Serial Nannies

There has been so much about parenting in the news lately I’m a bit overwhelmed with trying to process it all.  But I had to write about one section of this latest article.

When writing about how much parenting really impacts a child’s success as an adult, Maia Szalavitz states, “Secondly, choices about things like child care can matter tremendously. Although this is an extreme example, in our book Born For Love: Why Empathy Is Essential and Endangered, my co-author, child psychiatrist Dr. Bruce Perry, and I tell the story of a wealthy child who was parented by multiple sequential nannies. When the child seemed to become more attached to a nanny than to his mother — which was inevitable because the nanny spent the most time with the child in this family — that nanny was fired. The family went through 18 different nannies, subjecting the child over and over to the stress of abandonment, and the boy grew up to be a sex offender. Dr. Perry has also seen other cases of severe consequences of this kind of disrupted care-giving in wealthy children.”

Wow.  If there was ever a real life example of why families should invest in continuity of care (a case I make to every parent I work with), that story is it. 

Not all families that employ sequential nannies are bad parents.  Most have their children’s best interests at heart but simply don’t know how to effectively hire or don’t understand the importance keeping their great nanny long term.

Nannies, how to you combat being one in a long line of caregivers?  How do you express to parents why you should be there for the long haul?  And if you work for an impossible family, how do you handle the emotional turmoil that comes with quitting a job when you feel you’re abandoning a child you care for deeply?

2 responses to this post.

  1. In being a crisis nanny by choice, I learned long ago that there was the possibility that I would not be in some positions that long. And there have been times when I have come in after a series of caregivers too.

    Some families are thrust into the world of needing nannies because of very stressful circumstances in their lives and they really don’t know how to be household employers. They don’t want to deal with legalities and taxes. They don’t understand the parent and caregier team.

    When I was in a really tough job a long time ago, my aunt who was a sociol worker felt I needed to leave it. She said I’m going to tell you what they teach us, that not all children can be saved. That some slip through the cracks because we can’t control parents and systems. That is such a tough thing to hear, but a nanny can drive herself crazy if she doesn’t accept that she may need to leave a child in a hard situation. That we don’t have legal recourses or biological claims to these kids.

    Following that I had a pastor remind me that bad kids can come from good parents, and good kids can come from bad ones.

    I always tell parents I strive to find a long term position, for the sake of the kids, the parents and my own long term plans. That interviewing is exhausting and time consuming. Thus this why I try to make sure I do the interviewing careful. I’ve learned when I’ve rushed that or not listen to red flag gut feelings, that I made mistakes in who I worked for.

    It’s hard to let go of kids at times, but there are always other kids that need our love and care too.


    • Lisa,

      Definitely words of wisdom from your aunt. I worked as a CASA worker for several years, being an advocate for kids in foster care. I had to learn that lesson the hard way. I could do all that I could do but at the end of the day, some kids were returned to parents who I knew would continue to abuse them. It was heartbreaking.

      The church I belong to takes on a lot of social justice projects and we often refer to the quote below when faced with overwhelming odds. It’s become my personal motto for a lot of situations.

      “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

      Lora Brawley


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