Shortly before the birth of my first child nine years ago, while browsing the bookstore for mommy wisdom, I discovered Anne Lamott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year and fell in love with the author and the book. More than any parenting truisms the book might have contained, it was Lamott’s writing style—funny, self-deprecating, and brutally honest—that kept me reading. The big mommy insight I gleaned from Operating Instructions was that I wasn’t quite as neurotic as Anne, so my kid and I would probably be all right.
At the turn of the millennium, Bridget Jones and the Sex and the City girls heralded a new era of fun, fearless singledom. Chick lit, accompanied by memoirs and anthologies about single womanhood, made it whimsical for an otherwise-capable woman to be vain, proud of her missteps and mistakes, and heartbroken over her inability to find a man. Now, what happens in the next chapter after Ms. Adorably Quirky has found Mr. Right? She manifests new neuroses and fears as she enters the brave new world of motherhood.
With all the world in strife, one might think the moms of New York would cut each other some slack.... That motherhood, in short, would serve as a safe house where civility and mutual respect rule. Think again. Motherhood, for all its well-documented joys, has become a flash point for envy, resentment, and guilt.
—Ralph Gardner Jr., “Mom vs. Mom,” New York, October 21, 2002
"One might think,” in other words, that mothers could comport themselves in a more seemly manner. Because if we don’t get ourselves under control, we’re going to explode.
In this era of social conservatism, the so-called mommy wars, and renewed cultural clashes about gender, work, and “family values,” it’s hardly surprising that nanny narratives are making a comeback. Faster than you can say “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” nannies have popped up in movies (Uptown Girls) and bestselling novels (The Nanny Diaries, I Don’t Know How She Does It), as characters on tv shows (Friends, Kevin Hill, Desperate Housewives), and even as a subgenre of reality tv (Nanny 911, Supernanny).