Friday, June 29, 2012

"Not the Nanny" Syndrome Doesn't Discriminate

Hi Meltingpot Readers,

Recently, a lovely journalist from TODAY Moms interviewed me about what I call the "Not the nanny" syndrome. You know, that irritating situation when people mistake you for your child's caregiver because you might be of color and your baby looks kind of White? I know it happens all the time to Black girls like me who procreated across the color line and managed to spit out babies lacking in melanin. But it also happens to Latina women, Asian women and even White women.

I met a White woman recently who was married to a Filipino man. Her two children look more Asian than White. She told me that, while breast feeding, someone  asked her if she was the nanny?! So, my dear readers, apparently the syndrome doesn't discriminate.

Get a group of women together who have children that don't look like them and we can tell all kinds of hilarious stories, besting one another with the more outrageous comments people have thrown our way. And truth be told, sometimes they are funny. But a lot of times, those comments hurt. They hurt in a way I never expected. It's not because I feel so insulted to be mistaken for a nanny. And it's not even because I think people are being small-minded or insensitive by questioning my child's parentage. At the end of the day, it hurts because there's something visceral, I think, about wanting to see something of yourself in your offspring. It's that simple and that complicated.

I have never been told, 'gee your kids look just like you.' And it's not something I ever dreamed about hearing either. I'd rather hear, 'gee your kids sure are smart/talented/healthy.' But to be told over and over, your kids look nothing like you? Aye, there's the rub. What's more, I think that for women of color to be mistaken for the nanny, the underlying insult comes not from being mistaken for a domestic worker, but for not be respected enough to be mistaken for the mother. Ya dig?

Let's be clear though. The "I'm Not the Nanny"syndrome doesn't keep me up at night. I don't wring my hands in agony over the injustice of my kids looking more like their pale-face papa than me. In fact, until someone throws it in my face, I'm not thinking about it all. It's just another one of those fascinating Meltingpot moments that I think so many of us can relate to and perhaps help each other through.

What do you think? Is there more to the Not the Nanny syndrome? Is it something more people should be aware of? Is there a cure?

I'm listening.



lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

In the last few years, there seems to be a greater frequency in my life where people ask me what my relation is to the older white woman standing next to me.

A few days ago I went with my mom to see about a problem with her health insurance. I had to help her out with some of the information about her doctors and stuff.

As we were getting up to leave, the woman at the desk said something about how when she comes back for the formal meeting or whatever she can bring a family member and then pointed to me and said or a friend.

I thought to myself why she would think I was a friend. She had this voice in her as if she wasn't sure what I was to my mom. To me, I thought it was weird, why would a young person like myself hang around someone as old as my mom as a friend????

Its funny because its only white women that seem to do this. I remember going to my mom's work last week to pick her up from work and sat down and waited and a black coworker of my mom's commented that I looked exactly like my mom.

I often wonder if ever have children what will happen because if I get with a white man then wouldn't the child look more white since I am half white? I admit I am kind of scared.

Jen Marshall Duncan said...

I am with you, Lori, when you say it doesn't keep you up at night...but it does hurt on a visceral level to not be able to see myself in my kids. White men, white women, and black kids have bypassed me altogether and now ask my kids in this voice of disbelief, "Is THAT your mom???" My oldest is entering the teen years; you know, those years where you're embarrassed by your parents when race ISN'T an issue? I am bracing myself for added friction because he is moving to secondary school and will have a new peer group to introduce me to. It's not easy.

I don't know what the cure is. Like you, I don't stay up all night worrying about it, but it irritates like a mosquito bite. Wish people could look at individual people, families and situations without always making presumptions. Or if they need to make sense of situations by stereotyping--could they keep their compartmentalizations to themselves? If fewer people asked my kids "Is THAT your mom?" so incredulously, maybe they'd have a chance to observe for long enough to realize that we truly are family.

Anonymous said...

I suppose I don't have the expectation that my child will look like me because she is adopted.

I have been quite surprised over the last six years watching her grow up because she has the same characteristics, I did/do. Oddly enough, these things are genetic. She also has ADHD and lazy eye. Her ADHD manifests slightly different than mine. But we both have the wild imaginations and sensitivity that comes along with it. This is all taught me that we cannot escape ourselves! It also helps prove to me that she was meant to be my child. I understand my child so much. Much more than if I had a biological child and she/he had the temperament of my husband.

Kia said...

I am a brown skinned mom to two "Imitation of Life" light children and have the standard stories.

The irony being that my son in particular, skin and eye color aside,looks a lot like me. The people who notice that are few but not rare. And for reasons outlined in post, I am touched by their comments.

Anonymous said...

I am a young mother who has not yet, but my husband and I plan to adopt in the future and I can only imagine the comments I'll get from strangers (and family) about the children who may not look like me or their sister or father.
I have a question, though, as someone who *hasn't* dealt with these comments: is there a tactful way to ask? I am eager to connect with others who have adopted their babies and hear their stories. Is there any tactful way to ask at all? Or is it always best to just not?


Sui Sin Far said...

I've been mistaken for the mother of blonde haired boys as well as little black boys... I don't really look like either of my parents, looking kind of white when I'm with my mom and kind of Asian when I'm with my dad. But, I think observant people can tell when an adult and kid have a parent-child relationship as opposed to caregiver-child relationship. And, so when people don't notice, that sucks.

Sui Sin Far said...

But, as the nanny, it's kind of nice. Bittersweet really.