Being a new parent is scary, intimidating, exhausting and wonderful in every other kind of way. Then a mere 3 months after giving birth, you must decide who is going to fill your shoes and care for this new little treasure of yours. Hiring someone with a style of care that’s similar to yours is a good place to start. But you only have a few months of parenting experience under your belt, and though having a caregiver with years, sometimes decades, of experience can be reassuring as you fumble through what to do with a newborn, it can also be intimidating.
My first nanny experience scarred me. It was the Devil Wears Prada version of the nanny world, but I was the one paying someone to boss me around. Yes, my nanny was bossy, and she added undue stress to my early days of motherhood — something that, now that I look back, could have been avoided. So I’ll take one for the team and share my cautionary tale, in hope that other parents can benefit from my harrowing experience.
At first, I found relief in my nanny’s extensive knowledge in infant care. She cut my baby’s nails without flinching while I was scared to death that I would accidently cut him. When it came to diaper change, I was still such a rookie. I’d double and triple check the tightness of the tabs to get the correct fit. But she was a pro, taking a diaper from the caddy and whipping it out with force and confidence to then quickly unravel it into a flexible garment conform to his tiny body. It was comforting, I thought, to have such an expert to show me the ropes.
But after a month, her suggestions stopped being a relief and took an intimidating and forceful path. Yes, I still had a lot to learn, but by then I had combed through an entire bookshelf of Parenting Literature and was using and trusting my own intuitions. That’s when things started to clash.
“Why do you and your husband always wear your baby?,” she asked in a condescending way when my son was 4 months old. This question was her not-so subtle way of saying he cried too much when she wanted to go on one of her epic strolls and visit with her friends. Then, she warned me that she would know if I didn’t do rigorous sleep training — something we decided we weren’t interested in doing. But she thought it took him too long to fall asleep for his nap, so she kept pushing and pushing. When it was time to start solid foods, she insisted on giving him cereals. “All babies start with rice cereal,” she said when I told her I wanted him to start with vegetables.
Eventually, I grew more confident and knew exactly what I wanted for my baby and what was best for him. Though perhaps we were ill matched from the start, our nanny didn’t seem willing to do the intricate dance that I think is necessary for this kind of relationship to sustain itself — a relationship that relies on mutual respect and on a common goal to do what’s best for the baby. For this relationship to be successful, the parents need to feel supported, the caregiver valued and the baby happy and well cared for.
One day, I texted her from work to check on him. Her response was brief and dismissive: “Well, what can I say. He is not having a good day!” Of course, I panicked and was unable to concentrate on work. I was worried about my baby and wanted to make sure she’d do what she could to make him feel better. “He loves the song B-I-N-G-O,” I texted back. “If you sing that, he usually cheers up.” She once again disregarded my suggestion and wrote: “You need to get him an iPod with his favorite songs.” That was her last day with my son.
Though I was relieved not to have our nanny around to tell us about everything that is wrong with us, I was angry. And then depressed. I was rattled to the core as a new mom. Was there something wrong with my baby? Was he already a problem child, and was my parenting style to blame for it? I knew that the character of my child and my parenting would likely come into question again, and this was undoubtedly a stepping stone in parenthood, but having to deal with such incertitudes only six months postpartum felt way too early!
When my husband and I started looking for a new nanny, the interviews went very differently. We still payed attention to the applicants’ years of experience and recommendation letters, but not just. First, we asked for recommendations through parent friends in hope that it would help us find a better personality fit. Then, we laid out our baby’s preferences and discomforts, as well as our own. And though not much had changed from when our son was 3 months old, this time we knew what we wanted and needed, and we put it on the table right away to avoid ambiguities in the future. For instance we said, “He does not like being in the stroller for long periods of time. Is that going to be a problem?” “Apparently we fall into the category of attachment parenting, if you find this absurd, let us know.” Lastly, we acknowledged the value in their experience and made it clear that we wanted to be aware of their ideas and opinions, but wanted to make it clear that we what we wanted most was to keep a dialogue going.
When we found the right match, we could finally put our “Miranda Priestly” behind us. Knowing that our baby was being cared for in a way that made him comfortable and without having to apologize for his needs gave us the support and peace of mind we needed to then do our other jobs.
Original illustration by Shanequa Simpson for Well Rounded NY.