I Thought I’d Be a Better Mom…

“Why is it easier to be kinder to another person’s child than your own?”

When I was 12 years old, I began babysitting for families in my neighborhood. The first family I worked for had SIX children- 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. I was paid $.50 per child per hour (a decent amount of money to a preteen in the early 90’s), and often had all six children on my own. Now that I’m an adult- and a mother- I look back on that situation and think “What the heck were those parents thinking?!?” I was TWELVE. But, as it was pointed out to me many times over my early career in childcare, I was a natural. Word traveled quickly, and by high school I began babysitting regularly and was paid extremely well.

Over the past 23 years, there is one sentence that I have heard over and over again: “You’re going to be such a good mom!”. I’ve heard it from families I’ve worked for, my own family and friends, activities instructors at the places I’d take my “nanny kids”, and my NK’s teachers. Often, I’d hear it from random strangers in restaurants after informing them that the wonderfully behaved children I was dining with were not, in fact, my children. “I’m just the nanny,” I’d say, sheepishly. “Well, you’re going to be such a good mom!” they’d gush.  I’d thank them and think to myself, “YES. I am going to be a GREAT mom”.

Fast forward to 2009: My nanny friend Carrie’s baby boy is about 14 months old. He’s beginning to show his ‘feisty’ side, and she is talking to our nanny playgroup about how difficult it’s been on her. She is the first in our group to have a child of her own. “You guys, it is SO different being a mom than being a nanny! I thought I would be prepared…but I’m struggling. I feel like I’m failing a lot of the time, and I hate that I don’t have the patience I had as a nanny. I’m SO tired, all the time, and it makes functioning as a mom really hard. I can’t even take a shower every day because there’s NO time!”. As she poured her mama heart out to us, I sympathized as best I could. In my head, however, I was thinking “That stinks that she’s having a hard time, but that’s not how it’ll be when I have my own! I’ll be different. I’ll be the BEST mom. How hard can it be to shower every day??”.

  September 2014: My baby boy is two months old. I’ve never been this tired in my entire life. My eyeballs hurt. I average a shower every 3-4 days. I have a pillow/blanket cocoon built on the couch.  I live in pajamas. I reheat the same cup of coffee several times a day, and there are entire days when I forget to eat food. One afternoon, I answer the door for the UPS man with a boob still hanging out of my nursing bra. My son hasn’t slept longer than two hours in a row since his first day Earthside, and I had no idea it was possible to be this exhausted. There are nights where all I can do is cry because I am JUST. SO. TIRED. I have moments where I consider attempting to return him to the hospital.

Image may contain: 2 people, baby  September 2015: My son is 14 months old. Like my friend Carrie’s boy, he is starting to show his feisty side. He’s already verbal, and mobile, and his favorite word is “NO”- said forcefully and definitively. He still wakes up ever 2-3 hours at night, and I am still not used to being sleep deprived (is it possible to get “used to” this unique form of torture??). I am back to work now, and I bring him with me to nanny for “S”, who is 3 months younger and the easiest baby I have ever cared for. She makes my child look like a tiny, drunk, semi-verbal Tasmanian Devil. It’s tough not to compare them, and then sit up at night wondering what I did wrong. Did I ruin my only child?? All I can see is the stubbornness. The never-ending energy. The defiance.  The “bad”. Sometimes I yell so much out of frustration that my voice is hoarse at the end of the day, and I fear that I am failing him as a mother. I’m convinced he’d be better off with someone (anyone) else.

  September 2016: It took my sweet boy 26 months to figure out how to sleep through the night. He may not wake every two hours any more, but he still wakes at 5:30am EVERY. MORNING. My body was not made for 5:30am wake-ups. My brain doesn’t begin to function until at least 8am. We’ve been pretty good up until now with keeping him away from screens, but it’s so easy to stumble out to the couch, put Little Einsteins on Netflix, hand him a cup of cereal, and bury myself in the couch pillows to sleep another hour. He is fully verbal now, knows what he wants and is very good at getting it through a combination of “pretty pleases”, whining, and tantrums. He gets away with things that I would never in 1,000,000 years allow my nanny kids to get away with.  Snacks before dinner? Yup. Occasionally not brushing his teeth before bed? Uh huh. A second popsicle? Did you want red or orange, sweetheart? I just don’t have the patience to argue with him every second of every day.  There are days when all I can do is count the minutes until bedtime.

As a nanny, I had unlimited patience. Why is it different now that I’m a mom? And then I realized: back when I was “just a nanny”, I only had to be patient up until a certain time (usually 6pm). After that? I got to go home. To my own house. Where there wasn’t a tiny person constantly asking me for things or yelling at me about socks or waking me up at 2am to remind me that I said he could have a lollipop later and, “It’s later now, Mama”. When you’re a mom, you’re a mom 24-7. You don’t get to clock out at the end of the day. You are always “on”. And it’s exhausting.

As a nanny, I can’t lose my temper, raise my voice, or generally ‘act out’ in any way. I have to use my higher-level thinking and reasoning skills to come up with better (re: more gentle) ways of dealing with frustrating situations. At home, though, I’m free to act however I want- no one is monitoring me. I can throw adult-sized tantrums when things don’t go my way, argue with a tiny human who doesn’t have a fully-functioning prefrontal cortex (because that always goes well), and spend way too much time on things that don’t matter nearly as much as my child does. I can also let the laundry and dishes pile up, stay inside all day, and generally do the minimum amount of adulting necessary to get through the day until my husband comes home. I didn’t think it would be this way. I didn’t think I would be so overwhelmed. So…mean. When my son says “Please stop yelling at me, Mama”, it breaks my heart into a million pieces.

Why is it easier to be kinder to another person’s child than your own?

