The Balancing Act: ‘She Is Happier With The Nanny Than Me’
By Sonali Gupta
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to give advice to readers with questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
What’s Wrong With Mum? My 2-year-old has become very attached to her nanny, and I’m afraid she doesn’t want me. When the nanny goes back home in the evening, she cries incessantly. Even when I return from work, I feel she is more happy with the nanny than me. I worry she is becoming too dependent on the nanny.
Sonali: I can understand feeling anxious and threatened by the closeness between your child and her nanny, but this is very typical. Having spent the entire day with the nanny, your daughter’s sad reaction is very normal and a sign of secure attachment, which is a good thing.
But it is a phase. Don’t be surprised if, at some stage, your daughter displays the very same emotions when you or your spouse leave for work. This separation anxiety is very common at this age. Children outgrow this reaction at different stages of development, but they do outgrow it. They also come to understand the difference between their mother and the paid caregiver, as they develop cognitively and emotionally. A healthy attachment with the nanny will not come in the way of this.
What a healthy attachment to the nanny will do, however, is strengthen your baby’s attachment to you. Sociologist Cameron Lynne McDonald’s book, Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au-Pairs and the Micropolitics of Mothering, cites research that found: “The higher the quality of childcare, the more the children feel securely attached to their childcare providers and more securely they remain attached to their mothers.”
Read more on the benefits of secure attachment with a caregiver on The Swaddle.
I understand it’s not an easy phase for parents to get through. Your daughter’s reaction likely inspires anxiety and jealousy. I wonder if it also inspires or intensifies guilt associated with working. To manage your emotions, perhaps try to view the situation as your daughter’s first step in trusting someone beyond the family, which is a healthy process. I’d also suggest examining your own emotions and reminding yourself that your daughter’s reaction does not indicate her lack of love for you or a failing on your part.
Finally, you might try rituals or activities that smooth the transition from nanny to parent. Instead of having the nanny leave as soon as you return from work, try having her stay for a bit as you play your daughter. This allows your baby to warm up to you gradually, rather than experience an abrupt shift. Consider doing one of your daughter’s favourite activities with her, or playing with a favourite toy together, during this time, so she looks forward to it. And use the weekend for simple but special activities as a family to balance time spent with the nanny during the week.
Above all, trust and be kind to yourself, be mindfully present during your time with your child, and have patience.
Ch-Ch-Changes: I’m a 30-year-old woman who has lately been very irritable, cranky and having mood swings. I seem to be managing my transition to my new city and job very well. Would psychotherapy help in a situation like this?
Changing jobs and cities are two significant events! And while you may be enjoying both, research suggests even the most positive events, like marriage or a promotion for example, can trigger stress. In your case, there seem to be two, simultaneous new events (double the stress) that might be prompting these feelings. And these specific types of changes – new city, new job – can make us more vulnerable than others because they take us away from our support networks. Difficulty in making new friends or finding help (on top of constantly juggling responsibilities) can add to stress levels even more.
Psychotherapy can help based on your willingness to engage in it. It could help you identify the specific source of your stress, by helping you question: Is it the exhaustion or the job stress that is causing my irritation? What are some of the significant changes that may be impacting my mood? Therapy could also help you strengthen your coping abilities and learn to regulate your moods. It could help you be aware of the irritants so that you can integrate them and learn to deal with them effectively as they occur. Therapy could also help you deal with any past unresolved issues that may also be contributing to your stress.
I would suggest you rule out a physiological cause of your irritability and mood swings. Consult a doctor to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D3 and B12; research shows that certain vitamin deficiencies can lead to an increase in irritation, anxiety, mood fluctuations and even lethargy. You might also want to get your thyroid levels checked, particularly in the case of a family history with thyroid issues, as those can cause symptoms similar to what you’re experiencing.