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‘Nanny Diaries’ Authors on Parenting in the Social Media Age

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus with their childrenParents caught up with renowned authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus just before their latest book, The First Affair, hit store shelves. Known best for their breakout novel The Nanny Diaries and its sequel Nanny Returns, Emma and Nicola have since moved from nannyhood to motherhood. Here the writing team chats all things Nanny Diaries, being moms to their 3-year-olds—a daughter for Nicola, a son for Emma—and their latest must-read for moms.

How were The Nanny Diaries born?

EM: We heard mothers who neither stayed at home nor worked complaining about their help. It was a very one-sided story because the help was never really interviewed and didn’t have a voice. We really wanted to talk about everything we had witnessed and experienced and that whole side of the conversation. We set out to write Nanny Diaries.

NK: We never imagined that it was going to create a very large career change for us or that we’d be sitting here talking to you about our seventh book 13 years later.

How did working as nannies affect your parenting style and your relationship with the people who take care of your children?

NK: As a nanny I ran a very tight ship. If you sort of establish what the rules are day one then you never have to do it again because they know their boundaries and kids find that very comforting. As a parent, it’s a disaster. Sophie runs roughshod over me all the time. We always sensed that being a parent and being a nanny are not the same things at all, but G-d they are not the same things at all. The other great thing that I feel like I got from being a nanny, why I would recommend it to anyone for at least a year as a twenty-something job, is that I really viscerally understand how fast this is going to go in a way that I don’t think you can unless you’ve raised kids. I don’t sweat a lot of things. I just know that it’s going to be fine. A lot of people say raise your first like your fourth. And she was my fourth. She was my 31st in many ways.

Does your experience as a nanny have an affect on the way you treat your babysitter when she comes over?

EM: It’s always at the very front of my mind. I am constantly aware of her perspective in this and that she never becomes part of the woodwork to me. I think something that really shocked me as a nanny were parents who sort of assumed the worst from the get-go. People who didn’t accept the benefit of the doubt. I see through her eyes. Also, I’m so touched and humbled by the effort that she makes, the level of good thinking that she does for my child.

NK: I’m so appreciative. When I come to pickup at the end of the day I just want to hand them a flask of whiskey. I’m like “Oh my G-d, you’ve been with twelve 3.5 year-olds all day. Are you ok?”

EM: I would walk in with a beer if I could.

Do you think your books—from Nanny Diaries all the way through The First Affair—appeal to moms?

NK: I hope so.

EM: I think just because you’re a mom it doesn’t negate, if anything you’re probably more enhanced, that you’re a woman trying to find your place in the world.

NK: We try to write the kinds of stories that we like to find the time to read now. They have to be a page-turner because you are just too tired for anything where you don’t have a question that’s keeping you going. We like to write stories about some aspect about being a woman that hopefully resonates with everybody. I think our moms are our most loyal group. I also think moms don’t really want to read about being moms when they get some down time.

EM: I don’t. I don’t want to read anything.

NK: When you go to a fiction place, that’s not my escapism.

EM: Maybe that changes when you have like an 18-year-old.

I’ll check back then. What initially drove you to write The First Affair?

NK: I think certainly when the most memorable occurrence happened in recent history it was something that really struck us because we are the exact same age and because we made so many mistakes in our early 20s. We were so lucky to come of age before the internet when those mistakes didn’t follow us into our first job interviews. They didn’t follow us even into our next relationships.

EM: To us, this story was a fascinating place to spend some time. The tremendous thrill of being in a secret like that and the paralyzing burden of being in a secret like that, especially when your sense of yourself is just beginning to be form…. Then for a mom, your sexuality, your relationship, it does tend to get pushed to the side. You’re just trying to get through the next five minutes. And to take yourself back to a time when this paradox is a 360 [from life now], it was everything you were in. We have the reader ask for herself, would I have chosen that? Would I have followed him? Would I have kissed him? Would I have called him back? For us, certainly, as mothers writing it, it was a great place to spend five hours a day. For a mother reading it, it’s just a totally different problem sequence than what you’re in for your day-to-day life.

With all of these public scandals that have exploded in the media recently, how do you feel about raising children, specifically a daughter, in a place where not only this is happening, but it’s happening for the world to see? How do you navigate that?

NK: I get overwhelmed by a lot of things. There are things that I get overwhelmed by before I even get to that place. Sexting I get overwhelmed by. The internet. The fact that the average age of first porn exposure is now 8. Even if you have netnanny on your computer, they’ll go to someone’s house who doesn’t. I think we’re a generation who is going to have to relinquish a lot of control and try to give our children the best context that we can for the information they’re going to get bombarded with and hope for the best.

There is a great line in Tina Fey’s BossyPants in the prayer for her daughter when she says may her daughter avoid the eyes of the creepy soccer coach because it’s not the beauty that draws him but the damage—which is incredibly astute. So my first and foremost goal is to create a child who doesn’t have a gaping hole in her soul. So I’m hoping that Sophie is not wounded. That chocolate cake will just be chocolate cake. That her married boss will just be her married boss. That none of these things are going to hold the power and the magnetism because she won’t be trying to work through some childhood trauma. That’s my job.

On the flip side, coming up as a man in this world, how do you go about raising maybe a respectful child or a child who is aware?

EM: I was thinking Tina Fey is exactly the quote. I think we have to aim to just keep—and not moreso with a young man than a young woman—but to just [let them] know how loved they are and to have love be a clean, balanced part of their lives.

As authors, are you big readers with your kids? What are their favorite books?

NK: Sophie just discovered this book that I’m obsessed with. It’s called Visitor for Bear. It’s about a bear who has a sign on his door saying no visitors allowed and this little mouse just wants to hang out. It is the cutest story and now I need to get her the rest of the series. It’s really funny. Sophie walks around the house going “No visitors allowed!” “Vamoose!” “This is insufferable” “Intolerable!”

EM: My son is going through, as they all do, a huge vehicle phase. Mostly it’s about looking at vehicles and choosing our favorites and me being told what my favorite is when it’s not. The Richard Scarry books, like Things That Go, anything with tons of pictures. We recently got into a series called Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold. If I could give a shoutout to anything in the childhood world I have to say Daniel Tiger. I want to write a love letter to everyone on that staff. It is so perfectly thoughtfully lovingly done. And as a parent it is the one thing out of everything that we dip in to that really helps.

Watch this video to hear more from Emma and Nicola about their journey from Nanny til now.

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