Soon after giving birth to her twins John and Matthew, now nearly 3, Nina Schultz decided that as a single, working parent, she wanted another caregiver around full time. An agency proposed a male nanny. "It hadn't occurred to me, but I realized it was a neat idea to have a positive male influence around for the boys," she says of her live-in nanny, Rob Aquino, 21. "He does everything from dressing them to cooking to playing hoops. They love him. It's the best thing I've done."
It's also a lot more common than it used to be. They are still relatively few--2% to 5% of the U.S.'s more than 1 million at-home child-care providers--but in the past five years, the number of men applying for work and the number of families open to hiring them have gradually risen, nanny-agency directors say.
That may be in part because male nannies are now hip. Jon Bon Jovi, playing the latest love interest of TV's Ally McBeal, doubles as a nanny to her daughter, 10. Trend spotter Faith Popcorn predicts that in the next decade, "manny" (as the guys are called) will become, well, a household word. "Europeans have known for decades that guys can be just as nurturing," says Helen Riley-Collins of San Francisco's In-House Staffing at Aunt Ann's, one of the country's oldest agencies. "Now we're starting to accept it in the U.S."
Like their female counterparts, most male nannies are in their 20s. Many care for older boys and come with experience as camp counselors, day-care workers or teacher's aides. They are most sought after by a growing cadre of single mothers, many of whom want a daily dose of male energy around the house for their kids. But the trend is also being spurred by dual-income couples in which the father travels a lot or is older and less equipped for, say, a pickup game of tackle football.
Ellen Leanse, a married mother of three boys in Menlo Park, Calif., whose husband used to travel frequently, says the three male nannies she hired have helped make up for her weaknesses. A favorite, Alan Schuchman, "would do art projects with them, but he'd also be more physical, which my boys loved. And they slept well because they were exhausted." Her son Alex, now 12, agrees that--no offense--female sitters just don't compare: "If you were trying to talk to a girl about computer games, she'd be like 'O.K., that's nice.' Alan got it."
What's the attraction for the male caregivers? For one thing, say the nannies, it's great experience for child-related jobs like teaching. In Boston an average live-out nanny makes $35,000 to $40,000 a year plus benefits, about what the city's entry-level teachers make. But the main reason men become mannies is simple: they love kids. "It's very enriching--you get a lot closer to them than you would in a class setting," says Schuchman, 34, a former teacher's aide who took his first nanny job three years ago.
Still, most parents are uneasy with the idea of a man caring for their children, fearing that men are incapable of nurturing kids or--this dark thought is rarely expressed--prone to pedophilia. Rebekah Zincavage, a director at the Boston Nanny Center, which employs 300 nannies, 15 of them men, says a female nanny will get two offers after eight interviews, while a man will go on 30 interviews for the same result. "The men are stellar, with more experience than many women, but they have to be twice as good. People are skeptical."