Mothering the Children of Others

In the April 11, 2016 issue of The New Yorker, writer Rachel Aviv presents the story of a Filipino woman named Emma who moved to the United States in 2000 to be a nanny for an American family. Although Emma was a college graduate who enjoyed a white-collar government job, life in her home nation was difficult, as she and her husband struggled to raise nine children. Seeking a better life for her family, she decided (like many others do every year) to emigrate to the United States.

Since 2000, Emma has worked as a nanny for a series of wealthy American families. Sending a large portion of her wages home, she has managed to send most of her children through university in the Philippines. But the job has come at a significant price; Emma has never returned to the Philippines to see her family. They have kept in touch through letters and Skype, but the heartbreak of physical distance is an ache that all of them feel.

In letters from home, one daughter wrote: “It is so lonely without a mother!” while another wrote, “I’m lost without you.” But she was faced with few good choices besides working, year after year.

This problem extends around the world — women who leave their own children behind in their home nation and travel to a far-off country to care for someone else’s offspring. Though these women provide significant economic benefits for their families back home, the situation seems, at it’s heart, tragically sad. Global poverty is so extensive that we make the poor choose between family and survival.