If you think you know your child better than the nanny, think again

Published: May 1, 2015

The video is a startling revelation of how nannies are more privy to the child’s thoughts and personality as compared to the mother.

The fairly new perspective on a nanny’s involvement in a child’s life and her bond with the child is the result of a growing global concern for mothers.

Previously, the main focus in the nanny discussion was the psychological effects of non-maternal care on the child. However, given the increasingly extended amount of time children are spending with nannies now, mothers are apprehensive about the fact that this paid surrogate knows their child better than they do.

Sadly enough, this extended amount of time being spent with the child is often because nannies are not allowed their legal time and days off.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) is a Singaporean group which attempts to highlight the dedication of nannies to their wards and how in many cases these hired helpers are not even given a single day off in the week. However, their latest video made as an attempt to advocate nannies’ rights to time off emerges as a double-edged sword.

Though advocating legal time off, the video is a startling revelation of how nannies are more privy to the child’s thoughts and personality as compared to the mother. Foreigners working in Singapore account for four per cent of the population, but 40 per cent of these workers are not allowed a single day off. Not giving the helper legal time off may translate into relaxation for the mother, but on a long-term basis, this discreetly severs the mother-child bond for good.

While watching it, I could imagine the utter sense of isolation and detachment the mothers in the video must have felt. To see your very young and impressionable child closer in mind and heart to the nanny than his own mother must be such a sinking feeling.

Though the featured nannies seemed educated and decent, what about our Pakistani nannies?

Unarguably, the majority of them are nothing more than the aayas of the yesteryears – uneducated, unaware of health requirements, unskilled in providing social or educational support, and uncouth in language.

And when they are hired for a full day or live-in basis, what nature of a bond will the child develop with them?

Corresponding with my concern, implications of such bonds are already being felt in Muslim countries where foreign nannies are increasingly infiltrating the system. According to an unofficial count, two million foreign nannies and maids are now working in the Persian Gulf. That is an astounding figure – one maid or nanny for every 10 people. In these countries, the close bonding of children and nannies is seen as a dangerous precursor behind a ‘cultural invasion of Islamic values.’

Similarly, Pakistani homes too are now seeing a steep rise in the number of hired foreign nannies, many of them from the Philippines. My friend has a live-in Filipino woman for her two little boys. She was only two months into the job when the boys started calling her ‘madre’ (mother). Eight months now and they are far more interested in her stories rather than spending time with their mother. So far, the mother is quite relieved not having to run after them after getting home from a long and exhausting day at work.

Madre has even taken on light cooking in the kitchen and the children have developed a taste of Filipino food as well. Although madre is given a day off in the week, being in a strange land, she usually goes out just for a few hours. So basically, the boys are with her day in and out, seven days a week. I seriously wonder what type of relationship they will have with their mother when they are older. My friend and her nanny could easily have been casted in that video.

In hiring foreign nannies, parents need to realise that giving them time off every day for some hours, and at least once a day during the week is beneficial for the parents as it gives them the time to strengthen their bond with their child. In this context, the research conducted by psychoanalyst John Bowlby is revolutionary. According to Bowlby, children are born biologically pre-programmed to form attachments. This attachment is achieved through positive proximities. This can be either with the nanny or the mother but is irreversibly disrupted in the presence of insecurity, fear and separation that invariably occur when nannies are changed or switched.

Initially a young child creates a single attachment, which then becomes his base for positive social and psychological outward growth. Bowlby’s research shows that a biological mother’s ‘mothering is useless’ if delayed, because then the child replaces it with that of the nanny. If the child is unable to make that connection with the nanny as well, then this maternal deprivation leads to lower intelligence, depression, aggression, delinquency, and lack of affection for others. The critical role of a full day or live-in nanny emphasises the importance of considering the qualifications of any nanny, whether she be domestic or foreign.

Child psychologist Camille Lemonious explains how children do most of their learning and create attachments through play. She says it is through play that adults can learn what the child is thinking and feeling. It is also through play that they reveal their fears and anxieties. Lemonious says it is because of the special bond children develop with their extensive interaction with nannies that they often cry for them more than for their mothers.

Despite the love and affection that nannies bestow upon children, the mistreatment of foreign and domestic nannies is a glaring reality around the world.

In the US, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that in 2010, 244,000 of the 1.2 million childcare providers in the country were foreign. Sociologist Cameron Macdonald, author of Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs and the Micropolitics of Mothering, documented that foreign nannies were more shabbily treated than the legal ones in the US. By not treating a nanny fairly, a mother needs to realise that she is frustrating the person who is spending the most time with her child; she is actually imperilling the delicate nanny-child relationship.

To surmise, being a firm proponent of ‘raise your child yourself unless there is dire need to work’, the discussion of a nanny, domestic or foreign, hits a raw nerve for me. Children’s early years are indicators of their personality as adults. The positive or negative tuning of these indicators is critically dependent on the strength of the mother-child attachment because no one can beat maternal instincts regarding child behaviour.

So, dear mothers of young kids who can afford to stay home, please stay home.

Pakistan is in dire need of socially, psychologically and morally well-adjusted future generations. Enjoy those cuddly little beings while you can; they grow up too fast. And if you do have the need to hire a nanny, please treat her like a human too.

I can’t help but remember a stanza from Ruth Hamilton’s delightful poem, Babies Don’t Keep,

“The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow,

But children grow up as I’ve learnt to my sorrow,

So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep,

I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.”


Aalia Suleman

A freelance writer and poet who is keenly interested in the status of women in 21st century Pakistan. Her writing also zones in on Pakistan's new social and political status on a redefined global chessboard. She has a masters degree in English Literature and blogs and invites debates at 'Socio-politically Pakistani'. She tweets @aaliasuleman (twitter.com/aaliasuleman)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    This is directed at max 0.25% of the people in Pakistan…….and with this august body massaging the ego is also necessary.Recommend

  • Mahira

    Good read and yes parents need to be more involved with their kids. But one thing I DO NOT agree with is Why weren’t the fathers asked the same question?? Is it just the mother whose parenting a child? What’s a fathers role? Doesnt he need to spend time with his offspring? doesn’t the child need the father’s guidance, hugs and love?

    And I lost the whole point of the video, because there’s absolutely no correlation of her knowing the child better and not getting her days off!!! She could be getting time off, AND still know the child well! After all, if you’re a good human being, you DO treat others kids like your own, so you develop a bond with them..be it teachers or nannies or au pairs! Recommend

  • Aisha Khan

    This wouldn’t happen if both the parents shared responsibilities. It’s not just her child and a man’s job doesn’t end in the bed. I find this article stupid and pointless. Recommend