I know I sound ungrateful, but my strong-willed six-year-old son has bonded with our nanny better than with me. She has been with us since my son was two months old. His twin older sisters are easy-going, but my son is demanding and defies me in most situations. He listens to the nanny and enjoys her company more than mine. I work full time and worry that he will get even more attached to her as time goes by. It is time to renew the nanny's contract, and I am thinking of replacing her. Also, how can I be sure my son won't grow too close to a new nanny?
The emotional minefield between a working mother and her nanny, or "shadow mother", seems to be an unavoidable aspect of contemporary motherhood. When I googled "jealous of my nanny", the result was a striking 313,000 hits. Many working mums are jealous of their nannies, but not many are able to admit it openly. Others are so wracked with guilt that they see their nannies as life rafts and are anxious to please both helper and child. It must be hard to see your son relating better to the nanny more than to you. You seem to be going through a range of emotions, but based on what you have written, the situation does not need to be an impasse.
Many helpers tend to take the easy route, letting the children take charge instead of setting boundaries, simply because it is more convenient to give in. But experienced and responsible nannies are able to set firm limits. It sounds like you are very lucky to have an experienced nanny who is able to help your child listen to rules. Developing the ability to tolerate frustration and to listen might be the best gifts that you can provide for a strong-willed child. Instead of seeing the attachment as a threat, maybe you could get her to share her secrets. A good nanny shares what she knows about the child. She might adore your son, but without the intense emotional investment of a mother, she can see your son more objectively and know what works.
Most working parents get by on intuition and advice from books and others, but let's face it, that's obviously not working if your son doesn't respond well to your attempts to manage his behaviour. Instead of seeking parenting advice from professionals, why not ask your nanny? You have much to gain by retaining a nanny who is good with your son. You never know whether you are going to get a good nanny next time. I had such a bad experience with a nanny recently I had to let her go after two weeks.I understand your concern that your son is not bonding with you, but unless you are not living with your child or are only seeing your child once a month or over the weekend, a nanny will never be a replacement for a mother.
In her 2011 book, Shadow Mothers, sociologist Cameron Lynne Macdonald points to a striking finding from a study of mother-child attachment by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "The higher the quality of childcare, the more the children feel securely attached to their childcare providers and the more securely they remain attached to their mother," she writes. You should treat your relationship with your nanny like a partnership. She is there to help you when you can't be present. You could spend more quality time with your child. Dinner, bath and bed times are great for bonding; maybe you can make it clear that certain tasks will be your responsibility so the child associates that time with mummy.
Lora Lee is a child therapist and parenting counsellor with a background in developmental psychology, play therapy and post-separation counselling