  My son will turn 3 this July, and I worry every single day that I am failing him as a mother. He has this amazing spirit that I try so hard to preserve. He is kind, gentle, compassionate and wicked smart, and he makes friends wherever he goes. People have been drawn to him since the day he was born. I want him to grow up to be the kind of person that loves life, cherishes his family, and sees the good in everyone. I worry every day that I’m not a good enough mom- that he deserves better. What I tend to forget, though, is that the very fact that I worry is what should remind me that I AM a good mom. I love my son fiercely and I do the best I can. Every. Day. And that’s really all we can do as parents. We can give our children our best effort. They are nothing if not forgiving, and each new day is another chance to be a little kinder; a little gentler; a little BETTER.

18 thoughts on “I Thought I’d Be a Better Mom…

  1. 1.) I think a blog like this is LONG over due.
    2.) I can promise you that I understand this completely. Thank you for sharing your heart. ❤️

    1. Can i tell you this really hit at home gor .e I started caring for children at 15 and it’s been my passion. My daughter is now 3 and some days I am like where did this child come from, what did I do wrong , why is my child crazy, I blamed myself a lot she wakes up early and everything but we have our good days and i love her more and more each day but being a mommy is harder then being a nanny

  2. I’m right there with you! I’ve got 4 kids 7 and under and sometimes I wonder if I’ve said anything nice to them in a day. Motherhood is so hard, so frustrating, and yet, so worth it.

    1. Me, too (also with 4, 7 and under).

      Our nanny was out yesterday, and all I could think was “Thank God they have her most of the time!”

  3. I was a professional nanny for over 20 years, and also was able to bring my child (and later, my second child) to work with me, and I had a very similar experience to you. During the time I was both nanny and mom, I also ran my own nanny placement agency and support/social group for nannies in the Milwaukee area. I don’t actually remember how I managed that. Anyway, I’ve said it before, but being a nanny first makes being a mother so much more difficult! Your expectations are impossibly high and unrealistic, and it takes awhile to understand that it is an entirely different scenario. I have told many nannies since that I do not recommend being both a nanny and a mother: no other profession so directly makes you choose your job over your child, and the guilt you will experience is not healthy for anyone. That being said, if you have the right mind-set and, more importantly, your employers have the right mind-set (you are both moms/parents, on equal footing, trying to help each other) then perhaps it can work. If you want to consider a change, though, I’d be happy to give you advice on starting a placement agency:)

    1. I agree with you 100%, Mary! I had extremely high and unrealistic expectations for myself as a mother, and it caused me to not be able to see all of the things I was doing well. I am a passionate advocate for “Nanny Moms” (moms who bring their child with them to work), and one of the reasons why is because I know how hard it is to leave your child with someone else while you raise children who aren’t your own.

      I’ve often thought about starting my own agency. I feel I could bring a unique perspective as both a nanny and a mom. I’d love to connect with you on Facebook to talk some more. If you’d like to visit my FB page (Nanny Know How), I’d love to hear from you! Also, would you mind sharing how you came across my blog? Thanks!

    2. I agree with you Mary. Most of my nanny friends (ones without kids) really do not understand the struggles I have. I think back to my days prior to having my daughter and it was such a breeze! My days were perfectly planned out and I had all the patience in the world but now I feel like I’m struggling. It was a lot easier to bring my daughter with me when she was an infant but now (she’s almost 3), I feel like it keeps getting harder and harder. I do not mean to sound unappreciative of being able to make a living while being with my daughter full time but it’s HARD!

      I’ve thought about starting my own nanny placement agency a few years ago but got too intimidated to make the leap. I would love some pointers!

      1. Thank you so much for commenting, Christina! I feel EXACTLY the same way as you. Are you in any Facebook groups for “Nanny-Moms”? I’ve found them helpful for connecting and commiserating with nannies who know what we go through 🙂

      2. I just rediscovered this article on Facebook and saw the comments, Kimberly and Christina – sorry! I would be happy to discuss how to make the jump to being an agency owner (hopefully the two of you don’t live near each other;). I am Mary Sipin Boyle on Facebook – send me a message request, if you’d like.

  4. I love this! And so needed it! I’m on the flipside where I see my nanny exhibiting infinite patience and I wonder why I can’t be that way with my own children when I’m home with them. It’s hard! Being a mom is so so hard! Thanks so much for sharing Kim!

  5. Loved your words sweet Kimmy! I remember having this exact conversation with you when J was born. Being a nanny and a mom are two totally different worlds. That little man is VERY blessed to have you as a mommy. Love you lots and lots!

  6. Hi I’m a professional nanny also who can totally relate to your article. In my younger days I think I handled being a nanny and a mom fine, I had school age kids and my little one was younger. Then I had my second child and was blessed to be able to take her to work with me as an infant but had to start leaving her with family while I worked as things got hard. My daughter is now 6 and I feel like such a terrible mom. She’ll occasionally comment on how much I play with other babies or ask how was your day mom did you have a good time out with the babies today? (I care for twin 18month old boys) . It makes me sad knowing that she thinks I don’t enjoy taking her out as much because honestly I’m so tired when I get home. My 14 year old needs emotional support and my 6 year old needs special love and play time and after a day with twin toddlers I can be mean with my own kids. I really thought I would be the ultimate mom who gave her kids all kinds of experiences and I feel really guilty all the time. I’m currently thinking my nanny career might come to an end sooner than I thought:(

  7. I’ve taken care of children since the age of nine. I’ve worked in 5 child care centers; the fourth one I was the infant lead teacher with 12 infants & 1 assistant. At 24 I graduated from a school for nannies. I took care of two families as a career nanny before staying home with my two children for 4 years. I know my PPD was multiplied because of my expectations of myself as a nanny.
    I thought my brain was expelled along with my placenta.
    Still dealing with guilt.
    Thank you!!

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