On this spring-like morning, I was perusing my Facebook nannying group when I came across this article that someone had posted. It’s called, “He Still Loves Me, Right?” and is about a mother’s worry and jealousy when her child attaches to his caregiver – and might love the caregiver more than he loves Mom. I expected to eyeroll and find a lot of references to “nannies who walk in and take over” and “nannies who are there to steal a child’s love” but in fact, I found myself tearing up. This is not an article about an angry mother. This is a mother who acknowledges that her nanny is an excellent and important part of her son’s life, but that she just can’t shake the guilt about leaving her son in the first place.
As a nanny, this is something that I can empathize with, but that I’ve never experienced. I have been the recipient of child affection – and I love it. I’ve also been the one that at the door, has to disentangle little clinging hands from my neck and hair, give a crying baby a kiss, and tell them that I’ll be back tomorrow while a harried and upset mother tries to turn her baby’s attention back to her! It’s definitely an issue when you nanny, and it’s something that isn’t often talked about.
Glo-Worm was my last nanny charge, and I spoke to her mother about her seeming “over-attachment” to me. Glo-Worm was very worried whenever I would even leave the room for a second, and come crawling after me, crying heartbrokenly. She would cling to me and want to be held and rocked and cuddled constantly. And when I left, she would sometimes cry and lunge towards me, sometimes dangerously, out of her parents’ arms. Now, some of this is normal. I became Glo-Worm’s primary caregiver. She and I had a special relationship, as well – our personalities are similar, and we very much enjoyed each other’s company. But some of it is a sign that the child sees someone else she loves leaving every day and feels powerless to stop it. Over-attachment IS a thing – and it can be heartbreaking for everyone involved when a child starts to show signs of it.
I would feel badly for Glo-Worm, but I’d feel worse for her parents. I don’t have experience with this, but it has to really be awful to come home from work, missing your child all day, only to have them lunge after the caregiver, crying heartbrokenly, and hitting at you if you even try to hold them! While your child isn’t really rejecting you, it can feel that way. I always tell parents that their child is going to love them first and best, and that this is completely normal and expected. I am honoured when a child shows that level of love to me, but I am also aware that I am not the child’s mother, and never will be.
Here’s a secret that most people don’t talk about, though. Your child knows that I am not their mother and never will be, too. You, as their mother, have a certain scent, a certain feeling when they are being held by you, and a certain tone of voice that no one else has. They “imprint” on you from birth – and that’s actually extremely appropriate and developmentally right. No one else will compare to Mommy and Daddy. No one else can meet their needs in just that right way.
When your child attaches to me, he or she isn’t looking at me as a mother-substitute. Don’t believe all the extremists who want to scare you into thinking that daycare or nannying is a way for parents to not love their children as much, or whatever. Your child looks at me as a special person who can ALSO meet their needs. If your child cries for me when I leave, it’s because they’re crying for a special person in their lives that they don’t want to leave. Your kid knows I’m not you. He doesn’t expect me to be you – he expects me to be me, and his relationship with me is different.
It’s healthy for children to form a variety of attachments to trusted people in their lives. Nannies and caregivers are honoured when this happens – but we are not trying to win your child’s love over you. I am there to do my job, not participate in some competition with you over your child’s love. And sometimes, my job does involve deep attachment to your child and vice versa. That’s actually a good thing. You don’t want your child to hate the person he or she has to spend 8 or 9 hours a day with, right?
I still feel for this mother, though. I can’t imagine what it must feel like. But rest assured, if your child is attached, it means he’s being well taken care of. If your child is over-attached, sometimes changing his caregiving style, such as sending him to a daycare situation, can help with his anxiety over his caregiver leaving. Glo-Worm and I are still very attached, but there isn’t the same anxiety towards me that there used to be. Instead, we have cuddles and playtime without the worry that leaving time is coming and she’ll have to deal with a rough transition.
I am honoured when children attach to me. It is gratifying and a sign of a job well done. But I’m not trying to take your child away, I promise!
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