In a personal piece in the Washington Post titled, ‘The Sting of Knowing Your Child Sometimes Prefers The Nanny To You,’ Kai Falkenberg writes about ‘Dora’, her children’s nanny: ‘Unlike me, Dora is always around. She takes Benny and his older sister, Talia, on outings after school. She trundles them off to their haircuts and soccer classes and play dates. Dora and my kids have routines and rituals in which I have no part, often because I’m at work. Still, it hurts every time they choose her over me. There is anger, yes, as well as pain and jealousy. And then there is a wave of guilt. Does she care for them better than I do? Am I inadequate as a mother? Who is their real mom?’
Unlike Falkenberg, I’ve never wondered and have never been jealous or angry of my children’s close relationship with their nanny. I’ve never wondered if I’m an inadequate mother. I’ve certainly never wondered who their ‘real mom’ is, since I have the c-section scars to prove it.
I most definitely don’t share the same experiences or feelings Falkenberg does, like the ‘twinges’ of guilt, as she writes, when she sees her children cuddling with their nanny on the couch.
Most people, when they hear you have a nanny, automatically expect that you are rich and entitled and even go as far as asking, ‘Why did you bother having children if you are just going to pawn them off on the nanny?” Hiring a nanny when I had a child wasn’t even a question. I know myself, and what can I say? I need a nanny. I’m not cut out to be a stay-at-home-full-time-mommy.
This does not make me a better or worse mother than you. This doesn’t mean I have more money than you either. The world of families with nannies is often misunderstood.
As Falkenberg writes, ‘Mothers and nannies: It’s a complex relationship. I know moms who have fired their caregivers for becoming too attached to their kids, to say nothing of those let go for being more tied to their phones than to the children under their care.’ But I don’t find it that complex at all.
Right now, my nanny, Hazel, is on a month’s holiday visiting her 9-year-old son in the Philippines, who she hasn’t seen in more than five years. In the weeks leading up to her departure, I found myself having mini panic attacks. I didn’t think I could manage without Hazel, because I love Hazel. The truth is, I can manage… but barely. But who am I to complain?
Every night, Hazel FaceTimes her own son. Could you imagine not seeing your child in person for more than five years? Most nannies give up their entire lives so they can make your children happy and safe. Hazel hasn’t hugged her own son, rubbed his back, fed him, or kissed away his tears, as she has my son, for years. I don’t get jealous or angry or feel guilty when my son asks Hazel for something instead of me if we’re in the same room. It makes me feel relaxed, knowing that I don’t have to worry, because my son feels so comfortable with her.
Like Falkenberg’s nanny, Hazel sets up my son’s playdates, takes my daughter shopping, not because I want or need her to, but because she wants to. And at night, they’ll often go out for a run together. My daughter insists that Hazel comes to every graduation, every play she’s been in and every single dance recital. Hazel has the patience to feed my son healthy dinners. Without Hazel, my son wouldn’t have a social life… and wouldn’t consume anything but chocolate milk. Hazel knows all his friend’s names, where they live, and reminds me when their birthday parties are. Have I ever worried that my son loves her more than me? Not once.
I also sometimes wonder if Hazel knows me better than anyone else in the world. She knows where to find a specific bra when I’m frantically looking for one at 7 a.m. She knows where my car keys are, every single time I ask. She can tell when I need to take a phone call and will take my son away so I can take the call in peace.
I’ve been nanny-less for more than two weeks now, after paying for Hazel’s round trip flight to the Philippines, not because I’m made out of money, but because, again, she is part of our family. And she works hard to make sure my kids are safe and happy. Yes, she is paid to do her job, but she goes far and beyond.
There’s a joke among almost every woman I know who has both a husband and a nanny and that, if push came to shove, they’d take the nanny over their partner. I think Hazel knows me better than my own partner.
Hazel makes my life easier and organized, which is what happens when you have a live-in nanny. I come downstairs in the mornings, and there are scrambled eggs made for me, and a coffee to go, along with a Tupperware container of cut up fruit, with a toothpick, for me to take to the office, as if I were going off to school and was a kid too. Yes, it sounds lovely, doesn’t it? But I’ve never expected this. It just started to happen, after she’d been with us for a while and she knew my routine often better than I knew it myself.
Hazel knows what sets me off. She’s heard my partner and I scream at each other like we’re on the brink of divorce. Sometimes, I’ve wondered if I should ask her to sign some sort of confidentiality agreement, because she knows so much about my life. But I trust her, not just with my children, but with my secrets too.
Falkenberg also writes, ‘We want our nannies to nurture our kids as we would. We want them to love them – but not too much.’ I completely disagree. First, my heart bursts with pride and happiness and relief when I come home from work to see Hazel reading my son a book and asking him to pick out letters and words. Yes, I want Hazel to love my children as much as she can. There is no such thing as a nanny loving your kids ‘too much,’ in my opinion. Would you rather a nanny who doesn’t love your kids, just because you’re irked that your child may want your nanny to calm them down instead of you? I know my nanny loves my son and daughter, but I don’t worry about her loving them too much. Quite frankly, I don’t even know what that means.
Falkenberg also writes how her son’s face fell, when she picked him up from school one day, and saw the disappointment in his eyes that it wasn’t the nanny picking him up. Unlike her, my son is super excited when I drive him or pick him up for school or surprise him at his Karate classes, places that Hazel usually always takes him to and from. My son’s face lights up with joy when he sees me, because it IS special, to my son, when I can do these things.
Almost everyone I know who has or has had a nanny knows that sometimes the children prefer the nanny. As they should. My son, at all times, prefers different people. Sometimes it’s Hazel, sometimes it’s his Dad, sometimes it can be the squirrel in the tree.
And sometimes it’s me. If I come home from work and see Hazel cuddling with my children, the furthest thing I feel is guilt, anger or inadequate as a mother. I feel thankful and can’t wait until she gets back to cuddle with my kids on the couch. And that’s the truth.