Friday, July 18, 2008

Hired night nannies: Where have the grandmas gone?

Reacting to a newspaper report on growing demand for night nannies in the US my wife sympathized with the young parents who are constrained to hire nannies to take care of their infants. It is just bad luck, if parents of a new-born don’t or can’t draw on the support of their own parents.

Like her late mother, who had night-nursed our son and five of her other grandchildren, my wife believes it is a blessing to be able to take care of one’s grandchildren. Hiring night nannies is an idea that is alien to our traditional family values. What are grandmas for?

The grandma support system has been our mohalla culture. In villages and close-knit urban localities – agraharam - young couple with a newborn can count on nursing support from neighbours. Any elderly woman in such neibhourhood would volunteer to play grandma to your infant.

My twin nieces – now in their early 30s – were nursed by an elderly neighbour in Mysore’s Vidyaranyapuram area. They retain link with the family, though their night nanny, whom they called ajji, is no more, and my nieces moved out of the neighbourhood years ago. Such has been our social support structure, and night-nannying makes our women worthy of a special bond and life-long affection of those they had nannied.

In the US, they say, a week’s worth of night-nanny services could cost well over $1,000; and a hired nanny earns between $15-40 an hour depending on her experience and expertise. An article in The New York Times refers to mushrooming night-nanny service agencies in major metropolitan areas - the International Nanny Association in Philadelphia, Caring Nannies of Scottsdale, Ariz., Nocturnal Nannies at Ashland, Mass. and Night Nannies for Newborns in Denver.

Those taking up professional night-nanny work are themselves mothers in their 30s and 40s, whose husbands do the nanny-ing in their homes. The Mysore ajji scenario is, perhaps, inconceivable in the US, and, even in major cities in India. But I reckon we still have women with child-rearing experience of the likes of Mysore ajji.

Many such grandmas in economic need could be helped, in return for their nanny service. Maybe this is being done already in cities, through word-of-mouth and social networking . In Bangalore and other cities there is scope for placement agencies that bring together working couples in need of night-nanny services and eligible neighbourhood grandmas. Residents associations and community organizations could get involved.

Retirement homes and other institutions for the aged can be tapped for eligible grandmas for night-nanny services. Temples are places where such women frequent. Management of some temples that run matrimonial agency as service project for devotees could extend their services to help young parents find a ‘grandma’ to nanny their infant.

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