As more parents re-enter the workforce fulltime after having babies, families are hiring nannies in response to an increase in the cost of childcare and decrease in the number of daycare spaces available, particularly in larger cities.
A significant percentage of these nannies are foreign workers, often from the Philippines, who leave their own children, homes, and husbands to come take care of families in North America.
As I read the novel BETWEEN by Angie Abdou, I thought more and more about the complicated dynamics that likely exist between a nanny and her employer. Abdou artfully develops the characters of the nanny (Ligaya) and mother (Vero) in their separate lives before they form an employer-employee relationship. Experiencing life through Ligaya’s eyes, I kept thinking, I can’t imagine what it would be like to leave my family and go across the world to take care of someone else’s. I just can’t.
Perhaps that thought is the main reason I opted out of hiring a foreign nanny, as many of my friends and neighbours had chosen to do. I remember one day when I looked at my friend through tear-stained, exhausted eyes while she beamed about the super meal her nanny had made for her that day.
I asked, “Your nanny cooks for you, too?” My friend smiled, saying, “I come home to a clean house, clean laundry, and supper on the table.” I stared at her, trying to reel in my intense jealousy. I also wondered how this nanny was able to take care of two small children and successfully maintain the home, when I was having a hard time doing the same!
Later that night, as my three-year-old’s wails woke up my baby right after he fell asleep, I whispered into my pillow, “This is not fair.” I secretly really wanted a nanny, but managed to tell myself that as a therapist and parenting educator, I would lose credibility if someone else took care of my children. I now see that way of thinking was not helpful.
At the time, I was also irrationally concerned about what others would think of me if I hired domestic help, as some mothers can be ruthlessly judgmental of each other. When I read this post by Julie Cole, co-founder of Mabel’s Labels—“A woman once commented that, ‘A nanny is raising your children and if you REALLY loved them, you’d quit your job and raise them yourself’”—I mistakenly thought I’d be less of a mother and create less secure attachment with my children if I allowed another woman to help me raise them. I now know both of those statements are NOT true.
It is possible to be a confident mother and raise securely attached children, while employing the help of a nanny.
While reading BETWEEN, being completely drawn in by Vero’s character, I was emotional as I read about her life as a mother of two boys and how the struggle of adjusting to life with young children was completely zapping her happiness. I’m sure that mothers of young children who read this book will feel validated.
As new mothers move away from their own mothers, aunties, and other family members who could help with child-rearing, and become isolated in communities where a good percentage of parents are not around during the day, as was Vero’s case, it is important to hire child-minding helpers if no other options are available.
Isolated parents have a higher chance of getting postpartum depression and maternal mental health problems if they are left to struggle with the big challenge of raising little ones alone. For those who do not have the financial means to hire a nanny, looking for other moms to do babysitting swaps or older neighbourhood children to watch the kids for a few hours are helpful options.
I asked the parents in my Facebook community to share their experiences with employing a nanny, and all the moms who commented had positive things to say. Many were happy their children could stay home and not have to be rushed out the door early in the morning, and others talked about how having the same, consistent person there to be with their children helped put them at ease.
I have heard of scary experiences with nannies in the media, and I see advertisements for “nanny-cams,” but believe that for the most part, controls are in place within nanny agencies to weed out those that use aggressive punishment with children.
The unbearable thought of how foreign nannies must feel leaving their own families, as the character Ligaya did, still bothered me, so I sat down with a nanny from the Philippines to learn more about her life. The woman I spoke with had worked for two years in Taiwan, as most nannies from her country do (they often work in China where their employment conditions are quite harsh), and had been employed in Canada for six years. She shared that she had to leave her home because of the conditions there, and left behind a three-year-old daughter and husband at the time.
This brave woman said, “Now that my daughter is older, she understands. I am a happy person. I’m very strong.” When I asked about the year she left, she said, “It was so hard. The first year was hard. The second, too. But now it’s not so hard. I remember that others are waiting in line to get what I have.”
As I spoke with her, I could see the strength and determination in her eyes. I imagine that if any of us had to leave our families for about ten years (her husband and daughter will be coming to Canada later this year) in order to make the rest of their lives so much better, we would do the same thing. This woman also clearly loves the little boy she takes care of, smiling while talking about him. I felt more at ease after speaking with her.
When considering if employing a nanny is good decision for you, visit with families who do have a nanny and consult with your local nanny-hiring agency. The book BETWEEN certainly opened my eyes to the benefits of having one, Vero’s unique challenges notwithstanding, and in retrospect, I think hiring more help would have been a good choice for me.
If you do have a nanny or are thinking of hiring one, I suggest reading my post on how to pass the attachment torch over to that person to foster positive development in your children.
And check out these 5 Things Every Parent Should Know When Hiring a Nanny.