Nanny Envy: The Secret Shame of Childcare

Nanny Envy: The Secret Shame of Childcare

By Lisa Earle McLeod

Disgust, envy, fear, passion, money and power.

A sordid love triangle?  Kind of.  I’m talking about the relationship between mothers and their child-care providers.

It’s a bizarre dynamic. There isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t wish she had more help with her kids. Yet every time we hire anyone to assist with our 24/7 mom job, we feel guilty, often resenting and criticizing the very person we’re paying to make our lives easier.

Nobody ever envies their cleaning person or worries about their emotional relationship with their yard guy. But ask any working mother about the person who watches her kids, and you’ll get an earful of angst. The mere mention of full-time child care brings out everything from jealousy and defensiveness to downright shame.

Dads may be more involved these days but, in most cases, it’s still mom who manages the sitter. Or I should say, it’s mom who obsesses about every emotional nuance, every hidden agenda and every perceived transgression in the complicated, often-conflicted, yet mutually dependent relationship with the aforementioned child-care provider.

A person who, depending on their pay, locale and working hours, may be referred to as babysitter, au pair, mother’s helper or, the most emotionally loaded title of all, nanny. To admit that you have a nanny is akin to admitting that you are an upper-crust woman who doesn’t give a whit about her children and that you’d rather attend board meetings or play tennis than read stories and cuddle.

And to admit that you are a nanny is to admit that you have no life of your own and that you are a virtual servant to a wealthy household. With stereotypes like that, is it any wonder we women are weird about hiring help?

Nanny envy is the secret shame of working mothers. Those who don’t have a nanny envy those who do. And those who do have one, envy the nanny. Jessika Auerbach, author of “And Nanny Makes Three” (St. Martins Press, $23.95) says, “There’s a lot of resentment and envy for what people imagine to be this wonderful relationship where you hand everything over to this other person (the nanny.) But at the same time, there’s disapproval, because you think the mother should be doing it all.”

It’s hard to imagine all the other playground dads shaking their heads in disgust saying, “Can you believe it: he’s off playing golf while a NANNY watches his kids!” Or male coworkers grumbling, “That new VP is so lucky, he has a nanny; he never has to worry about the 6 p.m. daycare deadline.”

About the only time you hear about dad’s relationship with a nanny is if he’s having an affair with one – a secret fear that probably keeps many mothers firmly entrenched in the role of childcare manager and keeps good-looking Swedish girls out of a job.

Auerbach, who interviewed hundreds of mothers and nannies for her book, subtitled “Mothers and Nannies Tell the Truth About Work, Love, Money and Each Other,” suggests “the relationship between a woman and the caretaker of her child involves some of the most intense, important, conflicted and complicated interactions a woman is ever likely to have.”

I actually had a nanny when our first child was small and, while our little love triangle of nanny, mommy and baby worked, it was fraught with emotional angst, most of which I now realize was coming from me. In hindsight I wish I could have let go of my guilt and just made peace with the fact that I was a working mother. I also wish I had been more appreciative and less picky with the woman who made it possible.

The people who take care of other people’s children truly are the unsung heroes of our economy and our families.

And, in the never-ending circle of women who worry about kids, we’re all just doing the best we can.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of “Forget Perfect” and “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.” Contact her or join her interactive blog at .

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