The Nanny and Separation Anxiety.

We have been using a nanny for a little over a month. She came highly recommended by the owner of our building who has employed her for two years and continues to every day after her kids are out of school. (I have her in the mornings, three days a week.) She’s been perfectly fine. She takes him to the playground. She plays with him. He seemed to really, really like her, which is why I overlooked the problems I was having with her. (Yes, there have been some problems.)

She’s from Mexico, which is awesome. I asked that she speak spanish to Emory a bunch because I wanted him to pick up some words in another language or at least begin to understand that there are other languages. The problem is she doesn’t speak much english at all. And when she does speak in english, it’s so damn difficult to understand her I spend most of the time asking that she repeat everything. My spanish is rusty at best, so that’s not an option either. The isn’t a problem for the owner of the building because she and her kids speak fluent spanish.

We’ve had some issues with miscommunication. There were two times she didn’t show up because she didn’t understand what I had said. Then there was the time she showed up when I had told her not to. There have also been some problems with what he eats while I’m out but that’s really nothing. Overall, all of these things could be overlooked because she seemed to be doing so well with Emory.

Recently, however, he’s begun to express dread the moment I tell him she’s coming to hang out with him for the day. He used to answer the door gleefully whenever the doorbell rang, now he starts to cry and runs away from her. And I know this is probably because he’s attached to me, but it’s heartbreaking.

It’s been getting progressively worse the last two weeks. Things were getting more and more difficult up until yesterday when he did something so heart-wrenching, it will probably haunt me until the next time he does something heart-wrenching. (So, what, tomorrow then?)

She showed up. He started to cry and asked that she leave. He said he wanted to come with me. He sobbed. Followed me around. Grabbed my legs and wouldn’t let go. Naturally, I couldn’t leave with him acting this way. I tried reasoning with him for a while, explaining to him that I would be back in a few hours, that I had to go do some work but I’d be right back. Nothing helped. After about 15 minutes of trying to reason with him, I took my coat off and decided I would try and work there for a while and see if he calmed down. I went and sat in our room, on the bed, with my computer. I told him, “I have to work. So you play and I’ll work.”

And this is where things took a turn for the ouch. He grabbed a hold of his Fisher Price drawing toy and climbed up onto the bed and said, “Mama, I will work too. I wanna work too. I work with you.”

(Reenactment. I didn’t pull the camera out during the whole ordeal.)

I said, “You should play, Emory. You should have fun and play.”

That’s when his lip began to quiver and he looked at me and said, “Mama doesn’t want to play with me. No playing with Emory. Mama wants to work.” And he began to cry, but these weren’t normal tears, these were tears fueled by sorrow, like I had just abandoned him, told him I didn’t love him anymore. I know! Sounds so over-the-top, but I’m not kidding. I’ve only ever seen tears like this one other time. (A story for another day.)

“You don’t want to play with me.” He finally said. And looked down at his toy, which collected tear drops.

How could I leave after that? I hugged him and said that I’d much rather play with him. And even though I did have actual work to do, I decided I would stay until he said I could leave, if he said I could leave.

An hour later, he was OK with my leaving. So I did. But not for long.

My brother suggested that this might be because the three of us never play together. That he might see her as NOT me since the moment she comes over, I leave. And that makes sense. Everyone else I leave him with (my mother, father, brother) he’s completely fine with—we’ve even gone away for a few overnights. So maybe it just takes some work. But there are other problems with this nanny and so I’m beginning to think it might be time to let her go.

And that’s why I’m writing today: I want advice from those who’ve been there before. Am I overreacting because he was so sad and, in turn, made me so sad? Or should it be easier than this? Should I wait to let her go for another week? How long is too long to try if your little people don’t like being with someone?

As much as I love the time I have to focus on work, I’m not sure putting him through so much sorrow and anxiety is worth it.


  1. I guess I would ask how he reacted when you used to drop him off at preschool in the mornings? Was it similar? Is sending him back to preschool an option? For what it’s worth, I always feel safer in a community option, where there are lots of eyes watching (teachers, other parents, etc). But I realize that is expensive and not always the most realistic option.

