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June 21, 2010

Dealing with Nanny Envy

BLOG-Nanny-Envy Parents, especially moms, know the sensation all too well. It’s that sinking feeling in your stomach as you head out the door and away from your kids for a day in the office. It’s the concern that you’re a bad parent by not being there 24/7 even though you’re working hard to provide for your family. It’s the worry that you’ll miss your child’s first steps, first words, or other big milestones.

Who’s there in your place when your kids are upset or happy? To give them love when you’re in the office working through lunch? It’s your nanny, babysitter, or day care worker. That realization brings on another feeling: envy. Admit it—at times we’re jealous of the care providers we’ve hired to care for our kids.

We’re worried our kids don’t think about us when we’re not there. We wonder if every minute spent at work is a missed opportunity for developing a parent-child bond. And in our darkest, most vulnerable moments, we get jealous of the nanny and worry that our children love her more than they love us.

Parents, I want to get your attention for a second. Know this:  it’s completely normal to envy someone who your child loves. Envy is a part of life. There are always going to be things we have and things we don’t have, and it’s normal to wish life were a little bit different.

But you should also know that love isn’t finite and it’s not an either/or proposition. If your child loves your nanny, you’ve actually done a good job! The more people your child loves, the healthier your child is going to be.

You might struggle with guilt, thinking that this other person can nurture in a way you can’t or worrying that she’s a better caregiver than you. Let’s be honest, guilt is a part of parenting. You want to be the perfect parent, but we’re not meant to be perfect. We can’t be all things to our children.

If you’re struggling with nanny envy, figure out what exactly you’re jealous of, and then find a way to create those experiences yourself. So if you’re jealous of the time your nanny gets to spend one-on-one with your child, figure out a way you can have special times like that, too. Make what you can within the reality of your situation. The way to have an intimate relationship with your children is to share unique and special experiences, so set the stage for that to happen whenever you can.

If you’re envying too much or even obsessing over your nanny you’re probably focusing on the negatives more than your blessings. If you can’t be happy, period, then it’s time to make personal changes. Try being intentionally grateful for the things you have. Take a timeout and try to see things more objectively. Write about the situation in a journal from an outside perspective, shift your focal point—think how your nanny, child, or spouse feels.

Some people can really benefit from admitting jealousy. If you feel comfortable opening up with your nanny, be honest and tell her you’re jealous! You don’t have to do this in a mean or confrontational way. Sometimes, once you admit your feelings out loud, those feelings diminish.

One of the big lessons I’ve had to learn as a mom (and still struggle with) is there are some things we can do and some we can’t. We have limitations; we can’t do everything. We can’t work to provide for our kids and be involved in their lives every waking moment, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also have balance.

Treasure the fact that you have children to love and a job that provides for your family. The truth is that life is difficult for everyone. While you might at times wish you could trade positions with your nanny, she may wish she could switch with you! Live for and celebrate the moments you do have with your children.

Dr. Robi Ludwig is a nationally recognized psychotherapist and parenting expert. She’s a contributor to Care.com and appears regularly on The Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, and other news outlets.

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Comments

Chrissy Kulp

I went through some of this when I was working and my children were small. Although I loved what I did and made reasonable money, and the "nanny" showed up every day I needed her for 10 years AND helped look after my grandmother (trade off: she brought her children along to work if they were sick, and if she needed an easy day, she had it!), I did miss much of my children growing up. As much as folks diss home based businesses, I always wanted one, and worked hard to get one going. I had heard that children will do fine when they are small, but you had better be there when they are teens. Well, someone was correct! My son breezed through high school, but his "college years" are his difficult time. He needs me NOW. My daughter, 13 when I came home from a "regular" job to my home business, needed me then, and still does. She is in Europe on the trip of a lifetime, and thank God I had 3 hours to help her yesterday with a problem. Had I been at work, I would have missed many life-turning moments these now young adults have had, that I needed to influence NOW, not when they were in diapers. My advice based on what I did and have learned is that the teen years are the ones when only you, the mom, can be the real guiding voice. They need mom's stability (and dad's relationship) during the life decision making moments much more than the memory making moments for parents. I can now help with my grandchildren, so my children will not have to have an "outside" nanny. Will they miss some moments? Yes, but at least the family will still be helping raise the younger ones. We as women need to look ahead to how we raise children (particularly in the USA), and how we used to, and get back to some of the valuable times life used to give.

