The Washington Post

Hating on my manny

Students hold up their answers on dry erase boards as Rick Hall teaches a third-grade class at Wallace A. Smith Elementary. The class is comprised of all boys. Photo by Associated Press. Rick Hall teaches a third-grade class at Wallace A. Smith School in Tenn. (AP)

So, young guys in the ’70s rode skateboards, played Pong and did a lot of babysitting, I learned.

I received scores of e-mails yesterday from men who had spent their teens as neighborhood babysitters — way before male nannies — “The Manny” — became cool in Hollywood. And most of them were freaked that it’s become such a taboo. The online discussion about hiring a male babysitter, as I have done, was both thought-provoking and unsettling.

Lots of dads who are primary caregivers stopped to tell me they are often the only man on a playground and they constantly feel scrutinized, doubted, suspect. And I even heard from a few parents who were abused as children, and their experience will always color their judgment today when it comes to hiring someone to watch their kids. You can’t argue with an experience like that.

But cases of personal trauma aside, I don’t know that we’ve become a wiser and safer nation by casting doubt on the entire male species as caregivers. A lot of parents weigh the statistical risks, deciding that because a huge percentage of sexual predators are male, they will keep their kids safer by hiring only females to sit their kids.

One father of five who said he never let his sons babysit and never hired a male babysitter said he believes teenage boys are simply too unstable for such work.

“Rarely discussed, your own teenage boy with raging hormones babysitting for someone else’s kid might get carried away, either on his own or by being seduced (consciously or not) by the kid and sexually abuse him or her.  So you need to protect not only the other parents’ kid from abuse by your son but ALSO protect your own son from himself,” he said.

Well, maybe teenage boys could be hot messes too.

But what about extending that skepticism to men? A teacher with years of experience wrote to me about the trouble he had getting work here. “I applied to numerous public schools to teach at in DC, but not one would hire me in a Early Childhood setting. I am pretty sure none of the males in my (teaching class) were hired by DCPS schools,” he wrote.

Eventually, he was hired by a charter school and ended up in an all-girl class. After some time, “one parent came up to me and told me that I was the first male figure in her daughter’s life that she trusted. That really touched me and I might of shed a tear that day. I can’t even tell you how many times I am called Daddy on a daily basis,” he wrote.

“I really think that sometimes this ‘fear’ is hurting kids the most who are in desperate need of positive male role models in their lives,” he said.

Same went for a reader who had been director of child-care centers in the Midwest and the D.C. area who told me she never hesitated to hire qualified, male caregivers.

“For many of the children, their fathers were either very busy professionals, active-duty military or, in some instances, totally absent from the family,” she wrote. “The male child-care workers brought wonderful qualities of patience and humor to the children along with their deeper voices. While some parents had questions initially, in time even the most hesitant came to recognize (the teachers) as valuable additions to their children’s lives.”

One of the best quotes came from a reader who simply said, “I try to live by the following two favorite mottos. 1.Separate your fear from your paranoia, 2.less remorse and more reform.”

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things.



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