    I’ve done nanny shares twice. The first time the girl was very good with the kids but a complete flake (standing us up etc). She quit before we could fire her. The second time was wonderful, and we still use our “summer nanny” (who is really a first-grade teacher) as a babysitter.

    Go with your gut. You know your kid and you’ll figure out what the right thing to do is. What does TJ think?


  2. He didn’t react this way at school. He cried sometimes, but was quickly consoled and actually seemed to love being there.

    We thought we were moving, so we took him out of school. Well, we stayed and would love to have him back in (the school is amazing) but it’s full. We’ve been on the waiting list. However, we just got word that he’s in for fall, so that’s good. (And summer is an option but pricey).

    I agree, much prefer the community aspect of the school setting. They were great with him and he did very well.

    I think TJ thinks we should let her go. :]

    I think that’s probably what will happen and I will beg my brother’s girlfriend to help out so I can work sometimes! :]


  3. If you feel uncomfortable with her, you should let her go. If it were only a matter of Emory missing you, that can be worked on, but if there are other issues, it sounds like it’s just not a good fit.

    If you decide to leave Emory with someone else in the future, I’d advise listening at the door once you leave. Most kids I care for stop crying shortly after the door shuts (of course they miss Mom and Dad, but sometimes it’s just a normal toddler bid for power), and I know it makes everyone feel better to know that they are fine within moments. If they’re not fine soon after you leave, and/or you do not feel comfortable with the way that the nanny is soothing him, then it’s just time to let her go.


  4. Listen to your gut. It won’t steer you wrong.


  5. “I think that’s probably what will happen and I will beg my brother’s girlfriend to help out so I can work sometimes! :]”

    Public declaration of your desire to hire her … price just keeps going up :P But seriously, just let me know.


  6. It sounds like maybe it’s not a good fit. If he really isn’t understanding her that may be a problem. But if he is crying that much and he didn’t react this way at preschool, maybe it is time to let her go.

    I have had ISSUES with nannies and I tried to wait but in the end I went with my gut and mommy radar. You will be happy in the end. It would make my stomach hurt to see my 2 1/2 year old react like your son too.


  7. Sarah K. (formerly S.) February 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I used to nanny and I have no children, but personally….the kids I have always watched were excited and happy to have me come over and play with them. I never witnessed any of the kids clinging to their parent’s pant leg or following them around in tears. Is it possible she just isn’t a good fit for Emory? If he doesn’t know a lot of Spanish words, etc. could he possibly be feeling lonely with her? I’m just basing this on how I would feel if left with someone who spoke little to no English. Communication is an important key to connecting so maybe it has been hard for him to bond with her??


  8. I was going to give a few examples of how things worked with our son and his teachers at daycare, but honestly, there’s no point in telling you.

    All anyone has to do is read your 10:53am comment and look at the happy faces after sentences where you talk about any option that doesn’t involve the nanny.

    So, all right, I’m not a psychologist, but seriously….


  9. This story kills me. I can just hear Emory saying, “You don’t want to play with me.” Waaaahaaaa!!:-( Srsly, though, go with your gut on this and you can’t go wrong.


  10. If he is reacting this dramatically it’s time for a change.

    Hope you go with your gut :)


  11. What do you guys think happened? If it’s that he’s just way attached to me, that’s bad, right? This is my dilemma.


  12. Honestly? Lots of little boys are really attached to their mommies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you can never, ever leave him anywhere, then that’s not great, but if he is good with hanging out with TobyJoe and other family members and friends, then I think you are well within the realm of normal attachment.

    There may not have been any specific thing that happened; it could have just been that over time he figured out that every time she comes over, you leave. Or it might be something about her caregiving style that just doesn’t suit Emory well. It’s really hard to tell. Don’t feel bad if it’s simply not a good fit.


  13. I agree with marymuses. It’s probably just that there is no substitute for Mommy! How is he with other family members besides TJ? Can you leave him for long periods with them without him getting upset?


