Modern Day Nannies
As modernization crept in, the responsibilities and pay of nannies went through a substantial transformation. For a profession that once equated to that of maids, the job of a nanny has gained a lot of respect today. It is considered as a career by many young girls and women.
There are live-in nannies, weekend nannies, governesses, mannies, holiday nannies and baby nurses. It has helped people choose the type of nanny they are looking for making it easy to decide whether they want someone to be in their house around the clock or looking for a nanny only for the weekends or while they are at work on the weekdays.
Wet nursing has become relatively obscure as science helped people understand the importance of mother’s milk for the children. It also educates us about the diseases that can go along with the fluids transmitted from the wet nurse to the child. The availability of infant formula also helps in reducing the requirement for a wet nurse. But nannies continue to be a part of families as caregivers.
In the modern day landscape, both the parents usually work and a family consists of the parents and children only unlike traditional homes or large households where the extended family resides in the same house. In a society like this, the reliance on educated nannies is growing by the day. This is because unlike ancient times, modern day families do not have the parents overlooking the work of the nanny. This means that the children must be entrusted with someone who is a professional, who loves taking care of children, and who is educated enough to help the children study and inculcate healthy habits.
There are a lot of daycare centers too, but in daycare, kids are in the care of a childcare provider who is responsible for more than one child. It reduces the attention children receive, and it may sometimes have a negative impact on the behaviors of the child. On the other hand, full-time nannies can give undivided attention to the kids and ensure that they grow in an environment congenial to them.
Modern day nannies are required to care for the children, expose them to the world by taking them out to the libraries, museums, playgrounds, and play dates. They are actively involved in the upbringing of the children teaching them food habits, table manners, good manners, and reading them books or helping them with their studies. Educated Nannies stand a better chance of being employed by a family because of their higher abilities.
Nannies have been an integral part of families for eons. They have played an important role in the growth and development of well-known personalities who are remembered in history.
There are many nannies whose hard work and uncompromising efforts go unrecognized. However, the infinite love and affection they receive from the children they care for are the biggest recognition they could get. Nannies are respected professionals who have been molding the lives of children for a long time. They have played a pivotal role in the lives of many children and are often considered to be an idol and mentor for the kids they care for.
Being an educated nanny helps you give the children a good environment and makes you aware of the different ways in which children should be brought up in society.