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The Nanny Diaries

I just finished reading The Nanny Diaries, which I think should be required reading for everyone, whether they are parents or not. Whether, even, they ever intend to be parents or not. But I will warn you, this book is not the lighthearted, fluffy read that the reviewers say it is. I don't know where those reviewers have been or what alternative dimension they've been reading the book in, but this book is far from lighthearted. Instead, it is a dark condemnation of the kind of person who is empty inside and doesn't even know it, and the kind of damage they can do, not just to their children, but to everyone they come into contact with, as a consequence of that emptiness.

Briefly, the story is a fictionalized account based on the experiences of the authors, who between the two of them had been employed as nannies by thirty wealthy New York families. The central character, Nanny, tells of her sojourn with a single such family, Mr. and Mrs. X and their son, Grayer X.

Mrs. X, the narcissistic mother, never allows her son to hug her, and avoids any touch with him as much as possible. Her material possessions and her own comfort are far more important to her than the emotional or physical welfare of her son, or, for that matter, anyone else's welfare either. It is, in short, all about her. The father is absent most of the time, and dismissive and neglectful of his wife and son when he is around.

The son, Grayer, shows promise, but is slowly drowning in the relentless neglect he is experiencing. Sure, he has the finest possessions money can buy, but he is not being given what he truly needs in order to live: Love, respect, positive regard and attention from his parents...the simple things that any loving parent manages to muster even when exhausted, at least most of the time, and which his parents never manage even once. He asks for a guinea pig and the parents buy a puppy, which he doesn't want, because it is a status symbol and a guinea pig is not. Just a few short days after buying the dog, Mrs. X coldly foists it off on Nanny.

The only hugs, attention, and love Grayer gets are from Nanny, who, despite outrageous treatment by Mrs. X, stays on long beyond when she would have like to have left. She stays for the sake of the child, knowing she is his only safe port in some very emotionally troubled seas. For Grayer's sake, she puts up with a lot of abuse herself, knowing that she will likely be fired if she dares to speak up.

And, in fact, at the end of the book, Nanny is sacked because she did not allow herself to be a total slave to the Xes. Mrs. X wanted Nanny to forgo her own graduation ceremony and celebrations because it wasn't convenient for Mrs. X. When Nanny uncharacteristically stands up for herself for once, Mrs. X immediately starts to search for a replacement (very typical narcissistic behavior on Mrs. X's part), and fires Nanny after using her one more time as a virtual slave, then pays her a fraction of what is owed for the work.

At the end of the book, one is left worried and not knowing what will become of the boy with such parents, yet hoping that his brief time with Nanny will help him stay reasonably sane.

The fact that the reviewers of this book ignore the child's welfare is most disturbing. As mentioned above, the reviewers describe this book as "hilarious" and "a light romp"; "good summer fare" and "excellent beach material." How can the story of a child's brutal emotional neglect (no amount of Gucci and Prada wrapping can sweeten it) ever be described as "hilarious"? Let alone "a light romp"? One might speculate that perhaps the reviewers are each, in their own way, Mr. and Mrs. Xes, and that is why they totally did not "get" the dark nature of this story.

For the sake of all the real "Grayers" in the world, it is reassuring to know that studies have shown that even the most neglected child can come out of an abusive childhood sane and whole (though scarred) if they manage to spend even a single half hour with someone who sees them as human beings and treats them accordingly, with love and respect.

It would likewise be reassuring to remind oneself that this is fiction, reassuring, that is, if one didn't know that, unfortunately, rich or poor or in-between, there are a lot of "parents" out there perpetrating the same kind of emotional abuse and emotional neglect described in this book.

What is wrong with such people is that at their core, they are lost souls, with no spiritual foundation upon which to base their interpretations of or interactions with the world. From my own experience when looking for childcare for my infant daughter (many years ago), I know that there are many people for whom it would be the kindest interpretation to say that they truly have no clue how to raise a child, or what a child's needs are, despite the wealth of literature and classes that is available, not to mention other people to consult. A grimmer interpretation would be to say, as the Welsh so succinctly put it, "They don't know, and they don't want to know."

Very late in the book, the father's mother is introduced, showing herself to be an interesting blend of the worst of the two parents, thus providing a glimpse, perhaps, of how the two parents became so lost--they themselves were raised (by different but similar parents, of course) the same way they are now raising their son, and so they in their childhood did not get their fundamental needs met.

