"It's totally normal for a baby to see his mom walk through the door, smile and crawl back to his nanny, right? He still loves me more than her, right?"
So asked an old high school friend on Facebook the other day.
In the time it took me to read her status update, I was transported back to my first month at work after maternity leave. I was in the midst of a mini-breakdown (the first of many) because I was convinced that my son would bond with the babysitter more than me, that he'd love her best, and that I would never have the relationship I wanted with my child because I was working. My husband thought I was insane, but familiar with my meltdowns, he made soft comforting noises and assured me it would be ok.
I wanted to reach through the computer, hug my friend, and tell her that she would be fine. I wanted to offer her a big glass of wine and let her ugly cry in front of me. When she was calm, I would tell her that it's all completely normal, that her son still loves his mom best and that one day, in the not too distant future when her son was having the mother of all tantrums, she might actually be glad to head out the door and leave him in her nanny's capable hands.
Then I would tell her the hard truth -- that the slightly ugly jealous feeling she's having, that little twinge of sadness or maybe something meaner, may stick around for a long time. That the voice in her head questioning her son's love for her (and his devotion to his babysitter) is hard to get rid of. Or it might go away and then pop back up when she least expects it -- and that sucks.
It sucks because you feel small and unworthy to be jealous of the person you've hired precisely because you think she's going to take amazing care of your child. It sucks because sometimes you feel like you're missing out and you worry that your child won't remember you when you walk through the door. It sucks because imagining that your child might love someone more than you is one of the horribles that comes along with being a parent.
I remember hiring our nanny when I was going back to work. She inspired instant confidence the first time we met as she eagerly reached for my baby and smiled brightly at his bald head. She quickly became a loved and trusted part of our family, and still is, even though a family in California now benefits from her patience and cheerful demeanor. We all miss her. My husband and I hired her because we knew our son would be safe and happy and loved when we weren't with him. We knew she respected how we wanted to raise our son and that he would adore her. She made it possible for me to leave the house. I was grateful for her every day.
Yet, sometimes I was deeply and profoundly envious of her time with my child. I was also scared. If he loved her too much, how could he possibly love me? Me, the absent working mom who rushed home to spend a short half hour with him before he fell asleep. Me, the one who didn't know the other kids at music class or the park with the best playground equipment. Me, who experienced his days through photos my nanny thoughtfully sent from her phone. Me, who felt in every way inadequate, absent and lacking. What if I had hired someone who would replace me? What if she was a better mom than I was?
Funny thing is, I was the only one visiting the dark side. My son was loved and happy. No one has ever told him that love is limited or must be handed out in miserly amounts, so he is generous with his affection. He loves me, his dad, his brother, his friends, teachers, babysitters, grandparents, and neighbors all at once. I was the only one wondering how there could be enough to go around. He has never chastised me for being gone or questioned why I had a job. He is happy to see me when I get home and when I am gone he is content to play with his friends and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the back porch. I have always been the one second guessing my career and beating myself up when I grab my briefcase. But despite my fears, no one has ever replaced anyone else. And while my nanny had some strengths that I lack -- she played tirelessly and never seemed to lose her temper -- she was never going to be a better mother than I was, because, well, she wasn't his mother.
It just took me a while to realize it.
As my son approaches his fifth birthday, I can talk about this with a wry smile. He tells me ten times a day that he loves me and that I'm "his cutest mommy." He reaches for me when he needs comfort and draws me pictures at school. He wants to play with me and go to the grocery store together and read books before bed. He insists on a snuggle every night. He misses me when I am gone. I am as loved as I could have ever dreamed, despite my darkest fears, and if I could reach through my computer into my friend's living room, I'd tell her she is too.
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