How do we deal when someone else seems to give our children what they need better than we can?
When my daughter Lucy was a little under four months old, my husband Justin and I struggled to get her to nap during the day.
Nights were improving, but days were labor-intensive. Gloria began nannying for Lucy around the same time and within a week, this fairy godmother had her napping twice a day in stretches of an hour or more.
I will never forget the look of pride on Justin’s face when I came home one of the first afternoons to learn that Lucy was napping. I knew that I should have been pleased, relieved, ecstatic—any sane, sleep-deprived parent would be—but I was broken. How was it that Gloria could do this and I could not—for my own child?
The days when I did try to get her to nap on my own, with Gloria still here, I would sheepishly exit the room, Lucy in my arms, and feel my cheeks burning with shame that I couldn’t provide this most basic comfort to my child.
I began to dread the days when Gloria worked full-time. I preferred Tuesdays and Thursdays when she left at noon and left me with the task of getting Lucy to nap all on my own. By the time Justin got home from work those days, I was a frazzled, exhausted mess.
Eventually, I learned to relish in Gloria’s feat. I recognized that Lucy’s happiness was priority one, not my own feelings of inadequacy as a mother.
Thank goodness, someone could get Lucy to sleep. I even discovered that babies often have a hard time falling asleep with their own moms because they can detect our milk and have expectations to eat. In time, I learned to put Lucy down for naps, on my own. I even began to appreciate Gloria’s full-time days because it meant that maybe I could take a little time for myself, knowing that Lucy was in good hands.
Problem was, Lucy was in really good hands. Only this time, it wasn’t just naps, it was everything. After waking up in the morning and having a good play together, Lucy and I would enter the kitchen to find Gloria. Lucy would go nuts, nearly leaping from my arms and into Gloria’s. After getting ready for work, I would kiss Lucy goodbye, tell her that I loved her, and then slink away, listening to her contagious laughs and enthusiastic gurgles, all a result of Gloria, all the way to the car.
A friend tried to reassure me by telling me that during the day, her son often spent more time with his nanny than with her, and he never confused them. I told her that Lucy cried when Gloria left the room the other day. “Oh,” she said with some surprise, “well that never happened to us.” I quietly slipped away from the conversation and, for a third time, I broke down in tears.
I tried, half-heartedly, to see the value in Lucy’s new interactions. Her ability to bond with people, other than her parents, meant that we were creating a loving and caring environment for her at home. She was developing rapidly each day, and she was learning Spanish, all thanks, in part, to Gloria. But I continued to wake each morning despondent and dreaded noon when it was time to return home. Why bother going home at all? If she wanted Gloria, she could have Gloria. Was I leaving her with someone else for too long each day? Did Lucy even know that I was her mother?
I began to resent Gloria and her supernatural ways.
I wanted to steal her magic wand and break it in two—or perhaps wave it myself a few times. I was certain that she was judging me or worse, comparing me to other families with whom she had worked. I even considered letting her go because it was one thing to fail as a mother, but it was another to fail with an audience. But somewhere deep down, I knew that firing Gloria was not the solution and it would only punish Lucy, the one person I was trying to please.
So instead of shutting down, I opened my eyes that had been sealed shut by envy and my ears that had been closed by frustration.
I set about on an anthropological mission to determine what Gloria had that I didn’t and where could I get some for myself. I listened as she talked about nannying for the previous family. I wept when she shared difficult stories of her childhood. I laughed when she recounted stories of her own two children.
It was only then that I realized that Gloria didn’t actually possess a magic wand. What she had was much more valuable. She possessed experience. With that experience, came confidence, something that, as a new mom, I didn’t want to admit to lacking. Instead of resenting Gloria, instead of punishing her for doing a good job, I opted to learn from her. I let down my coat of arms and let her into my life in a way that challenged every protective, territorial bone in my body.
There were days when we butted heads so fiercely that I wondered if I’d made a mistake. Times when I suggested that we let Lucy cry it out and Gloria would curl up in a near fetal position outside of Lucy’s room listening to her wail. Times when she struggled to hide her disapproval that I was nursing well into Lucy’s first year of life.
But there were also days when I was so grateful to have her with us that I couldn’t remember life as a mom without her, and days when I realized that she was just as much a co-parent as Justin. Days when together we celebrated Lucy’s first crawl, first step, first word. Days when she made me tea just because and I baked a birthday cake for her youngest daughter. Days when we exchanged Christmas presents and recipes. Days when we held each other up and perhaps days when we let each other down.
With time, I peeled back the illusion of parenting and learned that there are no tricks, no spells, or magic wands. But that everyone, even magicians, has an assistant.
In opening my eyes and ears to Gloria, I inadvertently opened my heart.
Sarah Fahey is a US expat living abroad in Nicaragua with her husband, 2-year old daughter, and baby on the way. She writes about keeping her cool while parenting in Nicaragua on her blog: https://momsthewordblog.wordpress.com/.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta