As much as grandparents might hate to admit it, the nanny is actually more crucial to the family’s well-being than they are. The parents cannot get to work and therefore can’t keep their jobs, unless the nanny is reliable and keeps their children safe. The nanny is holding up the house of cards for every working family with young children.
In Hong Kong the nannies try to avoid jobs where the grandmother lives with the family, too much conflict, too much overseeing. For Americans, grandparents who fly in or visit their grandchildren sporadically or even regularly the relationship with the nanny is also tricky. Unless the grandparent is the full time caretaker of the children, the parents are dependent on the nanny for the welfare of their family.
Grandparents often find it difficult to admit that they don’t want to be full time caretakers. Many grandparents feel they have done their time and want to enjoy the freedom that they have earned. Others can’t take on this responsibility because they are also working or are geographically distant. The result they may not have anticipated is that some stranger (non-family member) may take precedence over them in the lives of their grandchildren. This in turn can cause upset when a child prefers the nanny’s company and comfort over that of the grandparents’.
By the same token, when the children run to their grandparents, the nanny may feel a tinge of jealousy or feel that they are declaring she is not a loving caregiver. These antithetical and common emotions complicate the relationship between grannies and nannies. Yet, if managed carefully, the nanny and the grandparents can be resources to each other.
The grandparent is a visitor in his or her child’s home. It might be hard for the grandparent to admit that this is their child’s castle, not their own. The roles are now reversed. The parents and the nanny rule the roost, and the grandparents are an addition.
Here are some tips to creating a good relationship between the nanny and grandparents:
When grandparents do enter the scene they should be careful not to disrupt the routine. Ask the nanny how they can be helpful. It is important to build trust with the nanny. Remember, for the nanny this is her job, her income, she may be supporting her family and therefore it is very threatening to have a third party seeing her every move. To the nanny, the grandparents’ loving presence may feel like a human “Nanny Cam.”
If the grandparents want to get along with the parents s/he must get along with their nanny. Kindness and polite gestures are always a good beginning. Bringing the nanny a small gift, sending a holiday card, or email can help smooth the relationship. The nanny can make the grandmother’s favorite food or ask her to help with an activity she enjoys.
The nanny should stay out of family conflicts. She can be a sounding board but should not attempt to intervene or comment. Family relationships are complex and rarely understandable to an outsider.
Like any good guest, the grandparents should not criticize the nanny. If s/he disagrees with the nanny’s methods, perhaps she props the baby’s bottle and the grandparent finds this intolerable. S/he should discuss these concerns with the parents. The nanny may have good reason for her actions. The child may have reflux, or perhaps she needed to both feed the baby and chase the toddler. The nanny can be helpful in these circumstances by talking aloud about what she is doing and why.
The grandparent can offer assistance and can help if the offer is well received, but is not the master of the house. The nanny should give clear and specific instructions to the grandparents about how they can be helpful, this will lessen tension.
Grandparents and the nanny should be open to discussions about changes in parenting trends and the environment. The more the grandparent understands the parameters of the family environment, the more s/he can be a person the nanny might want to consult. For example, while the grandmother may have limited her children’s’ TV time, the parent and nanny are managing a much more diverse array of screens and their potential dangers. Nannies and grandparents can discuss these issues, but not dispute each other’s opinions.
Adults will differ on what they consider the best way to navigate any child-rearing issue. None of us knows the absolute best way to bring up a child. Everyone makes frequent decisions on the continuum between discipline and mercy, between routine and spontaneity, and between keeping the peace for the moment and teaching a lesson for the future.
Nannies and grandparents must use sensitivity and put themselves in each other’s places. Both are supporting actors and essential to the wellbeing of the children. The grandparents will do well to assure that they are not a villain who enters, takes center stage, creates turmoil and leaves. The nanny, like all good actresses, must play her part but leave room on the stage for the grandparents as well.
Nannies, are there other scenarios you come across that you want advice on how to professionally handle? Check out our Professional Nanny Class and Certificate.[author image=”http://sittercycle.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/image.jpg” ]Dr. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws into Family (Palgrave/Mcmillan Sept. 2012) and Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children (Palgrave/Mcmillan 2008) is a resident scholar at Brandeis’s Women’s Studies Research Center. She holds a doctorate in social policy from Harvard University, MA in counseling from Columbia University, and BA from Barnard College. As a visiting scholar at the Wellesley Center for Research of Women, Nemzoff wrote an historical analysis of the “Changing Perceptions of Mother of Children with Disabilities.” She has also published articles about environmental advertising and women in business and politics. She founded a nursery school, a counseling service, and the National Women’s Legislative Lobby. For more information check out www.ruthnemzoff.com[/author]