In the Parenthood

Jealous of the nanny?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  July 6, 2010 10:19 AM

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One of the more difficult aspects about going back to work after having a baby is figuring out which childcare set-up will work for your family. Will you and your spouse work opposite shifts, so one of you is on kid-duty while the other is at the office? Find a small family daycare or go with a larger daycare center? Hire a babysitter or nanny?

And then there's the issue most parents don't want to discuss: What if you find yourself feeling jealous of your child care provider?

At The Parenting Post, The Cosmo Mom confesses that she feels jealous of her son's nanny:

"Though she only takes care of Preston three days a week, she's with him for 10 hours a day, and at this point they have formed an incredibly strong bond. ... On the one hand I am so grateful that they have this bond -- I leave the house every morning knowing he's in great hands. So, as heartwrenching as it is being away from him all day during the week, at least I am secure in the fact that he's well taken care of while I'm at work. But on the other hand -- and this is where you'll either agree with me or vehemently disagree with me -- I secretly kind of hate it, their bond. A bond he should only have with us --- his mommy and daddy."

Now, I want to be clear about one thing: This isn't a stay-at-home vs. working mom (or dad) debate. Staying home isn't a moral imperative, it's a career choice, and it's possible to feel jealous of your child's caregiver regardless of whether they're looking after your child for pay or they're your child's other parent.

When I went back to work and my husband, who worked nights, was home with our youngest daughter during the day, the fact that she was spending her time with her daddy made me feel less stressed about returning to the office. But there were times when I felt overwhelmingly guilty about not being there and, yes, jealous of the time they had together while I was at work. I remember watching her take her first wobbly steps in the family room -- my husband and I cheered and clapped so loudly that she shrieked and sat down on her little diapered bottom, startled, and then refused to get up. After thinking, "Wow, she's walking!" my immediate thought was, "I am so glad this happened on a Saturday so I could see it."

Parenting expert Michelle LaRowe, author of Nanny to The Rescue! and A Mom's Ultimate Book of Lists, tells Babytalk Magazine writer Amy Levin-Epstein that there are ways to cope. "When parents come home, I recommend they change into play clothes, put down their phones and transition into family time. As soon as they walk in the door, they should get down on child's level to help her warm up to you," says LaRowe. Another way to strengthen your own bond: Stop multitasking so much, and focus on the little things. "The simplest of child-care tasks, like bathing, diaper changing or feeding, can provide wonderful bonding opportunities," LaRowe points out.

And remember: Your baby's love for you isn't diluted by their bonds with others. Having a strong rapport with a caregiver can help your child learn about healthy non-familial relationships and foster good self-esteem, experts say. Michelle Ehrich, author of The Anxious Parents' Guide to Quality Childcare, reminds parents to pat themselves on the back if their child has a loving relationship with his or her caregiver. "When you started looking for childcare, your goal was to find a childcare provider to care for your child in a loving fashion. Now that you are successful, enjoy the fact that your child is able to enjoy a positive and caring relationship with her caregiver when you are unable to be with her," she advises at "Your success here does not diminish your vital importance to your child as her mother, nor does it lessen her love for you. No one can ever take your place. Be happy that there is one more person in the world for your child to love, and to love her."

Parents, 'fess up: Have you ever felt jealous of your child's caregiver? How did you cope?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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6 comments so far...
  1. Unfortunately not. Although they both had competent and decent caregivers when they were young, neither woman was particularly warm. We did change our schedules somewhat so they weren't there for very long days their first year. Whenever there was someone loving later on at preschool so that they formed a bond, I was just happy that my child was receiving affection.

    Posted by JB July 6, 10 03:58 PM
  1. No, I never did. It may be that my kids were never in anyone else's care for particularly long periods - my son was in daycare two fairly short days per week from 9months-2.5 years, and then I was home full-time so he just went to half-day preschool. I didn't go back to work full-time until he was in first grade and my daughter was in pre-K, and at that point they were old enough that I really didn't feel any jealousy.

    Posted by akmom July 7, 10 06:48 AM
  1. As a long time researcher about children's wellbeing I have noticed that what matters most is that the child feels loved and valued, whoever the caregiver is. If there are several people who love the child, the child is rich for it and has a solid base in case one of the caregivers is unavailable or ill. The real tragedy for kids is when the caregiver is a stranger or worse, a sea of changing faces of strangers every few months. Sadly many childcare centres that say that they provide top quality expert loving care offer the very most unstable level of it, with the 'graduation' every few months or after a year to yet another caregiver. A nanny is a great and much more stable solution, more likely to bond one on one with the child as unique and more likely to stick around.
    Jealousy of the caregiver is normal. Parents are even jealous of grandparents, school teachers, coaches if the child seems to enjoy their company. Jealousy is a teacher. It reminds us to make sure we are not just in our child's life by formal registration on a birth certificate but by our presence and undivided attention much of the child's growing years. It is also a maturer. The child is not you or mini-you or you in the future. The child has a right to have meaningful friendships with others and you do not own the child. Letting go of the sense of ownership though is complex. It is not letting go of caring, loving or infinite dedication. It is letting go of thinking you are god to the child. Thinking you are god is very pleasant but not quite accurate.

