Who’s The Mommy? Me Or The Nanny?

Dear Mamas,

I work full time and a nanny cares for our daughter while we are gone. She is about to turn two and we are planning a birthday party. Here’s my problem: My nanny is really excited about it and has taken the lead in organizing it. That’s been a big help since I’ve been really busy and I’ve let her make the decisions about all the plans. She’s come up with a pretty extravagant thing. She hired Snow White to come and sing and has invited a lot of kids (and their parents) and a caterer and has bought a lot of decorations which she is planning to put up.

At first it was okay, I didn’t want to discourage her since she was so into it. But now I feel like a third wheel and am a little uncomfortable about what the day will be like. I’m afraid that she is going to be front and center at the party and appear to be the hostess, especially since she spends most of the time with our daughter, organized the whole thing and knows the guests better than I do. Believe it or not, I’m not sure what my role is compared to hers. Sadly not just with this, but in general. She seems to know so much more than me. Any ideas??

Olivia in Connecticut

Hi Olivia,

Wow. This is a tough one but let me tell you one thing loud and clear: your daughter has one mother and ONLY one mother. It is wonderful that you have found a nanny who you trust to look after your daughter while you work. It cannot be overstated how important it is to find a good, kind and experienced helper if you are working outside of the home. But you have to keep in mind that her role is just that — a helper.

No one in the world can fill your shoes, nor should they. And believe it or not, your daughter knows who her mommy is. Even though your work takes you away from home for hours at a time, you must find ways to reinforce that knowledge and connect with her regularly, no matter how busy you are. In your case, the quality of the interactions are extremely important since your time with her is so limited.

So doing things like playing, bathing, dressing, feeding, reading, cuddling her and being the one who puts her down for the night will take precedence over less interactive ways of being together like watching a video or simply having her around as you wash dishes or pay bills. She needs face time and as much as you can afford to give her.

It will also help to talk to her on the phone a couple times during the day, just to check in and let her know that Mommy is thinking about her. These things will help to cement your relationship and also help you to realize your place in her life. Nannies will come and go but mommies are forever. You, like all moms though, have to grow into your role and that takes time and effort.

As far as the birthday party goes, relax. It’s not such a big deal that your nanny has made all the arrangements but it’s time for you to take over now and put on the finishing touches. You must be the one to welcome the guests, announce when the cake is being served, hold and chase after your daughter and do all the things that you would be doing if Nanny wasn’t there.

Take some of the awkwardness out of the whole thing by figuring out in advance what you want Nanny to be doing during the party. Thank her sincerely for all the work she has done so far, then give her clear instructions on how she can assist with the rest. Be specific. She is there to support you, not be you. So, for example, if your daughter will be opening presents while guests are there, Nanny can keep a list of who brought what for thank you notes later; she can be instructed to keep her eyes on wandering children who make a beeline for the gate or rooms that are off-limits. She can make sure empty or half full glasses are not left within reach of little ones and let Snow White know when it’s time to sing her song, etc.

But anything that has to do with being the lady of the house or the mother of the birthday girl belongs to you and you alone. Own it. Your daughter needs you to take hold of those reins and get comfortable being her one and only mommy. It’s your right and your responsibility whether you work or not. So don’t worry anymore about Nanny. She sounds great and will most likely have no problem stepping aside as long as you let her know loud and clear that is what you want her to do.

Congratulations on your daughter’s birthday and have a great and happy party!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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