Nanny McPhee Meets Mr. Miyagi?

Elite nanny of old. (“In the Nursery,” Painting by Helen Allingham, Image by Yulia Mi)

This may sound tongue-in-cheek, and to an extent it is, but consider the following proposal seriously (with a dash of silliness, if you want). I came across two New York Times articles on childcare recently that got me thinking. The first was about how wealthy-ish Americans (that is Americans who are wealthy but probably just consider themselves normal upper middle-income individuals barely making ends meet) are paying $44,000 a year in daycare fees. That’s a lot—and at that price I’ve known some environmental organizers who simply said it makes more sense for them to quit their jobs and become a stay-at-home parent.1 And worse, the daycare being described wasn’t something amazing—with farm-to-table food service, Waldorf-style education, nature play time and all that—it was just a for-profit daycare filling the need to keep children alive while parents are at their jobs.

Second article: this one was about Norland College, a school for elite nannies. I had never even imagined a place like this exists, but this 130-year-old school graduates about a hundred nannies a year to cater to the super well-off. They’re trained in all the basics, as well as nutrition, emotional intelligence, CPR, cybersecurity, martial arts, and evasive driving. (Hence, why the nannies are often referred to as ‘Mary Poppins Meets James Bond.’) And while they’re serving the children of queens and the well-to-do, Norland nannies’ starting salaries are only $53,000 plus living expenses each year so that got me thinking: many upper middle income couples with two kids in daycare could probably afford their own elite nanny.

Gaian Social Enterprise

So what’s my point? I’ve been obsessed with social enterprises even since learning about Christian Socialism back when I was studying religion in college. Christian Socialism was a stage in the 1800s when Christians created many still thriving organizations, such as the YMCA and Salvation Army, to help people as they suffered the social disruptions that industrialization and urbanization brought—and oh yeah, Christianize them/save their souls. (My local YMCA is mostly just a gym now but it still provides community services today, even transitional housing.)

I’ve dreamed of Gaian midwives and death doulas, and local permaculture educators (especially as things fall apart and people realize their yards could feed their families but have no idea how). But perhaps there’s a more urgent need and ready-to-enter niche: early childcare. Imagine if Gaian Nannies became a trusted brand of childcare (just as Catholic Schools became a trusted brand of school for many decades, even by non-Catholic parents). “Yes,” the parents would say, “Our Gaian Nanny is a bit eco-zealous and too often brings our little Susie out into the park, but Susie really loves to go and is always quiet and content when she gets home.” “Sure, our nanny shifted us to mostly vegetarian fare, but it’s helluva lot better than what we were eating and cheaper too. And heck, most nannies don’t even cook!”

But Gaian Nannies would. They would see childcare holistically, along the body, mind, and spirit axes:

  • Healthy body, with children eating real food not living off Goldfish and Cheerios—and what better way to guide what’s going into the children’s bodies than crafting the menu and children’s (as well as parents’) palates?;
  • Healthy mind, with children reading lots of stories (ideally with good morals), engaged in creative playtime and rarely, if ever, plopped in front of screens;
  • Healthy spirit, with children walking everywhere, not locked in strollers, and especially getting out into nature (rather than just plastic playgrounds) where they learn they are connected to all living beings.

Even trying to divide these into three categories seems silly as all feed the other. A good diet improves the ability to concentrate, intelligence, growth, the microbiome, and the immune system. Being off screens improves manners, focus, and wellbeing. Being physically active and in natural environments keeps one healthy, strong, and grounded. And on and on. Of course, socio-emotional learning would be at the forefront as well, and real life skills: martial arts, cooking, gardening, math, science, and multiple languages. Essentially, the curriculum would borrow heavily from EarthEd: Rethinking Education on a Changing Planet, but with a slightly magical twist: nannies would cultivate an enchantment with nature alongside a real world practicality—not Mary Poppins meets James Bond, but more Nanny McPhee meets Mr. Miyagi.2

Elite nanny of new? (Image of Forest Educator and child from Westbrook Nature School)

Building the Brand

Setting this up, finding the clientele, and building the brand wouldn’t be easy. But then again, the Norland School has chosen to keep their numbers small so there is surely a huge unmet demand for elite nanny services, especially at a price that is comparable to (or even better than) having two kids in for-profit daycare. (Not to mention there’s been a drop of 100,000 in the childcare sector in the U.S. since the pandemic, increasing demand for good childcare services.)3

Of course, not all applicants to the school would be Gaian, but they’d learn the value of an eco- and child-centric approach to education and perhaps, over time, would see the value in a Gaian Way. And as they’d earn far more than the typical nanny (many of whom earn less than a livable wage, with 29% actually suffering from food insecurity), I imagine many would be open to learning and embracing this new way. Same with the children: most would never even realize their nannies were teaching them an ecocentric way, but perhaps they’d develop a deeper relationship to the larger living Earth, and live according to those values as they grew into adults (and future elites). While it sounds like a crazy idea (and certainly won’t solve the larger societal childcare or inequity issues), it seems worth exploring. What do you think?


1) Which I totally support, and luckily could do myself (fortunately shared equally with my wife). However, this should be done out of choice, not sheerly out of of economic considerations.

2) Who’s Nanny McPhee? She’s a nanny (from a 2005 film), like Mary Poppins, who showed up at a desperate moment to help a family in need, but in a magical and quite bossy way, getting the extremely unruly children to become polite and more grown up, e.g. attending to the wellbeing of the entire family not just their impulses. Point: Gaian Nannies, seeming a bit mystical (from their quiet, calming presence), will be there when you need them, not when you want them. And will also teach you to protect yourself and karate wisdom like Mr. Miyagi as well!

3) Of course, it wouldn’t be marketed as economical but holistic and an amazing start to life. It could even include a non-English language as the primary nanny language. That achieves two things: first, it’s a real value-added (providing children with a second language in a unilingual home); and second, there will be less scrutiny/contradiction as the nanny provides a Gaian perspective on the world!

Bonus Endnote: This might even serve as a means to help spread Gaians around the world, and facilitate the creation of local Gaian guilds.

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2 Responses

  1. Megan

    I think this is a great idea. A lot of the success other groups have is based on how involved they become in society, providing jobs and charity and so on.

  2. ken ingham

    I wish I’d had a Gaian Nanny. I wish the Gaian Nanny training academy had been up and running by the time I became a parent. I wish there were a Gaian Teachers College in every state. I wish every church, synagogue and mosque had a Gaian Sunday School program (or Saturday). I wish there were Gaian Summer Youth Camps staffed with Gaian counselors. I wish there were Gaian missionaries knocking on every door. I wish I had been introduced to Gaia as a child. I am grateful to have spent childhood summers on my uncle’s farm. Looking back I now realize how close I was to Gaia, without even knowing her name.

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