Am I Crazy for Feeling Jealous of my Daughter’s Nanny?

When I was in 7th grade I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Boston. My aunt Pam was a middle school art teacher at a school in the city and my cousins, her kids, were all in college by then. My own family was living in Florida at the time and because we were so far away from Pam and her family, my mom thought it would be a good idea for us to spend some time together.

I had so much fun on that trip. Boston felt like a whole new world in comparison to the small Florida town in which we lived. There was something about New England that inherently resonated with me and I loved being there that week. My aunt took me to the Museum of Fine Arts, to Faneuil Hall and to the harbor where we watched ships come in and out of the port.

That week my aunt also took me to school with her. While she taught her regular art classes all day I visited the various other classes, dropping in on English, Science and Math class for my age group. That might sound terrible but I was kind of a nerd and enjoyed it. Most of all, I loved the English class I sat in on that week.

The class was reading The Pearl by John Steinbeck and the teacher gave me a copy so I could keep up. I consumed it in one evening so that I could participate in the next day's discussion. These classes were so much more stimulating than the crappy Florida public school system I was entrenched in and I soaked up every minute of it.

(I'm getting to the nanny jealousy thing, I promise.)

At the end of the trip I told my aunt Pam that I didn't want to go home. It was just a kid thing to say. I couldn't have been more than 12 or 13 years old. But after seeing how much I loved Boston and listening to me complain about my school in Florida she proposed that maybe I come to live with her during the school year, and go home to my parents during the summers.

I thought this was a grand idea, not at all thinking through what it would be like to be away from my parents, I only envisioned the glamorous new life I would have in Boston.  My aunt told me that she would talk to my mother about it all and off I went home. My mother had hardly retrieved me from the airport when I began babbling all about what an amazing trip I'd had, and how I wanted to move to Boston to live with Aunt Pam, and if they really loved me they'd let me go, and didn't they want their daughter to get a good education?

My mother was crushed. And furious.

I've never ever forgotten this incident because of how upset my mother was. This story has a much deeper subplot of sibling rivalry and jealousy and a million other sisterly components that I'll never understand because I don't have one, but I know that my aunt Pam had crossed a line with my mom, and I felt awful for having been the catalyst.

My mother was deeply angry with her sister but to me she simply conveyed heartbreak. I can't imagine what it must have felt like to her her own daughter state that she wants to live with another woman. I watched tears stream down my mother's cheeks as she spoke angrily into the phone to her sister. Of course I didn't want to move away from my mother, I'd only gotten swept up with the excitement of the whole idea.

It resolved, of course, as all things like this do. But I came back to this story this week, thinking about what it's like to have someone else win the affection of your child, about what it's like to have someone else be able to provide and care for your child.

It's wildly unsettling.

I thought about this story because over the last couple of weeks I've grown increasingly jealous of the relationship my daughter has with our nanny. Over the last three months that the nanny has been with us, Veronica has bonded deeply with her. When she arrives in the morning V wiggles her whole little body with glee, arms and legs flapping up and down, a bursting smile across her face.

It unnerves me. It makes my chest tighten. It makes me linger that much longer at the door before I go.

Of course I'm glad that they have a good relationship. The opposite would be horrible. I could never go to work knowing that I was leaving my daughter with someone she didn't like. But I can't help worrying about how much Veronica does like her. Is it more than me?

Is it because the nanny is more fun? Is it because they only see each other three days a week? Is the nanny better at being a mother than I am? Does Veronica even know that I'm her mother? These questions run through my head every day right now and make feel crazy. Whenever I ask them aloud to Greg he says I'm definitely crazy. I frown and tell him he doesn't understand what it is to be a mother.

It's always been evident that our nanny cares a great deal for Veronica. She dotes on her and genuinely seems to love her. And in the beginning I used to enjoy sharing new things with the nanny. I would show her photos of things we'd done with Veronica over the weekend and I was always eager to share with her something new that Veronica had learned. But lately I've just been feeling threatened and possessive, not a good combination.

I've come to dread the moment in the morning when I have to hand V over. I hate how willingly she leaves my arms. I hate seeing how she snakes her hands around the nanny's neck in the same way she does around mine, how she buries her head against this other woman's shoulder. It makes my spine stiff, creates a ripple in the back of my throat, causes me to turn on my heel, twisting it against the ground as I walk out the door.

It's not that I don't want her to like her. I do. Just not as much as me.

