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I’ve been asked a number of times about the differences between being a nanny and being a mother and up until recently, I had some vague notions about this but being as the youngest child I’ve nannied for full-time was nine months old, I didn’t feel like I really had a totally fair basis for comparison. Now that Mr. Whuffles is of an age where I’ve worked with other kiddos full time… I can very confidently draw some conclusions and talk about the differences in my experience.

The main thing I’ve been asked is if it’s harder to be a mom. The general assumption is that being on-duty 24/7 must be way harder and I must be stretched to the limit as a mom, despite having years of training. And actually, I’m going to say that the opposite is true. It’s much easier to be a mom than a nanny. 

Sure, as mom I never get a day off. I never get a full night’s sleep. I’ve slept 8 hours consecutively exactly twice since Paulo was born. But… my body is used to it. You adjust. Your hormones postpartum allow you to function with crazy sleep deprivation – not that it’s easy mind you, but I definitely found that I’m as rested now after 6hrs of sleep as I used to be after 8. Four hours of sleep allows me to function,whereas in the past I’d be dead on my feet. Yes, I’m tired all the time as a mom, but I was just as tired nannying and I was on-duty much less. So… that one’s a draw. Nannying holds the advantage of sleeping through the night, but I didn’t feel more rested for it than I do now with 4-6hr chunks.

What absolutely makes mothering easier for me is that I’m not caring for a child according to someone else’s preferences. Children – especially young children – need consistency and as a nanny, I absolutely did my best to care for my charges the same way that their parents did. This meant that I worked with families who had the same general views on childcare that I did, but there were always little differences between the way I did things at work and the way I would do them for my own kids. Two notable examples:

  • If my son is ill, I can make decisions for his care without second-guessing myself or checking in with anyone else. This is a big one. It took a few months for me to stop calling my mother (who was a nurse) every time I wanted to give The Whuff a dose of Tylenol. It was a total shift for me to be totally in control of the decision to medicate him if I felt he needed it without calling someone to ask if it was ok, or to tell them what was going on. Same for calling the doctor – if I feel he needs to go in and get checked, I can just take him without having to get permission from someone else and have them call the doctor to allow me to do so. This is huge for me. I have total autonomy to handle his health on my own without requiring anyone else’s oversight. And I think – especially with my experience – that I do pretty ok. I walk the middle ground between medicating him when he’s irritable and obviously in pain and saving the Tylenol for when he truly needs it.
  • I’m less paranoid about my own child than I was with other people’s children. When I was nannying, I had a hunch that this would be true in the future. I knew I couldn’t necessarily predict how I would feel about my own children, but I couldn’t imagine myself becoming overbearing about every little thing. Now, I’m still extremely safety conscious and still (to his dismay) do not allow my son to eat lint or play with nails – but I’m not worried or hovering in the same way that I did with my charges as a nanny. This goes back to my first point – if The Whuff hurts himself in some way, I can bring him to the doctor without calling someone else, having them call the doctor to get permission, blah blah blah. I do not have to explain any bruises or bumps on the head and have my capability as a childcare provider called into question. (Though I suppose that could happen from my husband or passersby but those familiar with my son know that he could find a way to bruise himself in a room devoid of any objects. He’s incredibly curious and incredibly fast.)

These two changes make my job as a mom – especially of a young child of clumsy “trying to stand up and bruising himself on crap in the process” age – much less mentally taxing than my days as a nanny where I would always have the worry of what if someone got hurt playing in the back of my mind. Seriously – I never didn’t worry about injuries. It meant that most of my job description was “total buzzkill” and I would explain to kids old enough to understand that I just couldn’t let them do certain things, even if their parents did, because I had to return them in one piece at the end of the day. Now I’m much better equipped to put the pieces back together.

Another piece that makes being a mom much easier is that kiddos want to be with mama. They just do. And BEING mama and having the mama mojo makes kids much more relaxed than they are even with a nanny they’ve had for years. Of course there are times when even the mama mojo doesn’t work – and half the time The Whuff says “mama” it’s more like YELLING “mama” because he’s pissed at me for not being able to magically solve whatever existential dilemma he’s having – but by and large it’s easier to be the person that the kiddo most wants to be with. There’s no “Where’s mom?” playing in the background. Of course being mom has a lot of new and different responsibilities…

… which brings us to the fact that there are some aspects of the job of motherhood that are harder than nannying. Overall, I much prefer being a mom – but there are some specific things that are way, way more difficult. 

  • Tantrums. As a nanny, tantrums are annoying and you’re very much in the mindset of “OMG, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?” As a mom… it takes on a whole new dimension. A tantrum becomes personal. The question shifts to “OMG, WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?” I’ve never enjoyed listening to a kiddo crying (no one does!) but it’s viscerally difficult as a mom in a way it wasn’t as a nanny. In addition to having empathy for the kid, I have an attachment that makes it almost physically painful to hear my son crying or freaking out. I can’t stay present in the moment but detached emotionally in the way I could as a nanny.
  • When the mojo wears off, there’s no one else to fix it. Baby won’t sleep? My problem and mine alone. I can’t count on his parents to develop a new strategy because I *am* his parent.  When he does get hurt or sick, I have more autonomy to fix it – but I also feel horrible about it in a way I didn’t as a nanny. I get to make the decisions on my own, but I’m also the one who has to carry them out. And it sucks so hard to watch my own kiddo not feeling well as the bond I have with him makes it so much more personal than it was as a nanny. I’d taken kiddos to get vaccines as a nanny and held them and, of course, felt bad for them that they were so unhappy about it – but as a mama… I’ve cried when Paulo has gotten shots because it was just so much harder for me to see him so upset. What I feel for him goes beyond empathy – he’s a part of me in a very real way and when he hurts, I hurt.

Lastly, one of the greatest joys for me as a mama is knowing that I never have to give Paulo back.  He will not age out of being with me. When he gets older, when he goes to school – I still get to keep him. It’s very, very difficult as a nanny knowing that your bond with the children is temporary. It’s a balancing act to keep yourself detached enough to be able to say goodbye at the end while being connected enough to have a good relationship with your charges. As a mom, I don’t have to do this. I can throw myself into Paulo full on and revel in being totally head-over-heels in love with him. And truly, being head-over-heels in love with my son is the greatest feeling I’ve ever known. It’s amazing and being a nanny could never, ever hold a candle to it. Not in a million years.