10 Concerns About Nannies Being “Shadow Mothers”

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Sociologist Cameron MacDonald has created quite a stir with her book, Shadow Mothers: Nannies, Au Pairs, and the Micropolitics of Mothering. As a sociologist, MacDonald looks at the issues of today’s childcare from all perspectives, the parent, the provider, the child, the workplace and society in general. The title of her book has, in affect, coined a new term, “Shadow Mothers”. The term relates to the desire of professional mothers to have their child’s daycare provider become an extension of themselves that appear and then disappears, as needed. Below we’ve listed ten concerns that are raised about the concept of nannies being shadow mothers.

  1. Disconnect with Mom – As much as mothers desire their kids to feel happy and safe with their nannies, there is often a concern that their children will lose their intimate connection with their mother, when the child is spending so much time in the care of another woman.
  2. Cultural values – One of the traditional roles of the mother has been to pass on cultural values and societal standing to their children. There are concerns that this motherhood role may be lost  when leaving children in the care of nannies from another class of society.
  3. Blurred lines – When mothers expect a nanny to take on her full role of motherly nurture in her absence, the roles of nanny and mother can lose their distinction, especially for the child.
  4. Nanny preference – Concerns that the children will become more attached to their nanny than to their own mother are common. Mothers seem to want their children to be happy to see their nanny, but not ‘too’ happy.
  5. Mommy guilt – The educated mom has an even greater understanding of the important psychological role that she plays in the early development of her child. Unfortunately, that understanding can lead to guilt feelings related to sharing the daily care of her children with other adults.
  6. Nanny rotation – There are some mothers who try to solve the problem of nanny attachment through nanny rotation. Rather than keeping their child with one nanny that they can continue to bond with, the mother will replace the nanny yearly or even more often to prevent that attachment from forming.
  7. Emotional disconnect – In situations where the nanny recognizes the mother’s desire to keep their child from bonding too closely with their caregiver, a nanny may attempt to maintain emotionally distant from the children, which may not necessarily be in the best interest of the children she cares for.
  8. Cultural attitudes – Mothers can be concerned with the opinions of her peers towards her sharing of her mothering role with an employee. In spite of the fact that the majority of women now work outside of the home, there still is some stigma attached to the hiring of a one-on-one caregiver for your child.
  9. Child’s perception – Confusion of the roles of the two caregivers in the mind of the child is one of the main concerns. Maintaining certain areas of care, such as bathing, homework assistance and bedtime, as distinctly the mom’s responsibility can help keep the two roles separate.
  10.  Balanced acknowledgement – The conclusion drawn by MacDonald in her book indicated that the most healthy nanny-parent relationships were those where the parents openly acknowledged the value of the nanny in the role as ‘one’ of the adult caregivers  in the family. This balance can be achieved much the same as the balance created by mothers and fathers in their roles of caring for their children. The roles are distinct and yet cooperative. They are mutually acknowledged.

When handled correctly, the nanny as a ‘shadow mother’ can be a very positive experience for the children, the parents and the nanny, as well.

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