As they walk out the door each morning, working parents are grateful for the nannies who care for their children in their absence. And yet, those same parents often struggle with the knowledge that their young children spend more waking hours with their nannies than with their mothers and fathers.
So when the time comes for the nanny to move on, parents may underestimate how profound the loss can be. As a mother once said , “I didn’t realize that she had become part of our family until she told us she had to leave.”
In fact, the start of a new school year, when child care needs change, is high season for nanny turnover. Families often arrange for nannies to leave when children are away at summer camp or on family vacation so it’s less disruptive for their school year routine.
If the nanny and the parents have a healthy relationship, it can help soften the emotional impact of the departure on a child. Research shows that it’s best when parents don’t let their own emotions interfere with helping their child mourn the loss of a caregiver. Showing that you can relate to children’s sad feelings about a nanny leaving may help them feel safer and more cared for.
Sometimes, parents are so stressed by the logistics of the departure of a nanny or babysitter — who will handle school drop-off? — that they may overlook the nuances of their child’s emotional needs. Parents may also struggle with their own separation anxiety: Fear about how they will fare without the nanny and guilt about their own
Parents’ anxieties about a nanny-role can cause them to ignore how important a nanny has become. Families may need to deny their enormous need for assistance by refusing to acknowledge the nanny’s role or her individual humanity. This can contribute to tension between a caregiver and the parents that may either contribute to her exit, or create stress in the home that interferes with a child’s sense of stability when it’s time for the nanny to leave.
Some families expect nannies to play a paradoxical role called “shadow mother.” (Yes, nannies can be men, and serve as shadow fathers, but research tends to focus on women.) In such cases, parents expect a nanny to form a strong bond with a child but also appear invisible in the family, o be simultaneously present and absent in the children’s lives. By asking a nanny to work in the shadows, parents may avoid their own feelings about how psychologically important the nanny has become, and so may be less sensitive to their children’s needs around the separation.
Some parents do this because they are afraid that a deeper bond with a nanny will interfere with their child’s healthy attachment to them. In fact, studies show the opposite. When a child has a high-quality bond with a caregiver, this can actually help complement and reinforce parental attachment. Therefore, children who are more securely attached to both their nannies and parents feel more secure over all.
In a report in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis in March, Dr. Jessica Yakeley, a British psychiatrist, found that children have enough psychological room to attach to both parents and a nanny or multiple other caretakers.
Around transitions, parents, children and nannies alike may experience a range of emotions including competition, guilt, abandonment, relief, resentment and love. An open and reflective dialogue including all parties — parents, nannies and children — can make saying goodbye a little easier.
Source: Women & Gender…With Thelma Asantewaa
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