The summer holidays are over and the new academic year is just beginning. And as youth across the country prepare for school, many households are also preparing for another change when they welcome a new addition to the flock.
Traditionally employed to help with daily routines, au pairs, mostly from another European country, have long been popular in Ireland and every year from July to September over 20,000 families start a new relationship with the young person, usually for a year stays for a year and helps with all the tasks related to the children.
Although the vast majority of au pairs or nannies are female, this role is not exclusive to young women as some families prefer to have a male nanny (or manny) in their employ.
earlier this year, Mrs. Brown’s boys Star Fiona O’Carroll revealed how she hired a male au pair to look after her four sons – Felix, 14, Eli, 12, Isaac, 7, and Dexter, 6.
Since splitting from husband Martin Delaney, the actress has felt that a young man would be the ideal candidate to take care of her boys as he would be a substitute for a “big brother” she is dating could identify.
Sam McArdle describes the job as having worked as Manny in London for several years, having a lot of fun with the families but also making sure he was a role model for the kids to look up to.
“From the age of 25, after graduating from drama school, I worked as Manny for a few years,” says the 34-year-old, who will play the lead The Mannia one-man show he wrote during lockdown.
“My job was to pick the kids up from school and take them to where they needed to be. At first I thought it would be a bit of a taxi driver role, but I quickly realized that children are like sponges and really enjoyed what I was doing with them.
“It can be sports or music or even teach them something. One mother asked me to teach her son how to shave, another wanted me to teach her daughter how to cook, and I also taught some children to play the guitar. I also had teenagers looking for advice on dating and stuff like that — so I really started to see how important it was for me to portray myself well.”
The Dublin man really enjoyed the experience but says it’s still a role that people in Ireland associate with women.
“Ten years ago male nannies were and are much more acceptable in London, but it doesn’t seem to have caught on in Ireland,” he says. “Possibly because this country is more traditional and a lot of people have fixed ideas about what men and women should do – but it’s a shame because I found it to be a really fun, cool and flexible job and the kids got a lot out of it also.”
Eileen Cooke had this in mind when her four children (now 21, 19 and 17 year old twins) were young – she and husband Paul hired male nannies and childminders as they felt they could be ‘more relaxed and fun’ be.
“My kids loved having a male au pair,” she says. “We spent a period of about five or six years with someone who was employed to take care of the kids and initially I always had girls. It may have just been her personality but I felt that with four children they were a bit overwhelmed, especially with my twin daughters who were a bit of a handful when they were young, and I often found the house in chaos when I came home .
“So my husband suggested trying a male au pair. I agreed to give it a try and I’m so glad we did as it was a really positive experience. We had three in total and they had a lot more fun with it, which the kids really enjoyed. Both of my sons really bonded with them and all four also loved the rough and tumble – they played more energetically and had more movement than usual. Also, one of the au pairs taught my eldest to play the guitar which was an added bonus.”
The Dublin woman says her husband traveled often for work and she “felt more secure” having another adult man in the home.
“When Paul was away on business, it was very comforting for both him and me to have a young man around in the unlikely event of a break-in or something,” she says. “It was also great to have someone to help with jobs that require a bit of strength like carrying heavy groceries or even mowing the lawn which made them more than happy.
“Besides, the children felt safe with them when they took them to school or when I was out for the day; probably because they were taller and stronger than a girl their own age, so they found it reassuring.”
Marie Connolly has also had positive experiences with male au pairs, having for the past 16 years hired young people to help look after their four children (aged 11-17) – three of whom are male and have very works fine.
“Up until 2019, we always had female au pairs, but as the two older boys grew up, we thought a male would be more appropriate and easier for them to understand,” she says. “As they got taller and sometimes towered over the female au pairs, we felt that an older male would be better for them.
“Our daughter took a little longer to warm up to them but maybe that was more down to personality as the first male au pair was pretty strict and I think found it harder for him to get involved as he doesn’t have any sisters had you. The second was more relaxed and the one we have now is very easygoing and everyone gets along with him.”
The Clare-based mother of four, along with her husband Fergal, say male au pairs are probably best suited to older children.
“In my experience, most of the girls we hired were better at getting down to earth and interacting with the kids,” she says. “The males are great for going out and playing basketball or soccer and they seem to get along very well with teenagers but weren’t keen on doing artwork or puzzles with our youngest child.
“There doesn’t seem to be as many male au pairs as there are females, and while there is a large community in our area, they are all girls, with our au pair generally being the only guy, which can also be tough on her.
“Overall we haven’t had any problems with any of the guys that have been with us. And I think the most important thing is that whoever is taking care of your kids has a presence and a sense of authority that the kids respect and that you as a parent know you can trust them.
However, despite various success stories, the demand for male childminders does not seem to be increasing. Sylvie Levasseur-Reilly of The European Au Pair Agency, based in Dublin, says she placed just one male au pair last year, while Sean Kavanagh, owner of SK Dublin, says he has placed a number of male au pairs with families the years and it worked very well, his agency has not placed anyone for about five years.
That’s something Eileen Cooke doesn’t understand, asking why people are “reluctant to hire male childminders.”
“A couple of moms at the school were very disapproving when we hired the first one,” she says. “They implied that they were either lazy and useless at work or a threat to the children in some way. I find it extraordinary and quite sad that people’s first reaction is to always expect the worst from young men. Our experiences have been consistently positive and I would have no hesitation in recommending a male au pair to anyone – it shouldn’t even be seen as a novelty.
“Society as a whole should stop judging people based on gender, as personality and ability are all that matters.”
https://www.independent.ie/life/family/parenting/the-manny-why-some-families-prefer-having-a-male-nanny-41948507.html The “Manny”: Why some families prefer to have a male nanny