Maintaining the Bond: Your Family’s Relationship with Your Nanny
Attachment Theory, a theory initially developed by psychologist John Bowlby, states that the earliest bonds formed by children with their caregivers have a tremendous impact that continues throughout life. The relationship your child has with their nanny is a very important one, one that has potential to provide them with a sense of safety and security. Next to you, your nanny maintains your child’s emotional and physical safety on a daily basis. In addition to their own interactions with the nanny, children learn about relationships by watching you with their nanny. They watch how you treat the nanny, how decisions are made, how much you trust your nanny. When children see that you are confident in your nanny and trust your nanny, children feel safe and secure.
That said, the role of the nanny is a very unique one. They are essentially injected into your personal life. They see everything that goes on in your personal life, and, furthermore, they help you to raise the most precious people in your life. They are present whether you are having a good day or a bad day. They are there for powerful family moments whether they are exciting moments such as a baby’s first steps or devastating losses such as the death of a grandparent.
Because the role of the nanny is such an important one, it is important to nurture this relationship and maintain it in as healthy a manner as possible. This process begins before you even hire your nanny and carries all the way through to the departure of your nanny.
The first thing you need to do prior to hiring a nanny is to identify your family’s needs. Every family is different and has their own specific needs. Do you need a live-in or a live-out? Do you need someone full-time or part-time? Do you want someone who helps with the cleaning? The cooking? These are issues to consider, however more importantly, you may want to think about whether or not you need someone who can read books to your child, who is able to travel with you if necessary, or perhaps most importantly someone who respects your family’s values. Identifying what you need in a nanny early on can be invaluable and can help you to find someone who is going to fit into your family. Do not rush this part of the process, it’s important to take the time to find someone who will remain with your family for as long as possible.
After you have found the nanny for your family, there will be an adjustment period. It is during the adjustment period where the nanny is learning about your family and you are learning about them. This can be perhaps the most important stage of your relationship with your nanny. It is essential that during this time period that you are clear about what you want and how you want it to be done. Setting clear expectations will dispel confusion and model the kind of communication you want to have with your nanny. Describe specifically how you want them to contact you, under what circumstances they should contact you. Additionally, explain your reasonings behind the decisions you are making regarding your child’s life. This step in and of itself will provide education to your new nanny about your family. During the adjustment period, (at least the first three weeks) spend more time with your nanny when s/he is with the children. Guide your nanny and model for him/her how you want them to handle different situations.
Over time, you will develop routines, schedules, and your nanny will become the person you rely on to ensure the care and safety of your children. When you become comfortable with each other, boundaries may blur, and it is during this time that conflict can easily occur. The key to success throughout this stage is positive communication. At the first sign of conflict, it’s important to discuss your concerns. Harboring feelings of concern, anger, or resentment can harm your relationship with your nanny, which will in turn harm your nanny’s relationship with your child. If these feelings are not discussed and addressed, you may end up firing your nanny in a fit of anger. This consequence is even more detrimental for your child.
All too often, a parent has a conflict with the nanny and instead of making attempt to work it out, they fire the nanny. The result? The child wakes up the next day and a significant attachment figure in their lives has disappeared. For children, the nanny was a person who maintained their physical and emotional safety on a daily basis. When it becomes clear that that person can just disappear, children may be more cautious to develop a bond in the future, which may contribute to future failures. A loss of or a change in caregivers can be a significant stressor on a child.
The final stage in your relationship with your nanny, Endings, are a very important stage as well in your relationship with your nanny as well as the relationship between your child and their nanny. Whether an ending is planned or unplanned, there are attachment-sensitive ways of orchestrating these endings that are aimed at protecting the secure emotional bond. This is important, even if you do not believe your child cares for the nanny. An ending is an opportunity to model how to end relationships in a healthy manner, a lesson that will help your child throughout their lives.
Furthermore, there is evidence that our early attachment styles, especially the first three years of our lives, remain steady over time and tend to be replicated in our relationships throughout childhood and then in our friendships and romantic relationships as adults. Conflict between nanny and parent is not easy to resolve. There are a lot of feelings involved, and it is usually best to bring an objective person to help to mediate and identify solutions in order to maintain the bond between the nanny and the family.
It’s up to you to do the work to maintain a healthy bond with your nanny. By doing this, you strengthen the bond your child will have with their nanny, and, you help your child to build secure emotional bonds with others in their life. When your child feels secure with you and their other caregivers, they have what Attachment theory refers to as a secure base, a place from which the child feels safe enough to leave to explore the world around them. This allows your child to grow up feeling safe, secure and confident.
Dr. Lindsay Heller is licensed clinical psychologist in Beverly Hills. As The Nanny Doctor, she offers attachment theory-based consulting services for families and nannies. For more information go to www.thenannydoctor.com