Working parents have a lot to consider when it comes to leaving their child in the care of a nanny. Will the baby be safe? Will the nanny respect our child-rearing values? How much is this going to cost us? But most aren't prepared for a, surprisingly, common concern with regard to the nanny -- will their baby prefer the nanny to them?
Parents are usually somewhat prepared for the feelings of anxiety and guilt that can accompany returning to work after having a baby, especially first-time mothers. But most are not expecting to be jealous of the person they've employed as their child's caregiver. Moreover, the working woman is supposed to be enjoying the best of both worlds, right? Maybe, but some women still find themselves battling the green-eyed monster when it comes to their nannies. If you're one of them, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone -- such feelings are increasingly common as women join the workforce in record numbers [source: U.S. Department of Labor].
If you're having trouble coming to terms with your nanny's special relationship with your baby, it may help to consider the process by which children form emotional attachments. Babies enter this world with a strong instinct to bond with others since this is usually critical to their survival. The bonding process begins immediately after birth and babies are soon able to recognize a caregiver's touch, smell, voice, appearance and mannerisms [source: Schore]. For parents, bonding with baby occurs naturally in the earliest days of life as they comfort and care for their infants and this bond continues to strengthen with the passing of time.
So what happens when a nanny enters the mix? Will the baby bond with the nanny, too? And, if so, will that bond grow so that the baby comes to prefer the nanny?
The same sort of bonding process does occur when a child is left in the care of a nanny, albeit somewhat more slowly and usually on a more superficial level. Remember that your nanny spends a good portion, if not all, of the day with your child, so it's natural that they form a strong alliance. And although some babies may traditionally have formed such a bond with only one person (often the mother), it's possible for babies to bond with multiple people, including the nanny. In fact, some researchers believe that babies who form strong attachments to more than one person may benefit in terms of social development later in life [source: Van Ijzendoorn].
While a strong bond between a nanny and a baby can be a beautiful thing, problems may arise when a baby begins to show a preference for the nanny over his or her parents. Imagine coming home from a long day away from your child only to find that he or she cries at the sight of you or refuses to let go of the nanny. Or worse, imagine hearing your baby call the nanny "mommy" (or "daddy," as the case may be) right in front of you. These can be sad and frustrating experiences for parents, especially if the nanny seems to be encouraging the behavior. It's natural to feel sad and perhaps a little angry about this, but you should try to avoid acting on these emotions. Instead, there are things you can do to reconnect with your child and create harmony between you and your child's caregiver.
First, keep in mind that having a nanny that is loving and lovable enough to illicit such a response from your child is a wonderful thing. It would certainly be worse to face the opposite situation, in which your child flies into fits of panic at the sight of the nanny. Also, remember that babies can be fickle, stuck like glue to someone one minute only to be completely nonchalant about their absence the next. And consider that while your baby may cry briefly when the nanny leaves, he or she probably also cried for you after your departure. Furthermore, bear in mind that the evening hours can be among the most difficult for infants and small children. This is usually the time of day when they are tired and can become cranky and less tolerant of changes to their routine [source: Hunziker].
Nanny versus Parents: How Everyone Can Win in the Battle for Baby's Heart
If you're having a hard time shaking off feelings of jealousy or resentment over your nanny's special bond with your baby, it may be time to address the problem. Negative feelings can quickly turn into negative behavior toward the nanny, which is akin to punishing an employee for doing an outstanding job. Your baby may also pick up on tension between you and the nanny, which can be stressful and ultimately make the situation worse.
Keep in mind that most nannies are trying very hard to bond with the children in their care. If they fail at this, chances are they won't remain employed for long. And they don't really want to displace the parents. On the contrary, they're probably very interested in pleasing them. For these reasons, it might be a good idea to talk to your nanny about the problem. Start by saying that you're thrilled with the bond she has with your baby and that you're very happy with her work. Then, explain that you feel a little left out when it comes to your child, and would appreciate her help strengthening your baby bond. Perhaps she can teach you your child's favorite lullaby or some of the baby soothing techniques that only good nannies seem to know.
If your child shows a preference for the nanny more than just occasionally, it may be time to reestablish your connection with your little one. Make time to focus on your child, interacting with him or her in a relaxed and comfortable setting. You may need to sing, dance or act goofy as you work your way back into your child's heart, but he or she will eventually fall back under your spell. Infant massage, increased breastfeeding or other forms of skin-to-skin contact can be very powerful bonding techniques [source: Karl].
If your baby continues to show a preference for the nanny, it may be helpful to try a nanny of a different gender. For example, if there is competition between a mom and a female nanny, switching to a male nanny may be the solution to the problem. Male nannies, also called "mannies," tend to be very fun and energetic caregivers. They may also be less likely to displace mom in baby's eyes.
It's important to keep in mind that although feelings of jealousy toward your nanny may crop up from time to time, they are almost always short-lived. Most parents whose babies love their nanny soon realize that a strong nanny/baby bond is essential to the well-being of their child. Remember that parents usually go to great lengths to find a nanny that is warm, loving, patient and fun. What baby wouldn't fall in love with such a person? And when your baby does, you can pat yourself on the back for providing your child with a good caregiver. Keeping this in mind can be enormously comforting during those long hours while you're at work and away from your baby.
Wondering if working moms are more likely to suffer from depression? Check out our article Are Working Moms More Likely to Suffer from Depression?
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Chehrazi, Shahla S. "Psychosocial Issues in Daycare." American Psychiatric Press 1990. (Accessed January 27, 2010) http://books.google.com/books?id=gPiQAYy2HPYC&printsec=copyright&source=gbs_pub_info_s&cad=3#v=onepage&q=&f=false
- Hunziker UA et al. "Increased Carrying Reduces Infant Crying: A Randomized Controlled Trial." Pediatrics vol. 77 no. 5, 1986. (Accessed January 27, 2010) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/77/5/641
- Karl, DJ, et al. "Reconceptualizing the Nurse's Role in the Newborn Period as an 'Attacher.' "American Journal of Maternal/Child Nursing, vol. 31, issue 4, 2006. (Accessed January 27, 2010) http://journals.lww.com/mcnjournal/Abstract/2006/07000/Reconceptualizing_the_Nurse_s_Role_in_the_Newborn.11.aspx
- Schore, A.N. "Effects of a Secure Attachment Relationship on Right Brain Development, Affect Regulation and Infant Mental Health." Infant Mental Health Journal, vol. 22 (1-2), 7-66 (2001). (Accessed January 27, 2010)http://www.atlc.org/members/resources/schore1.pdf