By Jak Burke,
In her brilliant article ‘Nanny Envy – it’s a thing’ Rethabile Mashale discusses an emotion that dare not speak its name: a mother’s jealousy of her nanny. Coining the term “Nanny Envy Syndrome” Mashale talks about job sabotage by employers, where a nanny could be entrapped to make mistakes and therefore legitimately reprimanded. Nanny Envy, Mashale alleges, can even lead to fantasies of termination or actual and abrupt dismissal.
Is Nanny Envy a real problem? I asked Karen Kaufman PhD, LCSW who has worked in the field of mental health for 30 years.
“Nanny envy, while not a diagnosable condition, is real and problematic and can adversely impact the nanny/parent/child relationships. Seeing one’s child become attached to the nanny can threaten the new mother and her developing sense of herself in this role. This can lead to passive aggressive behaviors on both sides as the tension mounts.”
Are nannies aware of it? I posed this question to a working nanny.
Nanny: “Totally. You can feel it building up like a bad atmosphere like you’re walking on eggshells and if she’s (the mom) had a bad day at work and I’m talking about the wonderful day I just had with her child and I look at her face and it’s like – ‘don’t you dare talk about your awesome day with MY kid – you’re so annoying right now’ and she’ll get extra critical or sarcastic or distant. And I know she just wants me the hell out of her home.”
What triggers Nanny Envy? And how can parents deal with it?
Mom 1: “Sometimes our youngest will cry when our nanny leaves or will want to go to her instead of me.”
Mom 2: “I have definitely experienced it (Nanny Envy), but it comes out more in feeling at war with myself than against her. Mostly, we pack it all in on the weekends, to the point of exhaustion. Last night, I got home early from work and we were able to spend a couple of hours together in their park doing all the things my son does during the day. He showed me where the balloon lady was, and how he climbs up to the slide and what the nanny tells him is “dangerous”, where he has to be “careful”, and what he is and isn’t allowed to do. It was strange: I felt the emotional pangs of knowing ours was a special time, that everything in the park had been established between them, that she gets to do this every day, but I was so happy to have the time to do it with him — it was an amazing two hours.”
How can parents manage eruptions of Nanny Envy? Annabelle Corke, President at Hey Day Nannies offers 5 Tips on coping:
- Open up: encourage a dialogue between you and your nanny that is on going.
- Be patient: like any relationship it takes time, maturity and trust to develop. Not making the time to get to know your nanny and vice versa can be detrimental in the long run.
- Be confident: encourage your child to show affection to others and for your nanny to show affection to your children but know that your unique bond with your child is not being threatened.
- Be creative: look at your nanny as part of your team not just as an employee and mold her role to make the most of her best qualities.
- Listen to yourself: know what kind of nanny you want. Do you want more of a housekeeper that watches the kids or do you want an interactive teacher type whose presence and influence are more strongly felt? Knowing what you need from your nanny and being able to communicate this is key to a thriving relationship.
Nanny Envy is a common emotion and parents should not deny the conflict that outsourcing childcare presents. Employers who are able to acknowledge their feelings – no matter how upsetting while managing how they respond to employees can navigate Nanny Envy effectively and make a long-term success of their childcare arrangements.
Have you ever been jealous of your baby’s nanny?