Greg has a fantastic new piece up on The Nervous Breakdown today:

It's Always Just One Naked Guy in a Fanny Pack That Ruins it for Everyone Else



  • debbie
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    I’m not a mom but I have been a childcare worker, and in my experience what you are going through is completely normal, not crazy at all. To be honest the first time I was in a situation like the one you are describing I was completely oblivious to how the mom was feeling. I worked really hard to bond with each child I cared for and tried to show that bond to the mom to reassure her that her child was happy and in good care while she was at work. It was only when a mom sat me down and told me how she felt that I realised that as a childcare worker you sometimes tread a very fine line. I was really grateful to the mom for talking to me though because it made me far more sensitive to how she was feeling and I could reassure her that my bond with her child could in no way replicate the one that they shared. I think childcare workers and the children they care for do definitely bond and I think that that is a good thing for everyone involved. Having said that though, nothing and no one substitutes for mom! V definitely knows you are her mom, just wait til separation anxiety kicks in! Perhaps you could tell your nanny a little bit about how you’re feeling, she may already be aware of it and not know how to handle the situation, and if not, at least she will know to be sensitive to how you’re feeling.
    Sorry for the length of this post but I just want to add that you write so beautifully about being a mom, that for the first time I find myself really wanting to have a baby – not something I really expected to feel. I think you’re an amazing mom Claire.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    (I know, I know…I don’t have to leave my guy for any length of time, so I’m speaking from a totally different emotional space. But:)
    My mom told me this once: if our kids didn’t love us so much and feel so secure with us and with how much we love them, they would be too anxious to show that kind of affection to others. I think about this a lot. It gives me a way to feel proud of myself and proud of my kid when he shows a lot of love to someone who isn’t me.

  • Kerry
    Posted December 14, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Hi Claire. I think the interesting question is how your mother’s reaction made you feel. Did it draw you closer to her, or alienate you? In a way, I think these are similar emotions to the ones in romantic relationships. While it’s so normal to feel jealous, that jealousy is best kept in check to foster the relationship. I had a similar situtation with my mother, and I remember being hurt by her reaction. While I think it’s important for children to be reminded that they can hurt feelings by being insensitive, I think my mother let her jealousy get the best of her. And it only made me move a little further away.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:06 am | Permalink

    I think thats a good point, Kerry. Its a fine line to tread. I would never want to push my daughter away, and Im sorry to hear that was your reaction to your mother. I didnt feel that way with my mom. When I saw how sad she was I realized that I hadnt even considered how it might make her feel to have me want to move away from her. Thank you for your thoughts, theyre good ones.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Oh, thats such a good thing to keep in mind and remember. Thanks, Sarah.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Debbie, thank you so much for your comments. I was actually hoping that a childcare worker would weigh in. I think youre right in that it would be helpful for me to express my feelings to my nanny. However, she only speaks Spanish and my use of that language is pretty limited. Im worried that I would really bungle my feelings when trying to express them. 🙁

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Wow, I’ve learned a lot from your post today (well, not just today though!) and learned more from these comments above! I did feel quite often that my mom was jealous about how I liked other people. I could peek on how she would have felt during those days from your post today, so it is very helpful to understand my mom’s point of view. And like all those wonderful advices, I believe that more and more miss V gets loved she will have big love to give back. However, the biggest love that she gets is from you.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Youre sweet, Sarah. Glad I was able to give you some insight.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Oh, and I meant to say wow to your last couple of lines. Im so honored that Ive made you want to have a baby.

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    As a nanny for numerous kids from several families…it is wonderful when the munchkins come to you, love you, cling to you, and don’t cry when their mommies hand them over. It is also sometimes REALLY obvious when the moms are upset by this or jealous. During my junior year of college, there was this 9 month old baby who would only calm down for me at night. His mom would hand him over to me and angrily stare as I soothed him and put him in the crib. But you know what, I’m not there any more for that little cherub. His mother is. I never had to deal with the “big issues” or the “hard questions.” I simply got to snuggle, swing, walk, and sing to these little ones. The years will pass and the memory of V’s nanny will always soothe her in the recess of her mind…but your voice, your passions, your daily time with her will resonate as the largest touch stone of her entire life. Like your mom does for you. You’ve mentioned your nanny ONCE (that I can remember) and it was filled with such love and adoration…but your mother is missed with a meteor-shower of power on a daily basis. V is a lucky girl. I’ve seen her snuggle into your neck!

  • Posted December 14, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Amber. I needed to hear this.

  • Posted December 15, 2009 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been there. It’s okay to feel that way. Use it to spur you onto becoming closer with your little one. It’s a hard feeling but trust me, you’re the one with her years later…not the nanny who never has to spend nights cooling your little one’s feverish head or chasing away the bad dreams. No one ever takes that spot in her heart.

  • Posted December 15, 2009 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks, Jenny. Good things to keep in mind. I was definitely the only one to experience a 5-day back-up poop explosion today. Hopefully thatll win her over just a bit.

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