Two working parents, erectile two kids, drug one nanny – that’s how it is for increasing numbers of families. And just as common as this scenario is becoming, is the common conflicts inherent in having someone else be a primary caretaker for one’s babies.
Women who work inside or outside of the home need all kinds of help. Who is making dinner while Mom is at work? Who is cleaning the house, changing the linen, washing the sink full of dishes? If Mom manages to hold a full time job, do the grocery shopping, the clothing shopping, the family’s needs and appointments – that’s amazing enough. Who is looking after the baby while she does all this?
The other woman.
Parents and Caretakers
Sometimes, of course, there is a Dad who is on paternity leave or has dedicated himself to the home management side of things while Mom is the chief breadwinner. In these cases, a bit of role reversal can save the family from seeking hired help. However, this scenario is restricted to the lucky minority of families; most families require two incomes in order to live a reasonably comfortable middle class lifestyle. Women are working in order to help pay the mortgage – not in order to buy that extra yacht!
The nanny is an essential part of this equation. Her services are required for both childcare and house cleaning tasks. So it should be simple: need help, hire someone.
However, parents are hiring another mother. This woman will hold the baby, feed her, entertain her, change her, walk her, teach her and engage in every other activity involved in childcare. Naturally parents are looking for a nanny who will adore their child or children, someone who will, in her own way, actually love them.
But what happens if they find such a person? Children looked after by doting nannies come to love the nanny in return. Sometimes, it is obvious that the nanny — who has spent so many quality time hours with the child — has become the child’s most significant caregiver, the one to whom the child turns for comfort.
When a child awakens from a weekend nap, calling out his nanny’s name, a Mom can be devastated. When, at the end of a day Mom returns home looking forward to being with her baby, only to find that her baby doesn’t want to be handed over to her, it can wreak havoc with her self-confidence in addition to wounding her to the core. Nonetheless, a mother might console herself with the knowledge that her child is in very good hands and has formed a very healthy attachment to this mother substitute. She realizes that she doesn’t want this nanny to be a cold, rejecting or harsh type of person from who her child recoils. That would be disastrous! Even though it hurts, many good mothers are happy that their child loves the nanny, knowing that this is the best scenario under the circumstances.
And yet, as the nanny develops increasing levels of intimacy with one’s child, it is common to feel a nagging conflict. Why does the nanny and this baby have their own little jokes, their own little stories and routines? How is it that the child has a whole life apart from Mom at such a young age? Mom can feel like an outsider to her child’s life. While appreciative of the nanny’s diligence, she can be resentful of the intrusion into her territory. This is, after all, her child.
While some moms hope that their nanny will stay with their family for a lifetime (like the nannies in the old movies), many feel an urgency to reclaim their child as soon as possible. More often than not, nannies leave the family after a few short years, either because they have chosen to or because parents have let them go.
Sometimes Moms feel betrayed. “I thought this person loved my child as much as I do. Why does she suddenly think she has to change jobs for more money or change careers or go back to her home country?” The fact that many nannies have families of their own waiting for them in far off countries doesn’t soothe the hurt. Moms know their very attached youngsters will suffer intense pangs of abandonment.
Even if the Mom has decided to break off the bond and return her family to its rightful place in her own bosom, she must steel herself to handle her child’s pain. In addition, sometimes nanny’s disappear quite suddenly without an opportunity to slowly wean the child from the relationship. The trauma to the child can be akin to the experience of losing one’s mother — the last sort of thing one wants for one’s child.
Nannies who look after babies from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. will, by virtue of the sheer hours of contact, form a mother-like bond with a child. In these cases, parents should endeavour to go nanny-less on evenings and weekends so that they can increase their own hours of real childcare. Feeding, bathing and settling one’s baby helps to build a strong connection. On weekends, keep the baby close to you physically as you go about your tasks and activities. If possible, introduce the child to a playgroup around the age of two, if only to lesson the intensity of the nanny-child bond.
Obviously, if the nanny is only a part-time helper, a parent will have even more opportunity to build the significant attachment relationship with their child. Use nannies to help do household chores and involve yourself directly in childcare as much as possible.
Your own attitude toward the nanny can help as well. This person is NOT a relative. She is a caring care-giver. Try not to develop a sister-like camaraderie with your hired help. Your more business-like attitude will be somewhat contagious to your child. Ideally, the child should know who her REAL mother is and feel the strongest attachment to her. Another trick is to hire a nanny to take care of your newborn and let this person go when the child is around 8 months old (the age of attachment). Start with a new caregiver – your baby will take some time to get used to the new rhythms of this person. Again, let the nanny go after 9 months when your baby is about 14 months-old and bring in a third nanny to take the child through to the time the child starts playgroup. Although the child loses the stability and the benefits of the establishment of a secure bond (a primary task during this developmental period) in this process, she also loses the trauma of separation and loss. Unfortunately, it is hard to know for sure which loss causes less harm.
Some lucky people are able to withdraw from the workforce for a few years in order to be their child’s only caretaker. This removes the nanny dilemma completely as hired help can then be employed to do housework only. A careful review of your financial situation may allow you to consider this option if you are willing to slow down some of your financial goals.
The nanny problem is a very real one for today’s mothers. Imperfect but “good enough” solutions can get moms and babies through the nanny years.