The Nanny Dilemma

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This phenomenon does not mean at all that one should renounce on having a nanny since it has become a necessity in most cases. However, mothers have to be alert to the care provider they choose to leave their children with. Mothers often resort to nannies for various reasons, especially when they have to go to work. It is often the case that grandparents or relatives are either not available or too old to fully take care of a little baby or a toddler with never-ending demands. When having more than one child, it is very hard to give each one undivided attention, a situation that often necessitates a helping hand. A mother, whose life centers on her baby from sunrise until sundown and often all night long, especially during the baby’s first three months, simply needs a break once in a while. The mother of a newborn sometimes does not even have the time to take a shower or just to sit around doing nothing. An extra hour of sleep could help her preserve her sanity. In this case, the nanny could be of great help. In addition, having a nanny can make it possible for both parents to spend some time together. Even sharing a meal can often be considered a luxury, as one parent has to take care of the baby until the other finishes his/her food and then they switch. Therefore a Nanny is quite necessary and useful.


Unfortunately, in reality Mrs. Doubtfire does not exist. On the contrary, horror stories about nannies never end. Nannies can often have a negative effect on children, whether through unintentional or intentional physical and emotional harm. Therefore, close supervision of nanny and child is indispensable. Regardless of their nationality, care providers always come from a different background and culture. This difference in upbringing can sometimes reflect on the children in a bad way, despite the fact that the nanny does not mean any harm. She is just being herself, acting according to the background she is coming from. Simply sitting at the playground of any Club observing the nannies and how they interact with their entrusted children can provide endless examples of this conflict. Let’s examine the crucial aspect of hygiene. Nahla*, a nanny taking care of one-year old Omar, has been feeding him yoghurt while he was playing in the sand. Yehia, who was about the same age, was starring at them interested in Omar’s yoghurt. Accordingly, Nahla instinctively (using the same spoon) offered Yehia a spoon of yoghurt.  When Yehia’s mother refused, Nahla did not understand at all why she shouldn’t give Yehia the yoghurt.  “He’s just a baby and he wants yoghurt!”, she objected.  Another example observed was little Dina enjoying her ice-cream, until her nanny took it from her, licked it, and gave it back to Dina, who naively continued eating it.  Imagine this: Ali was alone with his nanny Sarah at the Club, having the remainder of a cold and a runny nose, instead of using a tissue to blow his nose Sarah used the table cloth. 


The different language used by the Egyptian and foreign nannies that the children easily catch also often constitutes a problem. The foreigners, whose English is as bad as their Arabic, as well as the Egyptians, who speak with a different accent using a completely different language, unintentionally affect the young toddlers’ language abilities, especially when they are barely starting to talk. These are only a few examples showing that the cultural differences between the children and the nannies can have a negative impact. Nevertheless, this negative effect on the children is at least unintentional by the nanny.


Carelessness and laziness when supervising a child are considered rather a grey area with respect to whether it is an intentional or unintentional harm to the child by the nanny.  Nanny gatherings at the Club often result in the nannies’ taking part in a long chit chats and not even looking what the child is doing. The babies are often tied to the swing whether they want it or not so that the nannies would save their energy and not run around after them. Karim spilled the water bottle on his clothes. His nanny did not take any action to change him, although it was cold in winter. Instead, she spanked him. Zahra, the nanny of 10 month old Sameh, put him on the table at the Club and spread his popcorn on the table for him to get him busy eating it off the table, which was, of course, not clean and full of bird droppings. However, talking to her friend was more important than Sameh’s health. Dalia, a beautiful 4 year old girl, was forced by her nanny to sit on the bench at the Club for two hours watching the other children play joyfully until the driver came to pick both of them up. Why bother and exert any effort looking after Dalia, after all you are just getting paid for that. Laziness and carelessness are not necessarily intentional; however, its effect on the child could be enormous.


Physical abuse is the worst kind of harm that a nanny could ever cause to a child. It does not only lead to lifetime health problems, but also to incurable emotional and psychological scars. Many family members and friends told the parents of little two year old Amina that their daughter had some kind of fear in her eyes. Nevertheless, their parents did not notice anything and their life was going smoothly. The mother goes to work in the early morning leaving Amina with her fancy, almost perfect Nanny, whom they trust blindly. Before going on her annual leave the nanny told the mother that Amina had a nappy rash and gave her a certain ointment that she was using. By chance, the father, who happens to be a doctor, was watching, as the mother was changing Amina.  He saw that what his daughter had was not a rash but harsh burns. After a lengthy conversation with the nanny, she confessed that she used to burn her with matches every time Amina wet herself! This horrifying story is a nightmare for every parent. A grandmother accompanying her grandson at the Club heard the following conversation between two nannies:


Nanny 1: What do you do to get rid of the child with you?

