“I think my child prefers the nanny to me!”
“My nanny does not allow me to talk to my son when I am home. She is constantly telling him not to bother me as I may be tired. Who is she to decide that?”
“Now my son has started clinging to her even when I am home. He prefers her for taking care of all his needs. What should I do?”
“I have started feeling guilty for having returned to work. Do you think I should stop working for a while?”
“Sometimes I feel like firing the nanny. Do you think I am being mean to her? Do you think it is OK if I talk to her and tell her how I am feeling?”
These are excerpts from a distress call from my cousin in the US, who is a software engineer and has an 18-month-old child. She returned to work post delivery and has appointed a nanny of Asian origin in charge of her son.
The nanny is about 45 years old, with 3 children. But, none of her children are living with her. My cousin had obviously thought that the nanny would be ideal to take care of her son: She is a mother herself, has no responsibilities at her own home, and Asian. But turned out that she had her own need to be loved which had started impacting my cousin’s relation with her own son. So much that the cousin started feeling ‘threatened’ and ‘in competition’ with the nanny for her son’s affection. It would have been a disaster if she had to give up her job to deal with her situation. If she had, she would have ever held the death of her career against her son!
I thought about it and gave her some advice. The advice helped her, and so here it is. I am sharing it so that other mothers in a similar situation may also benefit.
The first thing to accept is that it is a natural feeling to be bothered if someone tries to keep you away from your child. Don’t feel guilty about it. First-time mothers and that too working mothers, who are already unhappy about leaving the child to get back to work are liable to be bothered, hurt, upset or even jealous when they feel that someone else is getting or trying to get more attention than they from their child. They feel they are missing out on important moments in their children’s lives because they have sort of abandoned them to the nanny and are therefore being punished for that by the child. This is not true.
Children just need to feel loved and cared for. They do not even know that some mothers work and some don’t. So, they are in no position to punish you for working on your career. Just ensure they feel loved by you when you are together. Remember, if you feel guilty you will feel more frustrated. So, don’t feel guilty about leaving your child with a nanny. Instead, take action and find better ways to deal with the situation.
The nanny is meant to take care of your child in your absence and not to replace you. But, even for that, it is important that she develops a bond with your child. This is needed because the child needs to feel safe, and loved. In fact, appreciate it if you see that bond developing. After all, you do want your child to feel loved, safe, and comfortable.
But, do talk to the nanny and clarify her job role: What she will do and what you will do. It always helps to create a written job description as putting something in writing always gets a better buy-in from all parties involved.
Make time to bond
The need for the bond cannot be overemphasized. Do fun activities with your child. Even putting the child to sleep can be a very important fun activity, as can be waking up the child. These can become storytime, cuddling time, and time to generally give comfort to the child. It always helps to set a routine so that the child sees you before going to bed as well as on waking up.
In fact, when I saw my husband not getting enough time with our 1-year-old daughter, we realized that he needs to find more time to bond with her. So, we just decided that he would be the one to put her to sleep. That worked wonders as they would together play-act the stories, make up stories, talk about nonsensical things, as well as discuss the world as seen through the eyes of the little one. As long as my daughter needed to be put to sleep, the father was there by her side, and the result was happiness all around!
Similarly, bathing time can be a very fun activity-filled time, when you can talk to the child, play together and generally fool around. If needed, shift the bathing time to suit your routine. It is not written in stone that the child has to bathe in the morning. You can shift the time to evening time, just before putting the child to sleep.
In short, it is a good idea to spend as much time as possible with the child when you are home. But, remember, the time has to be exclusively for the child for you two to have fun. You can’t be working on a computer or be on phone while with the child. You will instruct the nanny to keep away her phone or not watch TV when she is with your child. Follow the same rule yourself. And, slowly you will see that the child looks forward to these times with you, without any need for you to compete with the nanny to get that time.
Do activities together
Have the child by your side when you are doing the chores. In fact give some activities to the child too: handing you things if they can safely reach them (like the newspaper or TV remote), carrying some things with you (can be just a pair of socks when you are carrying clothes for laundry, or a packet of biscuits when you are shopping together). Involve the child in whatever way you can.
Take the child with you on your walks, read books together (you both can be reading your own) watch TV together (never take the easy option of asking the child to watch TV alone while you are working). The more time you both are together, the better it is.
This kind of routine works even with grown-up kids. I and my daughter make it a point to watch a show together for half an hour, and this is a practice we started some years back when we would sit and watch the cartoon together, and laugh at them together. Now we don’t watch cartoons but still, watch something together.
Delegate other work to the nanny
When you are with the child, the nanny can take care of other responsibilities like cooking for the child, getting the bed ready, or cleaning the cupboard or bathroom etc. You can even delegate some shopping activities to her. Make sure you add these to her job responsibilities and/or contract at the time of hiring.
Read here for how you can make a contract for a Nanny.
Give her Me Time
If there is no work to delegate to her, generally let her relax, watch TV or rest when you are home. That way she will not compete with you for the child’s attention as she would also like to get some “Me Time”.
The objective is that you should not let her hover around when you are spending time with the child. Don’t think of this as a wastage of your money spent on the nanny. It is your time with the child, and you don’t need her at that time. Do whatever it takes to ensure this basic rule.
Talk to the nanny
If needed, talk to the nanny, and explain to her your expectations, decisions and the reason behind them. She should understand your point of view, especially if she is also a mother. But, if in spite of all your efforts, she does not change or follow your rules, then maybe it is time to let her go. Don’t feel guilty about doing this. After all, nothing is more important than the well-being of the child, and there is nothing good for the child if she/he is not getting to bond with the mother. My cousin has thankfully been able to retain her nanny using the above advice. Her son now looks forward to seeing his mother every evening and morning.
In short, ensure:
- You spend enough time around your child and you are seen by the child when she/he is awake
- The time you spend with your child is pleasant. The child should feel your complete focus is on him/her, just as it is with a nanny.
At the end of the day quality as well as quantity matters.