Wednesday Opinion: Children and frustration
Excerpt from the book The Nanny Time Bomb – release date September 2012 (kindle)
(One Nanny to another, overheard)
“He’s just begun to figure out that I’m hired help – me – the person who raised him from birth while his mom and dad worked day and night in their law firm. He’s getting fresh always answering back when I try to correct him. He’s already started referring to me as ‘the babysitter’ to his friends at school and on playdates. Slowly I am feeling my authority questioned and his mom doesn’t back me up – I think out of guilt – so the little Prince is beginning to assert his authority. It extends to the cleaner and any service people…he’s just plain arrogant.”
Once children figure out the fundamental difference between parents (those people who come and go but are related to them) versus caregivers (those people who come and go but receive a wage and are unrelated to them) their behavior can change overnight. Little angels may morph into mini tyrants throwing their weight about and resisting a Nanny’s authority. Parents can enable such behavior out of guilt, or by simply dismissing their children as spirited. What is often overlooked however is the internal process. A child’s awareness of their parents’ continual absence overtime can be deeply painful. Coupled with that knowledge is a sudden awareness that a Nanny, who has loved them from birth or early infancy, actually receives a paycheck for doing so. It’s almost as if an age of innocence has passed and the reality of a child’s home-life sets in.
Despite the economic necessity of parents to work fulltime their children still miss them. They miss them when they fall over and scrape their knee. They miss them when they come home from school. This need in children is natural and applies to the absence of both parents’. But mothers in particular may subconsciously attune with their child’s sudden disdain for a Nanny. A separate intimacy between a working mother and her children can easily develop when she does not support her Nanny’s authority in the home.
On Monday mornings when the parental weekend honeymoon ends the Nanny’s mere arrival can be a source of angst for children. Hence when Nanny attempts to enforce the rules of the household she may find herself engaged in a power struggle. Children who feel helpless or angry about their parents’ absence can easily project their anger onto their Nanny in an effort to gain control. A child’s sense of loss may be expressed in acts of defiance, disrespect, temper tantrums, rages and depression. Parents may find themselves compensating their absence and their child’s poor behavior with indulgences such as lax rules at the weekends, toys, junk food and a general lack of discipline. In reality children need clear strong boundaries to feel safe. So their attempts to resist their Nanny’s authority can actually, if successful, create greater tension for the child.
Secondly, how children observe their parents and their parents’ social peers treating Nannies in general, contributes to their behavior. For example as soon as some people found out that I was a Nanny, my social status dropped faster than a FICO score at a bankruptcy hearing. I actually felt disrespected, sometimes I felt invisible. Many times it would take the form of completely ignoring my presence, such as when another parent would stop my charge in the street to say ‘hello’ without the courtesy of introducing themselves or acknowledging my presence at all.
I have also witnessed a Nanny’s authority being undermined by parents in front of the children. For example, if a general household rule is: no TV in the afternoon, or, no candy during the day, this rule should be enforced by both the parents and the Nanny. It is confusing and disrespectful for a parent to ignore the rules that they set up because they didn’t want the bother. What the child learns from this is that with extra whining it will always get its own way. Most importantly the child in question will come to understand that the Nanny has no real authority in the home. In other words the child realizes that it has the authority. How can this situation effect the child over time? (continued in The Nanny Time Bomb)