It’s easy to spend money on your kid, isn’t it? 

Judging by the fact that Gucci makes a baby carrier and there’s a market for a crystal-studded potty seat, it’s clear that people like spending money on their little ones. I can’t say I’m immune; although most of Teddy’s duds come from the thrift store, I regularly moon over the cuteness manufactured by baby Gap and mini Boden.  

But there’s one thing most parents like to scrimp on: child care. 

A friend of mine who’s a nanny told me a story of a rich couple she interviewed with recently. The mom was going to trust my buddy to watch her six-week-old baby one entire weekend a month, plus regular child care. One of her questions: Do I have to pay you while my child sleeps? 

Um, yeah. Unless it’s fine with you if she just saunters out to get a latte while your newborn snoozes or doesn’t get up off the couch when the baby wakes up crying because she’s too busy finishing an epi of Beverly Hills Nanny. 

Many, many, many employers try to talk her down from her going rate of $15 an hour. These are the same people who are happy to shell out $150 for a Columbia ski for their toddler who won’t spend more than 10 minutes at a time out in the snow, or pay $50 a pop for their kid to build a bear complete with a working underwater snorkel and flippers. 

Why are we so easily persuaded to part with our cash when it comes to stuff for our kids, yet we cringe at the thought of paying the people who take care of them? Wouldn’t you rather know that the person who keeps your kid from ingesting the entire tube of blue glitter toothpaste in one long goo stream is heavily invested in keeping them alive and not disgruntled? 

All of this came to mind this week when I read a report at my real job, a new study on domestic workers called Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work. Did you know that domestic workers – nannies, caregivers and housekeepers – don’t have to get minimum wage or overtime? They can’t form unions, don’t get any protection from toxic or unsafe working conditions, and aren’t protected by the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. 

The stories in this report are horrific. Here’s one: 

Anna was hired as a live-in nanny for a family of four in Midtown Manhattan. Anna’s workday is long, and she works
every day of the week. She begins at 6 a.m. when the children wake up, and ends around 10 p.m. when she finishes cleaning the kitchen, after having put the children comfortably to bed. Her work consists of multiple tasks: cleaning, laundry, preparing family meals, and tending to all the children’s needs, including teaching them to read. At night, she sleeps between her charges on a small mattress placed on the floor between their beds. She has not been given a single day off in 15 months. Like many domestic workers, Anna’s pay is low. She was originally promised $1,500 a month but receives only $620. On average, then, she is paid just $1.27 per hour. 

Ladies, mommies: this is a feminist issue. The people who do these jobs are women, and they’re doing their work so that the rest of us can go to work. Those of us who have broken through the glass ceiling owe it to the people sweeping up the shattered glass. Shorting babysitters, nannies, house cleaners and caregivers is stealing from women and from their own children who they are working to provide for. We can’t gripe about women in the work place and simultaneously steal from those who allow us to be both working women and mothers. 

Of course, this is easier said than done. I don’t pay for child care. My husband and I are able to split it so that we can both work. When neither of us can do it, we have friends who regularly volunteer, including the four-star nanny I mentioned earlier. If we had to pay for child care, I doubt it would make sense for me to work at all. 

So, what do we do? Do we demand the kind of child-care subsidies that European countries have? Cut down on birthday gifts so that we can pay our child’s caregivers a fair wage?  Lobby for changes to labor laws to make it mandatory that domestic workers get the protections the rest of us enjoy? 

Whatever the solution, these women need us as much as we need them. We can’t afford for them to go on underpaid, over-worked and unprotected.

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