An old high school friend welcomed 2010 by rushing her long-time yaya (Filipino for nanny) to the hospital. The doctor suspected meningitis. She slipped into coma while she was in the hospital and, sadly, never woke up. I knew her yaya, Ate T, but it has been years since I last saw her. She was the one that answered the phone whenever I would call my friend and, before passing the phone to her, would chat with me a bit. On the occasion that the barkada (Filipino for circle of friends) were at her house, she’d enquire about our lives before ushering us to the table for lunch. She was the cook too, and I’d never forgotten her golden squid balls dipped in sweet chili sauce. My friend was devastated with her sudden death and the twin pang of guilt of not being able to tell her how important she was to her and how grateful she was to have had her in her life.
I know my sister and I had yayas when we were babies because my parents would talk about them whenever memories from the past filtered through the present, but I don’t remember any of them. Having a yaya is a big help to parents who have to juggle parenthood and careers especially if the nanny is trustworthy, which is hard to come by nowadays. And there’s the problem – finding a reliable nanny who will look after the children as if they were her own; who will think twice before getting into shenanigans; and who will not cause grievous harm to the family.
A nanny pushed my high school history teacher to insanity. He was gone from school for several days only to turn up to say his goodbyes. His nanny had kidnapped his son, we were later told, and he went looking for them. He was leaving to still look for them, following some leads he had on their location.
Unable to find dependable nannies, today’s parents look to sisters, parents, cousins and single aunts. An old friend of the family, for instance, flew a distant cousin from the southern part of the Philippines to California to be her daughter’s full-time nanny. Former colleagues in Singapore told me that they’d leave their children in the care of their in-laws for the rest of the week and pick them up in the weekend.
While majority would quietly slip into the role of nanny, there are some who refuse to yield to nanny-hood. They’re not mean-spirited people; they will help but they’re not going to be responsible for the rearing of someone’s child – relative or not. It’s simply not their responsibility Take the brother of a friend. He was at daggers drawn with his father-in-law who lashed out against his sisters, calling them irresponsible women for not looking after his grandson. It was not done, he argued, in his family. Although he can ask for help every now and then, his sisters or parents are not default nannies.
My high school buddy who lost her long-time nanny is opposed to the idea too. She decided to become a stay-at-home-mum when she had her children. She lives by the motto “her children, her responsibility”, which was not the case with her sister-in-law, and which is the source of her anguish since her retired parents have become full-time nannies to her three nephews.
It begs the question: Why have a family when you’re not ready? It begs another question: Why saddle parents and relatives with the responsibility of raising your children? It is good to have a trustworthy nanny, an extra pair of hands to look after the children, but child-rearing shouldn’t be shunted on kith and kin. Asking is not the same as burdening someone with one’s responsibilities even if they’re family.