Parenting Partner? Exploring the Caregiver Relationship


An interview with Candi Windgate

If you’ve ever experienced your child melting into the arms of a nanny or grandparent when you drop them off before a long day at work, you know the conflicting feelings that occur. On one hand you are ecstatic that the two get along well enough to enjoy a blissful day in each other’s company. On the other hand, you feel guilty that you have to leave them in the first place.  And, nudging you in the back of your mind, you even wonder if your child would ever (gasp) begin to favor them over you?  Candi Windgate, childcare expert and founder of Nannies 4 Hire, assures us that all these feelings are normal and gives some practical advice on how to create and navigate a healthy parent/caregiver relationship.   —  Christina Montoya Fiedler, Web Content Producer

A lot of parents experience guilt for leaving their children with a caregiver.  How can parents let go and embrace the caregiver’s help?

First, parents need to realize that no one can do it all.  No one feels guilty about having support staff in the office, right?  As parents, we need to re-frame how we view support staff in the home.   The reason it’s more difficult to view home-based support staff without guilt is that our emotions get involved.  We see our children bonding with the nanny, and we worry that our connection to our children may be diminished.  We see our nanny doing a lot of fun things with our children, teaching them new things, even being there for their milestones, and we feel that we are missing out.  To address these concerns, I tell parents that love is not a finite quantity that gets divided when multiple parties are involved. You don’t love your first child less when you have your second child, and your children don’t love you less when they have a nanny.  Further, parents must perform a balancing act every day between maintaining their professional life and supporting their families financially and maintaining their home life and supporting their families emotionally.  Since people can’t be two places at the same time, help is often needed to strike that balance, and that’s ok.  Over the course of our children’s lives, lots of people will function as quasi-parents to our children; these include our children’s grandparents, friends’ parents, neighborhood adults, teachers, and club leaders, to name a few.  We, as parents, need to consciously re-frame our perspective to embrace this help.  After all, it really does take a village to raise children.

In what situations is the attachment between nanny and child detrimental and how can this be avoided?

It is possible that a child’s dependence on a nanny can become too strong.  Over-dependence on a nanny prevents a child from continuing his healthy progression to independent adulthood.  The child can focus all his social energy on his nanny, thus diminishing his interest in peer level friendships.  Further, it can cause the child to supplant “mom” with “nanny”, thus causing hurt feelings in mom and potential conflict between mom and nanny.  To avoid or minimize these problems, the nanny should be ever mindful of her goal:  to help the child grow to be a healthy, well-adjusted adult.  The vigilant nanny looks for potential roadblocks to the accomplishment of that goal and seeks to remove those roadblocks with the blessing of the parents.  The “over-dependence on nanny” roadblock can be removed by the nanny gently insisting that the child exhibit the independence that is appropriate for his age and development.  If the child wants the nanny to carry him throughout the grocery store, the nanny should reply that the child is a “big boy” now who can and should walk on his own.  The nanny can arrange peer level play dates and mommy-child bonding opportunities to emphasize the importance of a variety of relationships rather than the dependence on just one relationship.

What is the most effective way to ensure that the nanny co-parents in a way that is in alignment with the parents’ style of parenting and why is that so important?

The nanny may have a parenting style that differs from and conflicts with the parents’ parenting style.  The parenting style of nanny and parents should be as similar as possible so as to avoid creating confusion for the child and the opportunity for manipulation for the child.  However, not all parenting style differences are conflicting parenting styles.  Some differences can exist in harmony.  For example, a non-conflicting difference in parenting styles may exist if the parents believe in service work (i.e., a child having to wash dishes), as punishment while the nanny prefers time-outs as punishment.  A conflicting difference in parenting styles may exist if parents believe in experiential childhood (i.e., letting children learn by doing things, even if things get damaged in the process, because the experience is seen as the teaching experience) while the nanny believes in a more preventative approach to childhood (i.e., telling children of the prospective harms and expecting the children to learn from being told).  Parenting style conflicts can be minimized by clear, consistent communication between parents and nanny, and by nanny following the directives given her by the parents.  After all, a nanny is the employee of the parents, and she is paid to act on the parents’ behalf.  The nanny is not acting on her own behalf.  The child is not her own child.  Her personal preferences are not as relevant as those of the parents.  Thus, it is the boundaries, rules, and guidance from the parents that must shape how the nanny acts because she is employed to act in their stead.

On non-nanny days, should parents abide by the same schedule established by the nanny and, if so, why?

The child’s schedule will likely vary at least somewhat between nanny-guided days and parent-guided days. This can be confusing and disruptive to the child.  Keeping the child’s sleep and wake schedules approximately the same each day and by approximating similar activity levels each day (i.e., ensuring that each day is not significantly more or less sedentary than is routine for the child) can minimize this problem.  Where large differences must occur in sleep and wake cycles and/or activity levels, good communication up front is necessary and accommodating plans must also be made.  For example, if the child is used to waking at 7:30 a.m., engaging in lots of fun physical play, having a two-hour afternoon nap, and going to bed at 8:30 p.m., an irregular day involving a wake time of 6:00 a.m. followed by a 12-hour car ride, and a usual bedtime would present a significant disruption for the child.  In this event, the following steps should be taken:

Good communication up front should occur starting about a week prior to the day in question and should be repeated every day between that day and the day of the irregular schedule.  Parents and nanny should consistently reinforce a message such as, “On Friday, we are getting up early so that we can drive to Grandma’s house.  I know it’s not your preference to get up earlier than you usually do, but the bright side is that you’ll be able to see Grandma that evening!  It will be a long car ride, and I know you will be a good boy, sit still, and ride quietly.  I will bring along some things you can play with to help you pass the time.  We can also play some car games together along the way.  Once we get to Grandma’s, it will be late.  You’ll probably go to bed shortly after we get there, but, after that, we’ll have a whole week with Grandma!  She can’t wait to see you!”

Accommodating plans for the irregular day include adjusting the child’s diet to reduce intake of sugars and carbohydrates, packing games that will keep the child occupied during the long drive, choosing drive-time music or movies that are calming, and planning opportunities for the child to exert energy when the vehicle is stopped (i.e., exploring a rest area every hour or two).

Candi Wingate is President and Founder of Nannies International, Inc.  Candi’s expertise in the childcare realm has been tapped by The Dr. Phil Show, John and Kate Plus Eight, and Supernanny, to name a few.  She is widely published, and her company has been named to Inc’s 500 list of America’s fastest growing private companies.

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