How I Stopped Complaining About Nanny Problems

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Aug 26, 2016

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“She seems very good, but…”

There was always a ‘but’ when someone asked me how things were going with my new nanny. I was six months into motherhood when I finally caved and hired her, and while my days were easier, for some reason I couldn’t quite understand, my attitude wasn’t.

“Please don’t carry him all the time. He needs to be on his tummy, too.”

“You aren’t moisturizing him well. Look at all this dry skin.”

“You’re not putting the diaper on properly. Here… just let me do it.”

It’s not easy relinquishing control of your most precious possession to another. A stranger. A hired hand. Sure, Prema brought lengthy experience with a satisfied family, and her work reflected it. She was professional, kind and extremely patient with my son. But she wasn’t the best she could be.

Deep down, I knew I was being picky and, yes, petty. That I truly needed her by my side and that without her I would be lost was unquestionable, but secondary – I could only appreciate that fact until I picked enough to find the next fault.

Complaining about nanny problems is a language every mother speaks at some point or another. We want to be the only person our babies look up to. We want to show that we’re better at everything, too. At changing their clothes without a fuss, at feeding them without a fight. We also want the nannies to know that we know best, because we’re the mothers. And they aren’t.

But the secret is: They’re not trying to be mothers. They’re just trying to be good nannies. That the two roles overlap so much isn’t their fault – and isn’t an excuse for not letting them succeed.

When I made “suggestions” about her work, Prema always responded with an apologetic nod and tried to adapt the next time. But soon I noticed that her face, so full of light when she looked at my son, would be crestfallen when she looked at me.

Nannies keep our children fed, cleaned and entertained, allowing us to pursue lives and careers and redefine what it means to be a good mother.  They worry about our children’s well being and safety and shower them with love and affection while we’re away. And at the end of the day, when we return, they get our children excited, saying, “Look who’s here… It’s your Mama!” If that doesn’t deem them worthy of respect, of a willingness to at least consider if what we see as incompetence is really just a different, harmless way of caring, then we don’t deserve the help.

  Motherhood is not a competition. Not with other mothers and definitely not with the nanny.
If anything, it’s teamwork.

From the day Prema arrived, she’s been dedicated to my son. She insists on changing every dirty diaper and taking him on strolls in the pram every evening. She has also been very dedicated to me. When my son recently fell ill with the chicken pox, I offered her a few days off because she wasn’t sure if she’d had it. She refused.

“How will you manage him all alone, day and night?” she asked. “It’s OK. I don’t think I’ll get it because everyone around me has, and I haven’t fallen ill.”

I welled up a little when she said this. Here she was – the stranger, the hired help – putting my child and my needs before her own. No job is worth that. Or is it something more?

If motherhood is a club, it’s unfair to keep the nanny out. To treat her like an intern when she is actually a stand-in manager when we’re not around. We expect our nannies to be dedicated because we pay them a salary, and compensation is no doubt important. But most nannies – good nannies, if we will but let ourselves see it – work hard because they truly love and care.

Motherhood is not a competition. Not with other mothers and definitely not with the nanny. If anything, it’s teamwork. There will always be things that I’m better at than Prema, like helping my son with the forward rolls we learn in gym class. Or singing him songs and reading books – sometimes both at the same time. I’m also the only one who can get him to settle down when he’s too tired to figure out how to fall asleep.

But I’ve learned the importance of giving credit where it’s due; even though I’m his mother, I can’t do everything like a champ. At mealtimes, when I’m holding the spoon, my son turns his nose up to food, kicks up a fuss and even throws tantrums. But the minute Prema steps in, he’s still shouting himself hoarse — but for more food.

“He wants me to feed him faster,” she says, beaming at him. “I think he’s only fussy when you’re feeding him.” He beams at her too, as though in agreement.

There may always be a twinge – of annoyance here, of insecurity there. I can’t help it; I want to be the best. But I smile and refrain from comment on how she holds the utensil or spoons the meal into my son’s mouth. It’s a good thing that she feeds him so well, I tell myself.

I want Prema to be the best, too.

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Written By Afsha Khan Jayapal

Afsha is an ex-journalist who has written for The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, Bangalore Mirror and Conde Nast India. Now, she’s a full-time writer who loves to tell stories. Many of them are true, but some are made up inside her head.

  1. A

    This article brought tears to my eyes. As a working mum, with a very demanding career, there are times when I rely on my nanny to be a mother to my son when I’m not around. And I’ve learnt to be grateful to her for this. It isn’t a competition – the fact that my son loves her too attests to the fact that she treats him with love. And that doesn’t mean he cares less for me. Till the time when I have to be away for work, I’d much rather share his affection with someone who treats him well than expect him to be clamouring for me all day.

  2. Roshna

    That was so beautifully written.. At times jealousy.. At times insecurity.. We should not give in.. We should just be happy that our children love their nanny.. That make us comfortable to go to work.. Love that you have written.. ‘They are not trying be the mother .. They are doing their job” so true and so reassuring..

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