Any parent who decides to employ a carer to look after his or her child should bear the following points in mind.
In her work as a psychotherapist, Judith Davis hears many stories concerning nannies and their charges. She works with adults and children, and parents together with their babies and so is privy to all perspectives. She describes that experiences and outcomes vary enormously: often she hears of wonderful nannies and wonderful employers, but where the contrary occurs, the consequences can be painful. This month Judith looks at what to bear in mind when looking for alternate care for your baby.
There is a small academic literature on the subject of nannies (including two doctorates written in South Africa) and the most important contribution is from Canadian psychoanalyst, Harry Hardin. Hardin has written extensively on his clinical experiences and reveals an astonishing finding: the quality of a parent’s relationship with the carer of his or her child will have a profound effect on the parent’s relationship with the child.
In my experience, a situation in which a nanny is treated without consideration or respect is likely to yield quite a different effect on the child, her development and her relationship with her parent/s, to one in which the attitude towards the nanny is one of respect and concern.
I would suggest that any parent who decides to employ a carer to look after his or her child bear the following points in mind.
- Much current literature suggests that infants under the age of two benefit more from individual care. Thereafter, group care has fewer negative consequences.
- Parents want to ensure that their baby will be sensitively and reliably cared for. It is easy to discuss and arrange the practical tasks to be undertaken, but sensitive attunement is harder to assess and quantify. Parents need to get a ‘gut feeling’ about this, and to watch to see if the nanny is open to the baby’s communications.
- Caring for babies is demanding of both time and emotion and nannies must be given the capacity to provide time and emotion to babies in their care. It unrealistic and unfair to expect a domestic worker to provide adequate care if she still required to attend to all the domestic chores.
- Parents should be clear with the nanny that the baby’s needs take precedence. Alternatively, another person should be employed to attend to some of the housework.
- Those nannies that provide the best care for babies are those who feel valued – who receive good conditions of employment decent wages and are able to talk about their work with the parents. [e.g. daily handovers, marking the nanny’s arrival and departure]
- The quality of care is also generally enhanced where nannies are able to be part of a social network [e.g. meeting with other nannies or going to a play group] in which caring for babies is discussed and experiences are shared.
- Changing nannies will have an impact on the baby or child. They will be losing a primary relationship.
The above should help parents to optimise their child’s relationship with their nanny, which will in turn, enhance and support the parents’ care for their babies and their babies’ development.
By Judy Davies