This is perhaps one of the most insightful aspects of the book, whether the authors realize it or not. If a child does not get his or her fundamental needs met, depending on what the child's temperament is and which needs are not met, the child ends up with pyschological and emotional problems--sometimes quite severe ones, as illustrated by the parents in this book.

And that leads us smack into the point of this essay. Get the book and read it. If you are patient, put yourself on the waiting list at your local public library. (As I did, though I had to wait seven months for it to become available to me, despite the fact that the book is a seven-day loan rather than the more usual three weeks.) If you are impatient, borrow or buy it.

Then, after reading it, ponder the stories in this book multipled by thousands of children, multiplied by decades, and you can start to gain a bit of an idea of the scope of the problem. I believe that most people are basically decent, hard-working, and good-willed, but even the most decent person, given the kind of childhood that the fictional Grayer and his many non-fictional brothers and sisters have been given, can go a little nuts. This can explain much of what is wrong with the world, not just in America, but everywhere, for child abuse and neglect is not an American invention, nor it is a strictly American phenomenon.

Then, get a grip and tell yourself that it doesn't have to be this way. Take action. Write to your elected representatives about all issues that have to do with child care and education. Support school vouchers, so that caring parents can send their children to better schools. (And no, throwing more money at the government school system--known by some as the public school system--is not going to fix what is wrong with our educational system.)

If you are a parent or have any contact with parents and children, educate yourself about what a child's needs are at every stage of his or her development, and do your level best to fulfill those needs appropriately in whatever capacity you can. If you have your own children, be the best damn parent you can be, allowing for the fact that we are all human and we all get weary. If you are an aunt or an uncle or even a cousin to children, read to them. Play with them. Give them books instead of cheap, trashy, plastic toys. Encourage them to not watch television. Encourage their parents to watch over their education like hawks.

In short, interact with them as though they matter--because they do, deeply, urgently. They truly are the future of humanity, and I weep for our species if we cannot love our own children.

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I am so happy to have found at least one single person on the Internet who was as disturbed by this book as I was. I could Not Stop Cyring and can not get poor Grayer out of my head. What will become of him? I am desparate to talk to the authors to know if they children they had cared for ended up ok? I can hear Grayer yelling for Nanny and even feel pain for the father and mother and my gosh, for the baby-to-be. My husband picked up the book after I read it and looked at the back and could not understand why I was crying if the back of the book said it was so funny. Thank you, Thank you for your sensitivity - someone else cared about Grayer.

Thank you, thank you!!! It has been two days since I have finished this book and I can't get it out of my head. I found this book to be far from a comedy-instead a dark, gloomy insight of abuse and neglect stylishly dressed and accessorized with Prada shoes. Like the last reviewer, I cried when I finished this book. How could you not? This is reality. Do you think people would have been as outraged if this book was about a babysitter for a trailer court family?
It should definitely be required reading as it provides opportunity to reflect on your own parenting beliefs.

I agree with your assessment of The Nanny Diaries and the previous commentators. Grayer was a very abused child, abused by a combination of being rebuffed and ignored by his own parents. He and the puppy were status symbols for that family. Grayer may have been lucky not to have been relegated to the garage in a cardboard box, but the puppy was lucky enough to escape with Nanny. To paraphrase from the movie, Parenthood, if you want to keep a dog, you have to follow the rules to get a license, but any **** is allowed to become a parent.

Thank you to all of you for commenting on this post. I agree with all of you. I think what bothers me the most about this book is that it is based on a composite of actual experiences...which means there are any number of "Grayers" living lives of quiet desperation.

I have heard that the wealthy families of New York were displeased and felt as though their lives had been invaded by this book, which makes me wonder how many nannies are now asked if they plan to write a book. But the bigger issue is the underlying emptiness and spiritual desert of those families that leads them to make statements of concern over their privacy rather than of concern over how they are raising their children. I know it shouldn't, but it always surprises me when I run into people who are more concerned about appearances than substance.

