By Cindy Atoji Keene
Nanny Karina McCarthy doesn’t have many horror stories about dysfunctional families but she does have her own tale of angst: once she locked a baby in the car by accident, after throwing her keys onto the seat, shutting the door, and having the car automatically lock. She called 911, as well as the baby’s mother, and was so shook-up by the incident, that when the child’s mother arrived, she rushed up to comfort McCarthy, who was more distraught than the infant. “Needless to say, now I am very careful with my keys, and am always prepared for anything,” said McCarthy, 22, of Providence, R.I., who estimates that she’s changed between 10 to 50 thousand diapers, between her decade long experience as a childcare teacher, nanny, and overnight infant care specialist. She is currently caring for a seven-week old infant in Cambridge, and when the mom goes back to work soon, she’ll be logging in 80 hours a week.
“I have been called Mary Poppins more than once,” said McCarthy, a tribute to her ability to
lull an obstinate child to sleep or get a difficult toddler to share toys. She takes pride in her role as a nanny, which she says is much more than a babysitter because of the long-time commitment to the job as well as her role in social, emotional, and intellectual development, from working with charges on potty training and social manners to homework and language development. “The best part of being a nanny is that you’re not an employee but part of a family’s life. It’s extraordinary to know that a child is a better person because of the care you put in,” said McCarthy.
Q: You went to school for occupational therapy, but then changed course and studied early childhood development. Why?
A: It just seemed so impersonal. Sometimes the best therapy is just knowing about children and working with them one on one every day. For example, I cared for a two-year-old who had a speech and language delay. He was frustrated because he couldn’t communicate. So I taught myself the basics of sign language and then helped him learn words like “eat,” “milk,” and “all done. “Help” was an important sign that he often used.
Q: You are an overnight infant care specialist. What is that?
A: I go into a family’s home from 9 or 10 at night until the early morning to help with the baby so sleep-deprived parents can rest. Newborns need a lot of attention, and I stay in the baby’s room, feed or bring the baby to the mother, burp them, change diapers and settle the baby back down. Usually this means I’ll get only about three hours of sleep during the night, so I’ll go home, go to bed, and then do the same thing all over again.
Q: You’ve watched a lot of families raise children. What’s your own personal take on child rearing?
A: I have a naturalist philosophy; I try not to force children to do things that they aren’t ready for. I also believe in respecting infants and responding immediately to their needs. I’ve seen families who treat babies like objects, and don’t even talk to them. Nevertheless, a parent’s philosophy will always take precedence over mine.
Q: How do you discipline kids?
A: I’m not a huge fan of “time out” unless a child needs to calm down. If a child is whacking another kid with a block, you can’t reason with them, but instead set clear limits and expectations – “I won’t allow you to do that.” Of course, discipline depends on the child and the situation.
Q: You’re a listed provider on Care.com. Why did you put your profile on this provider website?
A: I knew I was going to be leaving my last job, caring for a little boy for two years. I heard through nanny friends that they got good results so I signed up and ended up finding a position that’s perfect for what I needed. Parents like it because the profiles are prescreened and there is access to background checks and references.
Q: Do you keep in touch with other nannies?
A: I just had a nanny dinner last night – seven of us got together. Nannies don’t have coworkers to grumble about their day to, so these connections help. I also have playdates with my nanny friends.
Q: Do you plan to have your own kids some day?
A: Honestly, I don’t know. I think it’s a struggle to raise children the way I want in this modern day society. It’s ironic, but I also am not sure if I could leave my child with another nanny to do a nanny job myself. It all seems complex. I need to figure it out.