  14. Maybe you could just tell her that a spot came open at the preschool (even though it’s not for a while), so you’re going with that. Then no hard feelings all around. I know you didn’t mention the awkwardness of letting her go as a dilemma, but I thought I’d throw it out there!

    And SO CUTE, by the way, that he got out his little magna doodle and said he wanted to work too! (Though sad that he was so sad. He sounds like a sensitive little fellow–the kind that makes mothers of two-year-old daughters feel hopeful :-])


  15. Hi Mihow

    First let me say I am not a mother and you can completely discount my advice. No harm no foul but I wanted to write from Emory’s point of view. I grew up with a Mom that would leave me here there and everywhere and I would have given anything no to have had that happen but I do know that when I reacted the way that he is now there was good reason for it. The person just wasn’t who I wanted to be with. There are people you want to be with and people you don’t. Its almost that simple.

    The other obstacle Emory might be having is the same one you are having with your Nanny. He cannot communicate with her so he might not be feeling like she can provide him with any comfort or anything he really wants or needs.

    Just some food for thought. My Dad said his most fondest memory of me during his divorce from my Mom was I told him ‘Kids are People too Dad’. Meaning we are just adults who don’t have all of the communication tools figured out yet so sometimes when we don’t know how to express ourselves properly it spills out into unbearable emotion. But all they are really trying to do is tell you they need to be heard.


  16. Although I agree with most of the other responses, I do want to add that children sometimes go through phases of separation anxiety that don’t necessarily correspond with the caregiver’s skill or attunement. For what it’s worth, I do think it’s much more difficult for nannies to bond with children when parents are around. And it can be confusing–and cause more anxiety and distress–for kids to not know whether or not Mom is leaving. It is important for children to learn that they can be upset when Mom (or Dad) is leaving–and that this sadness/anger is tolerable. The caregiver should also help to comfort Emory or create a playful departure routine.

    All that being said, I would find it very difficult to deal with the no-shows and communication issues. Those would likely be deal-breakers for me.If the caregiver was a good fit in all other ways, I would try to ride it out….but I’m not sure this is the case.

    It could be the Spanish, it could be something about her caregiving style, or it could be a phase of Emory is going through. Bottom line–go with your gut. It sounds like you know what to do.


  17. Let her go. If you do it again try it with Nanny Cam. When my kids were older they told me tales of babysitters that made my hair stand up on end. Not abusive, but not what care I was paying for! Your little one is telling you not happy with current situation. Listen to your gut and his cry for help.


  18. As former nanny, I have to say if emory is not comfortable with her there must be a reason. It maybe that she punished him or spoke very harshly to him, something that was traumatic enough that he remembers it. Please don’t buy a nanny cam, it builds a relationship of distrust. And it can be more harmful then help.

    I would let her go since you can’t communicate with her, and look for a nanny service online or not. Find someone you and emory are comfortable with. Maybe spend the interviews with the nannies playing and talking about what you expect.

    I know of good service in your area if you would like more information. I hope this helps.


  19. I’m not going to get a nanny cam. Worry not.

    Thanks for all your input. Sara, yes, I would like more information. Should I email you at the one you left?


  20. Sara makes an excellent point. You need to be able to effectively communicate with the person providing care for your child. You will know when it’s right.


  21. I work at a Montessori school. Kids are ages 2-12 (we go to 6th grade). We do “drive through drop off” in the mornings. It’s our separation ritual, and we use it for all students. The inspiration for implementing it was our 2 yr olds.

    Some kids would cry and sob and cling to mom or dad as they tried to leave. And it would be hard for everyone. Occasionally another child would start crying because, “hey! I miss my mom, too!”

    Even now some kids will cry all the way from the car seat to the school or classroom door. But then they stop. Honest to goodness they stop. Once they know that mommy or daddy can’t hear them, then they settle down.

    Parents don’t want to believe that it happens. It’s a show. There’s no lasting effect on their attitude or their behavior. The tears are not a reflection of how they view school or how they feel once they’re here.

    Of course this may not be what is happening with Emory. But it might be.


