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.