    Posted by Beverley Smith July 7, 10 09:32 AM
  1. Dear mom,

    You are ok. You are going through an emotional time as your child grows up, and you want to make sure that your child always loves mom and dad the most, of course. Believe me, your child loves you more than anyone else. However, you are teaching him that it's ok to also depend on someone else that you have approved of; you are helping him expand his circle of trust. Congratulations!

    I think it is not unusual to feel a bit envious of the additional bonds your child develops with a caregiver. We are human and would love it if we could be the center of our children’s universe for a long time. And we are! But that does not mean that we are the only members of their universe. I think you already know this... and that's why you write, because you know that you are doing the right thing even though it might be a bit painful to see your so child happy with someone else.

    No matter how many people you add to a child’s universe, nobody can replace the special bond child/parent. And that bond gets stronger by adding new relationships, with non-family caregivers, family members, friends, etc. They can distinguish very well that, mom and dad, are at the top of them all and that their love and care supersedes everything.

    On the other hand, parents who choose or have to go to work and leave their children with caregivers should feel happy when their child feels comforted and protected by the caregiver, above all (beyond that little guilt or envy), because that means that we have found someone that puts our child at easy and that our absence does not add unnecessary stress to the child.

    My daughter has been with our nanny for 2 ½ years and she loves her, and the nanny loves her back and is very warm with her. They have developed a special relationship. Sometimes the nanny arrives at the house and maybe my daughter would have looked up to her for advice, etc. But, very early on, my husband and I established some boundaries that I believe helped.

    For instance, while mom and dad are still in the house, or while we are present if we find each other in the park, etc., the caregiver would be sure to not overwrite us, to step back and redirect our daughter's requests to mom and dad, always showing support for our decisions. In addition, whenever mom and dad leave or return, we do big hugs, and our nanny also reminds her to say bye or to run to us to receive us back. We make sure to leave our work worries outside the door and we smile so that she feels happy and safe. We don’t want her to feel insecure about seeking cuddles from the nanny because the caregiver is, after all, just helping with emotional support, a continuation of mom and dad.

    It is clear that, whenever the nanny arrives at our home, our daughter knows that mom and dad are still in charge, still her protectors, her go-to-feel-good people, her boo-boo-healers, etc. On the other hand, before mom and dad leave the house, if ourdaughter wants to watch a DVD or do an activity, we redirect her to ask the nanny if that's ok, so that she understands that we are “handing off” the reins and we trust the nanny to make her feel safe with during our absence. It’s worked really well for our daughter and for us as parents.

    The other thing we have done is to adjust our calendars during week-days a bit so that we are able to spend at least 3 to 4 hours with our daughter. My husband and I were not able to change our work calendar much but we did other little things that added time with our daughter. We've created a routine so that in the morning I get her up at 7 am and give her breakfast (before the nanny's arrival), so I spend that time with her until 8:30 am. Then in the afternoon my husband gets home around 5:00 pm (I get home closer to 6:00 pm) and we do activities, strolls or play time, dinner, etc until around 8:00 pm when we start the bed time routine for about 30 min. Our daughter takes a nap every day so she is not sleep deprived. A lot of the kids we knew would go to bed at 7 pm but that didn’t give us enough time to re-bond and feel like we had quality time together as a family.

    I guess, the key is to make the arrangements that work for your family and trust that you are ok, that you are creating the best loving and supportive environment for your child, and that the caregiver is an extension of mom and dad with whom your child should feel safe, guided and loved.

    Posted by rmg July 7, 10 10:37 AM
  1. When you hire a nanny, you check her background, references and experience. You want the perfect person to care for your children - someone that they’ll love and want to spend time with.

    But what if they love her too much?

    It’s common for mothers to feel threatened by - and envious of - their nannies. It’s often difficult to leave your kids to go to work, and here’s this “other woman” who gets to do all of the fun stuff that you’re missing - playing with your kids, teaching them new things…even being there for their milestones. Talk about major mommy guilt!

    It’s natural to feel possessive and ...

    Posted by Candi July 8, 10 11:27 AM
  1. Sometimes my son prefers to hold the nanny's hand instead of mine, and when I come home from the office, he doesn't pay attention to me like he did before. I admit that I felt bad about this and even told my husband that my son doesn't love me anymore (very emotional indeed). I have also thought of resigning from work so I can spend more time with my son but I know this is impractical. I want to set boundaries so the nanny would direct my son to me whenever I'm around, especially on weekends but I don't want to hurt her feelings. She has been very good to my son and I don't think I'll ever find one as trustworthy as her. I think what I'll do is just to spend as much quality time with my son as I can and have more private time with him with his dad too. I'll also take the advice that other moms mentioned here, and always think that we cannot be replaced in our child's heart.

    Posted by lang's mom October 14, 10 04:58 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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