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A Love Letter To Nannies: Thank You For Loving Our Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

"We don't have to hire someone tomorrow," said my husband, gesturing at the local parents website with posts for available nannies on his computer, "But we do have to start looking."

I hugged our three-month-old daughter a little bit more tightly as I nodded at him, miserably. I was in one of the emotional black holes of new motherhood, which I'm pretty sure never ends: guilt vs. exhaustion. A huge part of me ached at the idea of being separated from our baby and leaving her with someone who wasn't a family member—so basically a total stranger! And yet, another small but undeniable part was yearning to return to my work as a writer, if only for a few days a week.

The idea of another person caring for my child, comforting her when she cried, learning her rhythms, being there to witness the new personality and skills she was acquiring every day, while I was absent and missing out, sent a knife-like guilt and pain shooting through my chest. But I knew I had to find a way to recharge my own batteries, to reconnect with my career path, and to bring in the extra income that was important to my family.

I knew my position was exceptionally privileged. The lack of legal and social support for parents in the US, including maternity/paternity leave policies, means that millions of women are forced to return to full-time work to support their families, often only a few weeks after giving birth.

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Many others enjoy going back to fulfilling work and relish the socializing benefits that daycare and other childcare options provide for their babies. But I was looking for some kind of middle ground. While I was deeply grateful to have been able to spend the first few months of my daughter's life with her and wanted to continue as her primary caregiver, being a stay-at-home-mom full-time was not an option for me both financially and personally. And unfortunately, my husband and I didn't have a single family member within 2,500 miles who might have been able to help out.

Still, I stalled and hesitated for as long as possible. I was filled with fears about two equally awful fantasy scenarios. 1) That my daughter would hate the nanny, and I would never feel comfortable leaving them alone. Not helpful. 2) That my daughter would love the nanny and end up essentially preferring her to me. Not cool at all!

Nannies also seemed slightly mysterious to me. The playground across the street from our house was filled with nannies, skillfully caring for one, two, even three children at a time. They all seemed to know each other, and they settled in packs at the sand box or by the swings, gathering on blankets for group snack picnics.

In the beginning, I had made a few overtures, saying hello when I arrived with my stroller, attempting to chat with whoever was watching the toddlers who came over to investigate my daughter. But I was generally met with a wall of silence. It was like they were some kind of nanny mafia, and I was invading their territory. Or maybe that nannies and parents were on opposing teams, and I was sitting in the wrong section. I hadn't felt so excluded since a rough month in the sixth grade.

When finally, I couldn't avoid the issue any longer, we started interviewing. There was the nanny who wanted nothing to do with breastfeeding, and insisted that she couldn't care for a baby without being able to use a bottle. We parted ways. There was the one who was in school full-time and could only offer us a few hours a week in between classes. There were highly experienced nannies whose rates were beyond our means, and nannies without much experience who made me a little nervous. And then there was Jacinta. And from the moment she walked in and picked up my daughter, I was pretty sure we were going to be okay.

Living so far away from my husband's family and my own, she has become a part of our little family. We are so grateful to have her in our lives.

A mom friend who was searching for a nanny recently asked me what makes Jacinta so amazing, and I tried very hard to come up with a concrete list of reasons:

  1. She is responsible, reliable, and incredibly smart—a natural problem solver.

  2. She is deeply loving and sweet with our daughter without ever making us feel replaced or superfluous as parents.

  3. She is very knowledgeable about babies, having worked with many families over a decade of nannying. (This means that when I completely freak out about something my daughter is doing, she is calm and has seen it all before.)

  4. However, she believes every baby is different and really took the time to get to know our daughter's personality and our parenting style without imposing any ideas.

And then I ran out of reasons, because the rest is just a gut feeling. I trust Jacinta absolutely. She's an ally, a friend, a support, a parenting partner. Living so far away from my husband's family and my own, she has become a part of our little family. We are so grateful to have her in our lives.

With Jacinta's stamp of approval, the nanny mafia has gradually come to accept my presence. A few of them even smile and say hello when I show up at the playground, although they refuse to say my name and always refer to me as "Isabel's Mom." When I asked Jacinta about this, she tried to explain.

"They're afraid," she said. "They think you might report them for doing something wrong." I was stunned.

"Report them?! I don't even know any of those families. And it's none of my business. And they all seem so good at this. I have no idea how they handle all those kids."

Jacinta smiled. "That's what I told them. Don't worry, they'll come around."

"Do you talk to other parents in the playground?" I asked.

"Of course," she said. "I talk to everyone. How else can I make sure that person should really be there?"

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Last month, one of the little girls from the playground moved with her family to another state. Her nanny Elena was one of the friendlier ones, who always talked to my daughter and invited her to play with them. A week later, I noticed Elena sitting on a bench, surrounded by her friends. She was in tears. I timidly approached the group and asked if she was okay.

"I miss Nora so much," Elena choked out. "I've been with her since she was a week old. I can't believe I won't see her anymore." She sobbed with grief.

"This is what it's like," another nanny said with sympathy. "We love them. And then they go."

All I can say is thank you to all the loving, dedicated nannies out there. Thank you for giving our kids so much of yourselves, knowing that someday, sooner or later, they won't need you anymore, and they will go. Thank you for being friends and heroes to so many moms who feel lost, confused and alone. Thank you.

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