Cynthia Cronrath

I didn't have to envy a nanny---it was my mom who got to see the many first moments that I missed during my son's first two years. Then, when her health declined, I considered day care. After weighing what brought me the greatest joy in life, I gave up my teaching career and spent the next 10 years sharing the daily experiences with my two sons, now 10 and 12. Any regrets? Just that I couldn't have it all---but I wouldn't change my decision. I explained it to a friend who thought me crazy for giving up the financial security as: "you can't buy this. Any island I'd sip an umbrella drink on in retirement could not compare to this bliss for me."
At the end of the day, I think each person needs to know where her/his joy is, and follow that bliss. And the envy? I'm sure that there will be some when my friends all own vacation homes and go out for dinner and a movie without a thought to the budget.

Jessica

My son is 7 months old and I have struggled with this since the first day I had to drop him off at daycare at 12 weeks old. I was told "things would get better" after a couple of weeks. That wasn't the case for me. It took me months to stop crying when I talked about him being at daycare. I felt like my heart had been ripped out. I never realized that I would feel that way. I had focused on my career for a long time, so this came as a surprise to me, and dealing with it was a bit isolating as others (including my husband) didn't understand my sadness. I am now getting to a point that I am "okay" and can appreciate the relationship he has with his provider...but I still have days that I struggle with the guilt of working. I would not want to be home full time, but I also don't want to work full time either. I have the struggle so many woman share - how to find balance and not drive my family into the poor house. I'm searching for the answer, so to those of you who find it - let me know!

Jennifer G.

I could NOT agree more with the mothers who have chosen to stay home with their children through formative years. This is what I was able to do with all of my children while I worked small side businesses doing office cleaning or house cleaning or even working as an in home care provider for other mothers. It was a joy to spend time with other people's kids, but to see them both torn apart when Mommy would leave in the morning made a very deep impression on me. I know I did the right thing by not being the one leaving my children behind. Some kids adjusted very quickly, others not as much and it seemed that each child dealt with separation from Mommy a little differently.

When we had our 3rd child, I gave up side businesses and focused on mothering only, but when he was 6 months old, my husband and I founded a contracting business, which required a ridiculous amount of work and hours to start up. My response then was to refuse to put the baby in to daycare, to continue homeschooling the older ones, and to hire help to come into the home with us and help me with housework and tending the baby when I needed to take phone calls. It has worked beautifully! Since then we've brought baby number four home from the hospital and it's still working 3 years later.

With the help I need here at home, I can work in my office, have a baby on my lap or let him toddle away to his caregiver and know that while I work, laundry is being folded, someone is stirring supper, or mopping my floor so that when the evening comes I can be as 100% committed to the kids as I can. Of course with an office at home and being self employed, I am always on call. I might tuck the kids in at night and then return to my post in to the wee hours, but at least I know that when my caregiver shows up at 8:30 in the morning, I have a guaranteed extra pair of hands to help.

I do have to say this: IF I had to root my kids out of bed early every day and drop them off with a stranger, have them out of my sight and not have access to them, it would not be good for either of us. Some mothers and kids can cope this, but I cannot. The ONLY way this is working is because I am so abundantly blessed to be working here at home. The other thing I will say is that for mothers working in an at home business, PLEASE consider getting at LEAST a very energetic and hardworking part time housekeeper through or mother's helper if not a full time person to help you. If you can focus on the business and commit time to it, it will likely MORE than pay for your caregiver and purchase you valuable time to be with your kids and husband when not working. Don't be afraid to spend a little money, it is an investment in your family and business!

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