  22. Also, you’ll figure out what’s right for your family. You’re a great mom. I’d want to work with you, too. Especially if it’s on a etch-a-sketch!


    1. I think in the end that’s my biggest problem with what happened. You see, when he was in school, we were told to just drop and leave. If they were crying, so be it. (Naturally, if they were inconsolable all day long, we got a phone call. I never did, but some parents did.) Anyway. Yeah. So there were a few times we had to sneak out and he would cry and we’d have to leave anyway. But that’s the way it was.

      But she said to never, ever leave while he was doing this. I was confused and surprised because it went against what I had learned from his school. So I stayed until he calmed down (an hour). My concern is that she’s either unable to, doesn’t know how to? Or doesn’t know how to calm him down when he gets like this. I was a bit put off by it.

      I do not work with kids, what’s the “right” way to deal with this? Meaning, aren’t you supposed to just go even if they’re crying and the caregiver is supposed to be able to console them? Or what?


  23. An email would be great.


  24. I think it is normal practice to leave and they cry so that is a little odd that she would not want you to leave until he was calm. I agree with Sara that she probably spoke harshly to him or something of that nature and he is no longer happy with her. The most important thing is for you to follow your instinct and if it doesn’t feel like the right fit let her go. Often times we have that intuition in life and second guess it… but since Em is still too little to really tell you why he doesn’t want to be left with her, better to be on the safe side…


  25. In my opinion (and in my experience with daycare and babysitters), for the first couple times, staying for a bit is good. This is a total stranger you are all dealing with, after all. But once the caregiver is no longer a stranger and is someone your child actively recognizes, you drop the child off, maybe point out a few interesting toys or whatnot, give a hug, tell him/her you’ll be back later, and then go. After having spent some time with your child, a good caregiver will know how to console him/her with toys or books or hugs or songs, etc. according to your child’s personality.

    You can buy my son’s affection with crackers. But that’s neither here nor there.


  26. Your caregiver should be able to console your son if he is crying when you leave. I consider that a part of my job as a nanny, as sometimes children just don’t like to see Mom or Dad walk out the door. So I give hugs or divert attention to something else or both, and it’s all over within a matter of moments. I’ve never met a caregiver that didn’t encourage the parents to leave and that everything would be fine.


  27. He’s really acting out, and there may be a reason for it. When we were young we had a nanny, and I won’t go into the details, but I know now that my mother wishes she had let her go sooner. A mother’s instinct is important, and seldom wrong.

    On the other hand, I’ve also been a nanny, and the kids sometimes cried when their mom left, but always quit crying quickly and were happy by the time she got back. And it wasn’t consistent–sometimes they would be fine when she left. If it’s a pattern he’s developed, it might be a good time to say adios to the nanny.


  28. Hi! I admire all your input over at the Dooce Community, so I thought I would visit your blog. LOVE IT! :-)

    Anyway, I would have to agree with the others on here. I would say go with your gut instinct. If Emory (LOVE that name, by the way) is having a hard time, then it is something that is valid. Whether it is the woman who bothers him, or just your absence, it is something to address. I tend to think it has more to do with the nanny because he is okay being left with other people. I am thinking the language barrier is the main issue. Not to say she is mean to him or terrible to him, but she just might not be the right “fit”.

    I know how hard that is to see those big, ploppy tear drops! Just know you are a great mommy!


  29. As a mom of two kids (ages 13 and 5), I say replace the Nanny.

    How much fun can she really be for your little guy if she can’t communicate with him. No fun = crying. Taking care of a little one is so much more than trips to the playground, preparing snacks, supervising and keeping him safe. It’s about the relationship built through communication: sharing jokes, talking about new discoveries, playing games together…all the things that require the ability to communicate with each other extensively.

    No matter your son’s reason (perhaps it’s got nothing to do with the communication issues, and it’s a much simpler, toddler-oriented reason like she yelled at him), he deserves to feel safe and secure and happy.


