Saturday, 17 February 2007

Goodbye Mary, Hello Manny

Today I have an article in the Weekend Section of the Daily Telegraph. But there's no need to click on, as I've reproduced it in full, below...

Now it's Manny Poppins
Sarah Ebner meets the parents who prefer a shot of testosterone to a spoonful of sugar
By Sarah Ebner

She may be wowing them in the West End, but it appears that Mary Poppins is out of fashion. According to those in the know, if we want to ensure that our sons and daughters grow up to be well-rounded individuals, we need a modern solution. The woman who was "practically perfect in every way'' has a rival: the manny.

If you've never heard the term, you're a few steps behind in the childcare stakes. For the uninitiated, author Holly Peterson is here to shed some light on the issue. As one of the characters in her new book, aptly named The Manny, explains: "It's a manny. M for male nanny... Think of it as the older brother we all dreamt of, but with the patience only money can buy.''

Peterson first heard about mannies soon after having her third child. She felt that her son, Jack, then three, was being "squashed'' by spending days with his older and younger sisters, as well as his mother and nanny.

Now it appears that mannies are all the rage. Gwyneth Paltrow and Britney Spears are fans, and the attractions seem obvious. It's not so much a spoonful of sugar, as a shot of testosterone around the house. Not only do mannies keep temptation at bay (female nannies, as Jude Law discovered, can be a bit too distracting), but they happily play in the garden for hours, and seem genuinely interested in sports, Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man and snails.

"Boys play differently to women,'' says Peterson, 42, whose children are now 10, eight and four. "The nanny is more of a comforter, while the manny is a 'throw me across the room' kind of guy. They fool around, play football and are happy to run around and around the park. I thought Jack would really benefit from it and he has.''

They may sound like a perfect playmate for any sons you may have, but what about the girls? Peterson thinks a male role model is good for them too. "Mannies have a different attitude,'' she says. "They see situations in another way.''

But hiring a manny wasn't just a way for Peterson to solve her childcare issues. It also led to a new career, as a novelist. The book - her first - sold for $1 million in the US alone, with the film rights fetching another $600,000.

The story is set in what Peterson describes as "this ridiculous, hilarious world of rich people on the Upper East Side''. It's a place she knows well as she grew up in, and still lives in, that very exclusive part of New York. Some families have one nanny per child, while housekeepers and drivers are de rigueur. However, as a Newsweek journalist, Peterson says she's a step apart. "The rich in New York are a very peculiar group,'' she says. "But 95 per cent of my friends are not in that world.''

Peterson's book, out next week, is certainly being published at the right time, as mannies have become increasingly popular in Britain. My Big Buddy (">>), an agency specialising in male nannies, recently launched in London. And Gumtree (, a website used by working parents to look for childcare, reports that searches for "male'' or "male nanny'' have gone up sevenfold in the past few months.

With increasing numbers of single parents, as well as older fathers who might struggle to run around a football pitch, mannies may well fill a gap. But one recent survey suggested another reason for the rising demand. In an apparent blow against sisterhood, almost 80 per cent of mothers admitted that they felt threatened by attractive female nannies, while 94 per cent said they would consider a male nanny instead. "We simply don't have enough men on our books,'' says Oliver Black, director of Tinies, the supplier of childcare staff which carried out the survey. "Only five per cent of our nannies are male.''

One of those is Craig Smith, 20, who works as a manny for Alison and Michael Goff in Sevenoaks, Kent. Craig looks after the Goffs' three sons, Hamish, 10, Louis, eight, and Theo, three. "I couldn't imagine doing the same thing every day,'' says Smith, who explains that he always wanted to work with children. "Every day is different and really rewarding too.''

Smith describes his three charges as "sporty and boisterous'' and much of his time is spent ferrying them to and from different sports activities. But he also attends mother and toddler clubs with Theo and plays "a lot'' of football with all three. Smith cooks for the boys too (although he admits that the domestic side is not his strong point).

"My friends are builders, carpenters and electricians. They laughed their heads off when I told them what I was going to do. But when I say that I've been playing in the garden, they're a bit jealous.''

He is sure that he got the job because the children are boys, but Alison Goff insists that's not true. "People assume that because I have boys, I wanted a male nanny, but he was the best person I interviewed,'' she says.

"I admit I've been surprised to see how the kids are happier with him, perhaps because he loves the rough and tumble and is physically fit and active. If you have three boys, it's no good having someone who wants to plait hair and paint fingernails.''

Holly Peterson would agree. Then again, she seems to have it all the book deal, the investment banker husband, and even a nanny and a manny.

But for those of us in the real world, choosing the perfect child-carer might never be the same again.

1 comment:

Tom.... said...

Sarah, I have another name for "manny"... it's called DAD. Too bad so many have to farm out their children rather than raise them themselves. My son plays the role of Manny-DAD by watching three young ones by day and working 10 hours in the restaurant business by evening and night. He is grossly underpaid for the second and unpaid for the first. But the offshoot is his kids will know their father in a way most other kids will never know. He is beat at the end of a week, but knows it's only temporary, and that he is imparting his imprint on his offspring.
So again, too bad for those who have to go this route. Maybe I should tell Tim to move to NYC... he might be able to cash in with all his experience.
But then, who'd watch HIS kids?
Tom Anselm, teacher and author
St. Louis, MO, USA