I just finished this book last night and am thoroughly depressed. I was heartbroken at how easily the X's allowed caretakers to come in and out of their son's life, without so much as a goodbye. Nanny was correct when she told the obnoxious young men that they would be Mr. X in a few years. Sadly, they were all probably Greyer a few years ago themselves. Nanny also made an excellent point as to how easily they hired her and allowed her to be the primary caretaker of their child.

I have had this book on my lists since it has been
in publication! I have so much to say that I don't have the slightest idea of where to begin. I have to be very careful because I too am a nanny & I want to be like Nan .... to be able to vent!!! First let me just say this... KUDOS!!! For having the genious nerve to come out. Yes, it may be ficticious but all of us nannies out there know & salute you for your spoken heroism! We all have our horror stories & skeletons of the lives of the Mr. & Mrs. Park Ave.'s. I too was dismissed from my charges lives without any purpose or regard to the effects these actions have & irreparable harm to all the Grayers in the world. The book was superb! It left me in tears for days. To the point of my husband having to read it. It moved him as well & enabled him to relate to all the emotions & events I had to endure for the sake of not abandoning my charges, because you have the humanity & concerns for their well being. I can't wait for the movie! I feel such a release from this book. It validates my sanity. I only pray that at least one Mrs. X will somehow throw caution to the wind (remember the movie "Regarding Henry") & embrace the gift of having a child at all! God Bless all the little Grayers in the world. We truly love you & root for you each day!

It is exactly a year after the original posting on this book, to the point of being eerie. I just finished reading it, and had to turn to the 'net to share and find out if others were as disturbed by it as I was. I got it out of the library this past week, vaguely remembering the uproar it caused last summer.
The first shock was seeing how quickly Mrs. X paased her child off to someone she had just met. It set the tone for the rest of the book- the extreme self-centeredness.
I was really disturbed to look at myself and see a bit of her in me- the Suzuki violin for my daughter at age 4, asking the babysitter to not allow t.v.... but, I listened- the violin disappeared after 3 months, and I finally figured out that a little tv doesn't hurt.
Having read this book helps me see the damage that is done to children if we follow all the 'expert' advice and try to enhance every minute of our children's lives, when what they really need is something that has no PROFIT in this country- love and attention. All the books that Mrs. X had on perfecting her child... Corporate America has tried to sell us on the idea that if it can't be bought, it isn't something our kids need to grow up healthy. Mr and Mrs X appear to be victims of the same emotional abuse as Grayler.
Some of what I've written is just a first reaction- I need more time to figure it all out. Thanks for letting me go to the 'feelings room'!

You're awesome.

You wrote a review that I agree with wholeheartedly. Of the several reviews I read, only you and the Washington Post mentioned the sadness and neglect.

Regarding the quote below from your review, do you know where I can find a study or studies citing the value of spending even small amounts of time with loving and respectful adults? Having one or more citations would be helpful in a grant I'm hoping to put together. Thanks.

"For the sake of all the real "Grayers" in the world, it is reassuring to know that studies have shown that even the most neglected child can come out of an abusive childhood sane and whole (though scarred) if they manage to spend even a single half hour with someone who sees them as human beings and treats them accordingly, with love and respect."


Thanks for visiting. I don't recall where I read that piece of information. It might have been in Charles Whitfield's Healing the Child Within. That is a short, dense book packed with information.

If the desired information isn't in that book, you might also try Is Your Body Trying to Tell You Something? (formerly titled Your Body Never Lies), by Carmen Renee Berry. Other than pointing you in the direction of those two sources, I can't be much help.

Good luck on your grant!

From a nanny's point of view: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Reading this book broke my heart because Nanny's situation is one I have encountered numerous times in my young adult life. How sad is it to come across parents who don't even have the time or desire to bend over and hug their child? To know that you have touched the life of a child is perhaps the most empowering thing in the world, so why are so many parents giving up this rare opportunity? Unfortunately Nanny's fictional story is actually far from fictional, and not humorous in the least. I am so glad to hear that there are other people out there who found this book anything but amusing.

Me & my boyfriend was planning to get married last month, just last week we had some argument that made him get angry on me just because of the argument, he said we will not be married again and the next day he left me and we broke up. I still loved him and I wanted him to marry me, for me to get him back i had no choice than to contacted robinson.buckler@ yahoo. com to help me and he helped me to bring my lover back to me so we can continue our plan to be married. he came back after 3 days

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