Between and Betwixt – Positioning Nannies as Mothers: Perspectives from Durban, South Africa

Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins

ISBN: 978-1-78756-400-8, eISBN: 978-1-78756-399-5

ISSN: 1529-2126

Publication date: 15 November 2018


Nannies occupy a rather problematic position in childcare. Their presence facilitates intensive mothering for their employers’ children, while their absence from their own children facilitates distance parenting. By moving away from home and working as nannies, they enable ideal mothering for their often White, middle-class employers, seemingly at the expense of their own children. Unspoken feeling rules further complicate their provision of emotional labor in childcare, while continuous efforts to avoid strong attachment with the children under their care become a source of struggle. Employers need them as invisible extensions of themselves with limited parental authority. In order to provide for their families, nannies, who are often Black working-class single women, also make parallel childcare arrangements. These arrangements differ, as community othermothers enjoy the respect and authority that nannies do not. The continuation of their caregiver role from a distance requires active nurturing of emotional bonds despite spatial separation using a variety of means. Gift-giving also features strongly as a means to bridge physical gap between nannies and their children. As Black mothers from communities which emphasize communal childcare, their support networks are well placed to care for their children and concurrently reinforce their position as mothers – a position they do not enjoy in paid employment.



Seepamore, B. (2018), "Between and Betwixt – Positioning Nannies as Mothers: Perspectives from Durban, South Africa", Taylor, T. and Bloch, K. (Ed.) Marginalized Mothers, Mothering from the Margins (Advances in Gender Research, Vol. 25), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 141-155.

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