    1. I feel bad here. She does speak english it’s just a little hard sometimes to understand her. That COULD be because we talk at a higher level than she and my son. Not sure that makes sense. They do communicate and she reads to him and so on. So, it’s not like they never speak english. I feel like I may have been a bit over-the-top with my description of her. I feel badly about that and wanted to explain a bit more.


  30. If it was my boy, I would’ve made the same decision. I know you like your nanny (and I even remember translating that rubber your cat cannot, should not swallow) but, what if this one is making things a little more difficult than it should be? I’m not saying it’s her fault at all, but… what if?


  31. Just go with your gut. It sounds like she isn’t a good fit. I am not a mom, but this seems like more than just Emory wanting your attention. Don’t second-guess yourself because you think you are being “politically incorrect” or you feel guilty. The nanny came recommended by people in the building and she will probably have no trouble finding other work and other families where it is a good fit.

    I’m reminded of Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear.” If you feel weird about the situation, just go with your gut. And good luck!!


  32. i was a preschool teacher for a long time, and my first instinct is to say leave him and let him come to terms with it. it sounds like you don’t leave him for long, and he will have to eventually learn to be without mom for a little while. of course, it’s totally up to mom to decide when that lesson needs to be learned. the thing that strikes me though is that you seem to feel as if there is something more at hand here. maybe due to the language barrier (?) emory is not getting enough communication, or it could be something more pressing than that. you know your son, and if you think any little thing might be not right with the situation, you have to go with your gut. im sorry im getting to this thread late (as seems to be my MO) but i really wanted to chime in. it will get better. good luck.

    ps…i gave you two awards on my blog.


  33. Michelle,
    I know I’m late with my response, but I wanted to share something with you. My daughter has been going to a sitter since I went back to work when she was 3 months old. Our sitter was recommended by our next door neighbor; she watched their two kids and she has two daughters of her own. I specifically requested that she speak Spanish to my daughter so that she’d grow up bilingual. My daughter is 2.5, and although she’s not talking much yet, she understands everything that’s said in both English and Spanish.

    My daughter is very attached to me, and there are a lot of mornings where she doesn’t want to leave (particularly Monday mornings). It breaks my heart, but we usually work through it. The sitter let me know that she is fine once she gets to her. Normally, my husband drops her off. This morning, I had to drop her off and she threw a fit similar (but not as severe) as Emory’s. She was clutching at me, crying, and calling for me. This sitter has watched her for 2 years, including in my house for the first nine months, so I know my daughter is comfortable with her. I really think it’s the age and not the sitter. If you’re not comfortable with the sitter because of the communication issue, that’s a different story.

    Hugs from the working mommy trenches!


  34. M, you’re a great mom and a really good person. You have to listen to your boy on this, he is not happy with her. I think it’s hard for you to believe that she might not be very nice to Em, or that she might have in fact been harsh with him, but somethings wrong for him to act that way. Yes kids do act up when parents leave them, but or him to try and try to get you to stay… gut was that he is scared to be with her. Good luck. YOu’re a great Mom, I’ve followed you since you were pregnant and I know how generous your are to others, but Em is your first priority. Don’t be afraid to hurt the Nanny’s feelings should you decide to let her go.



  35. My advice, if u can’t take care of your kid don’t have one. Work do whatever, why all of u people put kids into the world if u know from the start u can’t afford to stay at home? Making a human being suffer and then complaining on a blog about blablabla. Stay at home raise your kids! U can’t ? Then don’t have kids!


  36. Thanks for the amazingly helpful advice, Adelina. Too bad you weren’t here 4 years ago, when this post was actually written. Because I went on to have TWO MORE CHILDREN! THAT’S THREE IN TOTAL, just incase you can’t add. But not to worry! I pay the bills now by putting THEM to work. The oldest cleans toilets; my three year old does construction (and sometimes works as a clown); and the baby is a male model. Me? I watch my shows and read my blogs and eat BBQ potato chips.

    It works so well I’m thinking of having a few more if my eggs are still good. If not, I’m going to ask for money on this blog so strangers can help me make even more kids. Since I can’t afford the fertilty treatments and all.

    Good luck! And keep on leaving these helpful comments!


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