The number of men becoming ‘mannies’ in the UK more than doubled between 2009 and 2016 from 1.45% to 3.08% – but that still leaves professional male child carers massively in the minority.  Hoping to change that is Manny & Me – an agency that provides ‘mannies’ who can double up as tutors and sports coaches.
“The traditional stereotypes of what a nanny is and their role is changing,” says Jamie Leith, a former primary school teacher from London, who co-founded Manny & Me in 2016 with James McCrossen, aiming to promote the role of men in childcare.  The pair saw a gap in the market for a bespoke agency that caters to middle- and upper-class parents and combined the jobs of nanny and tutor into one person – a smart idea given that 75% of mums and dads want a nanny who offers skills in addition to childcare. 
On top of educational qualifications, carers also all have strengths in other areas, such as music, sport and languages. “If you are a family with high aspirations for your children, then our agency is the perfect one for you,” reads the Manny & Me website. “Our mannies and nannies provide endless learning opportunities that will be essential for your children as they strive to gain admission to many of the top private schools in London.”
Unlike apps such as Care.com, Sitter and Kindy, which promise to help parents find childcare by widening the pool of service providers, Manny & Me offers a personalised service that hand-matches families with a carer to suit their specific needs.  "A family will come to us and we will usually meet the parents face-to-face," says Leith. “They will answer a series of basic questions about them and their family and we will use that information to look through our database and select two or three candidates that fulfil their needs.” 
Manny & Me offers a teacher, carer and coach all in one
Scott Sherrill-Mix, Creative Commons (2016) ©
In the UK, there are more women than ever in the workforce, and in 49% of two-parent households, both parents work.  As a result, the stereotype of the ‘stay-at-home mum’ is dissipating and society has begun to acknowledge the variety of people involved in many children’s upbringing. British grandparents now spend an average of nine hours a week looking after their grandkids; the number of stay-at-home dads has nearly doubled since 1989 to over two million; and PANKs – Professional Aunts, No Kids – are forming relationships with the children of their friends or relatives. 
Yet the professional male child carer remains a rarity. Only 15% of primary school teachers in England are men, despite efforts from the government and charities to up recruitment.  And in addition to the fact that only 3% of nannies are men, male babysitters are also uncommon.  At a time when just 9% of English local authorities have enough after-school childcare for children aged 5-11, male recruits are a vastly untapped resource. 
Society’s idea of masculinity is changing, albeit slowly, with the idea of the alpha male giving way to bromances and celebrity role models such as Drake.  Initiatives like the Being a Man festival and International Men’s Day aim to counteract the toxic version of masculinity that prevails, celebrating different versions what it means to be a modern man.  “We should also be celebrating men becoming a new kind of father, and we should be celebrating men having more freedom in fashion and grooming,” says Being a Man organiser Jude Kelly. “We should be celebrating the idea that men’s expressiveness can now go beyond the idea of ‘you’re an artist’ or ‘you’re a sporty type’ and that they can have emotional expression.” 
We should be celebrating the idea that men’s expressiveness can now go beyond the idea of ‘you’re an artist’ or ‘you’re a sporty type’ and that they can have emotional expressionJude Kelly, organiser of the Being a Man festival
Manny & Me isn’t the only agency that’s seeking to normalise men’s presence in professional childcare. Manny Poppins is another agency that promotes the strengths of male nannies, and My Big Buddy proclaims that “many families are now coming around to the idea that a spoon full of testosterone is often more effective than a spoonful of sugar.” Athlete Mannies, meanwhile, recruits semi-professional athletes, catering to families that are concerned about keeping their kids active and healthy. 
Manny & Me’s own niche goes beyond the sex of its carers – it’s the tutoring capabilities its nannies offer that set it apart. The British private tuition market is worth £2 billion a year, with over 40% of students in London having had a private tutor at some time.  The success of this industry is led by parents’ high ambitions for their kids, but with childcare costs having risen dramatically between 2010 and 2015, the ability to double up on roles is a plus for parents.  And they’re not just investing in educational activities; 70% of American parents say their children participate in extracurricular sports.  Given that participation in after-school activities at primary school age has been associated with higher attainment and prosocial skills, it’s not surprising that mums and dads are keen to boost their kids’ involvement in athletics and music. 
Masculinity has evolved beyond machismo
Sarah, Creative Commons (2015) ©
Insights and opportunities
Whether out of necessity or indulgence, more parents than ever are outsourcing childcare to professionals, informal help and technology. But while being a working mother has been shown to have positive effects on daughters’ work prospects and sons’ involvement in the home as adults, ‘working mum guilt’ is rife.  “As a working mum I suffered for a long time with ‘Mum Guilt’ and if I’m honest I still do occasionally,” writes blogger Julie Seeney.  Investing in the best childcare, tutoring and extracurricular activities can go some way to alleviate that guilt, so parents naturally seek out the best hands possible to leave their children in.
Manny & Me caters to this need, while also raising the issue of whether those hands can be a man’s. The agency doesn’t put pressure on families to take on a manny rather than a nanny, but 60% of the people on its books are male, and the company has found that once a family has experienced a male child carer, they usually want one again. While, on the surface, the popularity of the agency suggests that gender stereotypes are weakening, they’re still very much at play even among the families using Manny & Me’s service. “When it comes to tutoring, parents often have ideas about what gender nanny they want depending on the subject they are interested in,” says Leith. “So if they are looking for a maths tutor, the assumption is that a man will be better, whereas they will usually ask for a female English tutor.” 
Where paid childcare is concerned, parents’ main emotion on finding a good candidate is almost tearful gratitude. Once they’re embedded, live-in nannies essentially become members of the familyJustine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet
It seems gender stereotypes can work in the favour of mannies as well as against them. Even parenting expert Jo Wiltshire falls back on clichés when explaining their benefits. “I’m not saying that female nannies don’t enjoy activities [that] are rough and tumble or require getting muddy, but men are often happier in this type of setting,” she writes, adding that male child carers can have a positive effect on biases. “It’s important that children see both men and women in a caring role; it gives them perspective. Hiring only female caregivers could imply that only women can be nurturing. Men are equally loving and capable.” 
While the likes of Robinsons and Halifax have begun to acknowledge fathers’ contribution to childcare, H&M took things a step further to show the contemporary all-hands-on-deck approach to childcare with its Christmas advert ‘Come Together’.  And acknowledging the changing ideas of what and who makes a family is a smart move for marketers. “Where paid childcare is concerned, parents’ main emotion on finding a good candidate is almost tearful gratitude,” writes Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet. “Once they’re embedded, live-in nannies essentially become members of the family.” 
Katy Young is a Canvas8 behavioural analyst. She has a degree in American Studies and Film and an MA in Journalism. Her interests include wild swimming, thinking of podcast ideas and singing in an all-female choir.
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