For the three weeks prior to starting at Parenting, I was a manny. Or should I say, my wife and I hired me as a nanny for my two boys. We had a lot of fun: We played with puppies, shot hoops, observed lizards and tarantulas, and practiced golf on a putting green. (Good thing Petland and Sports Authority were nearby). That said, spending all day—like allllllllll day—with your children is stressful and messy, like some sort of reality show challenge. And these were my children. Which makes it a smidge surprising that the male childcare provider, aka manny, is becoming increasingly in demand.
Will Kenworthy is trying to decide what to do today. With early morning rust still evident in his voice, the 22-year-old talks through some options. Maybe he’ll grab a gallery guide and visit a few art galleries, or plan a trip to the beach on Long Island. Or even better, head over to the playground and hit up the monkey bars. He does have two boys to entertain.
Kenworthy is part of a small but growing number of men who are becoming male nannies, known colloquially as a “manny.” For Kenworthy, a recent Fordham University graduate, that journey began when he came across a posting in the student employment office: A family with two young boys was looking for an active male caregiver. Kenworthy nailed the interview (“We clicked right away. They are supercool folks”), and has been with them a year and a half.
“I think I’ll be with them for a while. I really care about the kids, and we have a great connection.” On a recent outing to Riverside Park, another parent asked the youngest boy if Kenworthy was his babysitter. “He said, ‘No, he’s my friend,’’’ Kenworthy recalls.
“Men have steadily been 10 percent of our placements for the past few years,” says Annabelle Corke, co-founder of Hey Day Nannies, the childcare recruitment agency in New York City that placed Kenworthy in his current gig. It's been a similar trend for Nannies4Hire.com, a popular online nanny referral database. "We have seen a 10 percent increase in male nannies from last year," says president Candi Wingate. "We credit it a lot of it to people exploring more options due to the economy."
Ingrid Kelleghen, founder and CEO of Cambridge Nanny Group in Chicago, has seen “a bit of a spike in male applicants recently.” (Of the 500 pre-qualified nannies on file, approximately 40 are male.) “We’re meeting men with experience in education, social work and coaching sports, or who have college degrees. They are unable to find jobs in their respective fields, so they come to us.”
And it’s a good thing they are: Some families are searching specifically for mannies. At the Cambridge Nanny Group, those requests come from single moms, lesbian couples, and families with boys. “They’re looking for a positive male role model,” says Kelleghan.
For Hey Day Nannies, “We get a lot of single moms. It’s the woman who is divorced and the father is not able to play an active role, and she's looking for a role model her son can play catch or video games with,” says Kelleghen. “We’re also meeting lesbian couples who want that male influence.”
Stacey Kramer, a mom of three in New York City, says her children loved Judd, their manny of nearly two years. “He was a real playmate,” she says. “He was down on the floor, roughhousing with them, being silly, playing games.” Granted, Judd did bring some stereotypes with him. “Cooking was not his forte,” Kramer says with a laugh. “There were a lot of scrambled eggs and peanut butter sandwiches.”
Despite the best efforts of Charles in Charge and Mr. Belvedere, society still raises an eyebrow at male caregivers, a situation made even trickier in the post-Sandusky era. But Kelleghen believes that given the opportunity, a manny can bring plenty to the table.
Like what? “How many female nannies want to play tag for an hour?”
And how many female nannies would turn a department store into a costume shop? Just sayin’.