Host Sasha Sagan talks to NYT best-selling novelist KILEY REID (Such a Fun Age) about a tradition that has evolved out of necessity from family and community participation to an economic arrangement with strangers.

We also hear from sociologist TAMARA MOSE about the roots of the tradition that still echo in unfair practices today.


SASHA SAGAN: I’m gonna say something a little controversial. Tell me what you think about this. This act, child care, for eons was done out of love. But we are sometimes in a situation now where another person is paid to love that child, to take care of them. And so there is an economic transaction that can happen instead. I think there could be a parallel to be drawn with sex work, which I think should be legal, where it’s like, this is something that “should” happen because someone really wants to do it. But if there’s not someone around who really wants to do it…maybe a financial trade could work.

KILEY REID: Okay, what I think is really fascinating about that—when it comes to babysitting, that’s your little baby. And so I want someone to shower her with love that feels really, really natural. Just like sex work. You want someone who wants to be there and like…

SASHA: Not just going through the motions!

KILEY: Yes! It’s so difficult because it’s like this very personal thing that you are paying for. I will say this though: This mom that I’m still close with, I used to babysit her boys every Monday night for four years. And her husband had a 40th birthday party that she had planned. And I was going to take care of the boys that night, she called me and said, “I need you to come over earlier. If you can. I fell, I hurt my arm. And I need you to help me get ready for this party.”

I come over—she has stitches going from the outside of her face to the inside of her mouth, her arms. She has a black eye. And she was like “I need you to help me get into this dress and do my makeup right now.” It sticks out to me as this very tender moment where I did her makeup. I curled her hair, I helped her get into a halter dress. And at the time, I was like, “Girl, don’t go.” Like just stay.

Now as an adult, I’m like, Yeah, you planned this birthday. Yeah, I’m going, you’re going and you will figure out everything later. And it’s fine. And that moment sticks out to me as this very special place where you don’t want to ask a friend because they’re too close. And you don’t want to ask a stranger because they’re too far away. Enter this person who you trust, but you pay, is close, but not. And that’s who I was to her at the time.


DR. TAMARA MOSE: So with childcare, we can go all the way back to enslavement, right? Slaves were responsible for the children of the master’s family. So they would help the mistress rear their children, not only that, but they would also breastfeed the children. They would nurse the children, cook for the family, so on and so forth, taking over the roles that we traditionally see towards women in the household. So slavery is when we see this really flourish, where these women who are otherwise owned are taking care of the master’s children. So that’s where we first start to see this proliferation of child care happening with somebody who is in a subordinated position, and not necessarily a member of the family.

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