Nanny 2: I give him Codaphin as soon as his parents go down so that he can sleep   immediately.

Nanny 1: Oh, this is an old method.  I put mine in front of the oven and make him smell gas. It works like magic.


The grandmother got terrified and secretly followed the nanny using the gas method until she knew to whom she belongs to. She told the mother about what she heard. The horrified look on the mother’s face was unforgettable, as she said “No wonder, my son has been suffering from a severe asthma for four years”.


Daniel turned eight and he was still suffering from terrible speech problems. Accidentally, his mother returned home early from work to see how his Nanny was banging his head against the wall, because he had done something wrong.  It turned out that the Nanny was following this procedure for years.


Sherifa had a bad feeling about her Nanny and she fired her.  Her older daughter confessed: “You know mummy, I’m very happy that Ferry went away. She used to give Nada (young sister) pills to make her fall asleep”.


Lamia had a doubts about the relationship between her four children and their Nanny, whom they used to obey blindly. She went to her eldest and after pressuring him, he confessed that the nanny “hits us badly, when we do not do as she says, and she threatens to kill us, if we tell you.” Unfortunately, these stories are all true.  How can anyone be so cruel and intentionally cause physical harm to helpless and naive young human beings?


Sometimes nannies can act in an unacceptable way causing emotional harm to children.   It does not matter if this is intentional or not. The result is the same.  Abdullah’s parents suddenly noticed that their young toddler, who imitates everything that he sees, suddenly started knocking on the bathroom door saying “Osama, Osama” repeatedly. Osama is the porter’s son. It seems that the Nanny brings in Osama, after both parents go to work. These childhood traumas follow the children into their future and accompany them while adults as well. Mahmoud (34yrs) told me that he went for a walk on the beach with his Âanny when he was four year old. “I can still remember how she made me sit on the sand with my back to the sea.  She told me not to turn around so that I wouldn’t fall in the big whole in the sand behind me. I heard her making strange sounds. These sounds I did not forget. When I grew older I understood that she was making out with someone”. Iman was confused about her daughters’ having strange, terrible nightmares. Later on, she discovered that the nanny was telling them horror stories, when she was not around.


One can never say that all nannies are bad. There are a lot of good ones, who truly love and take good care of the children they are responsible for. Nevertheless, parents should be extremely cautious by doing the following:


Being fair:

Parents should also try to differentiate whether a nanny’s misconduct is intentional or is just the result of the different culture and upbringing in order to be able to judge whether or not she should be forgiven. If she unintentionally did something that they did not like, they should tell her this on the spot. Furthermore, they should explain the effect of this particular deed and why they do not accept it in addition to the way they expect her to handle this particular situation.


Close monitoring and supervision:

In all cases, they should closely monitor and supervise the person whom they let into their home and who deals with the most precious thing they have. It is always better to have a relative around when the parents are unavailable instead of leaving the child unattended with the nanny. If this is not possible, then once in a while one of them should pay a surprise visit by returning home unexpectedly early. 


Being strict and in control:

Parents should be strict and picky, as a “laissez faire, laissez passer” household atmosphere gives the nanny too much freedom in dealing with the children. Parents should be the ones in control of the household and the children, not the nanny, and the nanny herself must clearly understand this. 


Not being indifferent:

Any change in their children’s behavior should be strictly screened and investigated.  This change might be attributed to the nanny’s mistreating them. Furthermore, parents should not be indifferent when it comes to a nanny’s misbehavior or mistreat towards their children. Ibtissam saw a nanny hitting a young baby girl at the club. She went to the girl’s mother reporting the incident, but the mother replied “I know, but I can’t do without her!”  It might be too late to alter the effects of the damage done when the children grow older, and years go by very quickly. 


Sticking to the “Everybody is important, but nobody is as important” rule:

With regard to people working for them, parents should always apply the rule of “everybody is important, but nobody is as important”. A nanny does have an important role, but if she does not fulfill it or if she might harm the children, then she must be dispensed. The emotional and physical health of the children is far more important. A good nanny should be well-treated. 


Not overloading or mistreating:

Do not expect the nanny to willingly take care of the children, if she is being mistreated or shouted at all the time. In addition, an overloaded nanny might not have the ability to stay calm and joyfully fulfill the children’s never-ending demands. Even a mother, who is supposedly the person who cares most, could get out of control at times when she is constantly overloaded and might not be Mrs. Nice to her own children. An overloaded nanny, who is more or less “an outsider”, is not any different. 


Talking to the child:

A close parents-child relationship is a must.  In this way, any change in the child’s behavior can be easily detected.  If the parents spend time alone with the children, then the children will not refrain from telling them the wrong things that the nanny might be doing.  Talking to the children is a key asset, as it will aid children confide in their parents and help the parents explain to them what is right and what is wrong.


* Note: all the names in this article were changed in order to protect the children and parents.

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