Childcare: Manny-ing Up

MyManny founder John Brandon. Photo by Maura Friedman – Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Editor’s Note: A regular contributor to New York Family, Heather Ouida knows a thing or two about nannies. Mommybites, the company that she co-founded, has the largest mom-generated free nanny boards in the NYC area. So, we were quite surprised when Heather contacted us hoping to interview the founder of a male nanny (i.e., “manny”) agency.

It turns out that even though Heather had a nanny for many years, last summer she decided that her two sons—ages 9 and 12—might really enjoy a male caretaker, a move she describes as one of the best decisions she and her husband have made for their family. To find the right one, Heather turned to MyManny founder John Brandon. We asked her, in turn, to interview him again, but this time for all of us. -Eric Messinger

First, let’s just make it clear to everyone what exactly the term “manny” means. 

In a traditional sense, a manny is simply a nanny who is a male. However, over the course of the past few years, the term has come to mean a big brother, male babysitter, mentor, role model, coach, and tutor. For me, I like to define manny as “a guy with good character who wants to make a difference in the life of a child.” So in that sense, a manny is for both boys and girls. There are young girls out there who need male role models in their lives just as much as boys do.

Before your started your manny business, you were a manny yourself. What made you decide to become a manny?

I was working at a restaurant while pursuing my bachelor’s degree. There was a lawyer in town who always came in during lunch. One day, he asked me if I wanted to come by his house on Friday evening and watch his kids while he and his wife were out on a date. His normal sitter had backed out. His boys were ages 4 and 6. We had the time of our lives. The next day, the dad took me out to lunch and asked me if I wanted to live with their family for the next year and look after the boys. I would pick them up from school in the afternoons, help them with their schoolwork, take them to the park…basically be a big brother to them. For all that, the dad offered me free rent, food, and a weekly stipend. That was back in 2006 and we didn’t know what to call me. So we just started calling me “the manny.”

What about your own experience as a manny made you think mannying could be its own business? 

Even in 2006, I thought it was a good idea. But it wasn’t until 2013, as the popularity of mannies had increased—especially in cities like New York—that I decided to start my first company. As soon as we launched, we received interest and requests for mannies all over the country (and the world). So, just one year later, in 2014 I decided to expand the company nationwide and build a technology platform that would help me manage the potential volume of clients.

What qualifications and qualities do your mannies need to have?  

We are simply looking for guys who are great with kids and have a heart for service. Our mannies have very diverse backgrounds and experiences. Some of them are teachers are looking for extra income, some are camp counselors and are certified in CPR and first aid, others are recent college graduates who are looking for work while sorting out the next phase of their lives. We don’t require that they have had specific experience as a manny, but that they have experience in childcare in some capacity.

What were the biggest challenges for creating NYC Mannies and now MyManny? 

My biggest challenge was and is educating families and the mannies themselves on what exactly a manny is and what a manny is not. If families currently use a babysitter, I want them to consider hiring one of my guys so they can see first-hand the benefits of having a young, energetic manny looking after their kids. For potential mannies, I want them to realize how fun and rewarding this job can be.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. I don’t want this to come across as sexist or disrespectful, but I know many people are uncomfortable with the notion of a male nanny. We typically picture nannies as women, so many wonder why a young man would want this type of job. How do you alleviate people’s uneasiness with this?    

Again, it’s about education. If I educate the public on what a manny really is, it alleviates their doubts and fears. Would you let your child have a male teacher at school? Or a male little league coach? Those male teachers and coaches often have kids stay after school or after practice to help them one on one, and we don’t think anything of it. I’m not inserting grown men into the role of a traditional nanny. I’m reinventing what it can mean to be a nanny and a caregiver. Why not have a young, athletic and/or artistic/musical guy around your kids who can teach them things and encourage them to live an active, healthy lifestyle. I realize that what I’m doing is progressive, but I see the difference it is making in the lives of kids.

I know some moms are at times jealous of the close attachments their children form with their nannies. Does this happen with mannies too? Do dads sometimes feel jealous?

That’s an interesting question. Yes, sometimes dads feel like: “Well I want to be the one to bring my kids to the park or to baseball, etc.” Just as many moms feel they sometimes are missing out on fun times with their kids. But whether it’s a manny or nanny, I’m finding that in the end parents are just happy when their kids are happy and well cared for. The fact that kids are getting attached to their mannies is an awesome thing!

Do you find that sometimes the mannies are ostracized by other parents, or even other nannies?

Not that I know of… The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. When I worked as manny, parents of other kids were excited and encouraged to see me there. The female nannies I worked with were always so positive and welcoming. No one thought it was strange or unusual. It’s different when you hear about it rather than actually seeing it for yourself. Watching a manny in the park with kids seems so normal. It’s like seeing an older brother or cousin.

Do mannies in NYC face unique challenges?

The biggest challenge about being a manny or nanny or parent, for that matter, in the city is the lack of running room. I worked for a while on the Lower East Side, away from any parks, so the kids and I would just run around our city block dodging pedestrians until we got tired. I think being a caregiver of any gender in NYC has its unique challenges. It’s a very busy city with a lot going on.

To learn more about MyManny, visit mymanny.com!