Dealing With Kids Who Prefer Caretaker to Parents

ABC News Good Morning America
Mommy vs. Nanny: Battle for Kids’ Affection
March 14, 2009—

Overnight, Stacey Isaacs, 36, is a hands-on mother. But at 8 in the morning, Stacey switches off mommy mode, revs up for her job as a corporate lawyer and hands over her 3-month-old baby, Reese, to her baby sitter Alicia Apaestegui, 57.

It’s Apaestegui, not Reese’s parents, who will give the infant her first bottle of the day. The nanny will talk, sing and play with the baby for the next 10 hours while mommy’s gone.

Like many first-time moms, Isaacs is torn between the career she’s nurtured for years and the newborn baby who needs nurturing, too.

“It just feels bad to me to pass her over when I could be home taking care of her myself. I feel guilty when I’m leaving.” Isaacs said.

She is also worried that when she’s at work, she’ll miss out on certain milestones like her baby’s first words, her first walk and first laugh. And her worst nightmare? Isaacs says she fears that her daughter will come to prefer the nanny over time.

Ella Larson, 3, who has had baby sitters and been in day care since she was born, is not shy about telling her mother that she’d rather be with her nanny.

During a family vacation in La Jolla, Calif., last week, Ella suddenly missed her live-in nanny Tia Sumption, 27, and began to throw a tantrum. “I want Tia!” Ella screamed. “No! No! Go away!” the little girl told her mother, Beth Larson, 36, as she was trying to calm her down. “What do you want? Tell mommy what you want?” Larson asked. “I want Tia!” Ella insisted.

“It’s horrible. It’s horrible. Part of me is so sad, but I’m so happy for her that she loves Tia,” Larson said. She also has another daughter named Erin who is 11 months old.

By 6 every morning, Larson is juggling work and caring for her baby, while balancing feeding, e-mailing and playing. When Sumption shows up at 7, she takes over, and Larson is off and running, literally. She takes time out from the kids in the morning to run because she believes it helps her stay healthy and energetic all day.

“I love my kids. They’re the most important thing in the world to me, yet I’m a strong, independent businesswoman, very independent. I like my own time. I like to do things for myself,” Larson said.

She describes her mommy style as very hands on at times and then very hands off as well. “I feel bad about that, but I also realize that makes me who I am, and I want them to see who I am,” Larson said.

Larson has many friends who are stay-at-home moms. They enjoy taking their kids to the museum or library, and reading them stories during the day.

“I see a lot of people that do want to spend 24 hours a day with their kids. I really have no interest in doing that because I want to work,” Larson said.

Larson believes she’s doing what’s best for her children and for herself. The kids get the best personal care and attention from the nanny, while she devotes her time and talent to her own burgeoning business marketing medical devices. “For me, this is the choice I’ve made. I have guilt and I have concerns,” Larson said.

She explains that the guilt comes from not being there at critical moments like when her kids get sick, and Sumption is the one to take them to the doctor.

“It breaks your heart when you can’t be there, and we do everything we can to be there, but it’s not always the case,” Larson said.

Larson acknowledges that she’s sharing co-parenting responsibilities with her nanny. Larson’s husband, Chris, joked with the nanny when she was interviewed for the job that if she was hired, she was hired for the next 18 years. Larson says that’s because her husband also prefers a nanny to look after their kids because both parents are very busy professionals with demanding work and travel schedules.

But do their kids ever get confused as to who’s in charge? Larson says her agreement with Sumption is that during the day between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sumption is in charge.

She tells her kids to go to Sumption for every want and need during the day. Even at times when Larson is home for a few minutes to grab coffee or lunch, she says “Go to Tia” if her kids ask her what they should eat or wear.

Sumption, on the other hand, observes that 3-year-old Ella often throws temper tantrums while both Larson and nanny are in the house during the day.

“She’d wonder mom’s here, but Tia is not gone, who’s the boss now?” said Sumption.

Larson agrees that when she works from her home office, it can be confusing for her kids. She sometimes worries her nanny may have an impact on her children’s long-term development. But child psychologists say while children may cling and listen to their nannies more often than their mothers during the day, it’s the mother who will, over time, have a bigger influence on the children.

When Ella was asked what kind of mom she wants to be when she grows up, she’s confused saying “stay at home” and “go to work!”

Copyright © 2009 ABC News Internet Ventures


  1. This report was too short. There was so much more that could have been said. Children cry for their parents more than they cry for their babysitters. Children must bond to thier nannies. The person with the problem is the mother not the child or nanny. The feelings are hardly worth writing about because it is a given that the child will miss the nanny occasionally since she is a full-time caregiver. A great nanny doesn’t ever want to undermine the child/parent relationship! Nannies should be an “open book” and communicate openly about everything with the parents so they never insult the parents.Maria Lopez, Miami Florida

  2. Femminist issues still keep coming up. Seems like it is always the mother struggling with these feelings and seldom the father. He is mentioned minimally. Mothers should not feel guilty for working especially with such great nannies to help care for their kids!

  3. I was wondering if you would post this and I am glad you did because I am glad they finally discussed the nanny/family relationship on the news since it is such a tricky relationship. I agree with Maria that the report was not at all complete. But it does play on the emotions of parents. Choosing childcare is a huge issue in America. We are lucky to work for parents that can afford to hire the best care (nannies)!From, Nanny Jody

  4. This is great! The child loves the nanny!Sandi Kauffman, Long Island

  5. Children act differently for their parents than their grandparents. Children act differently for their parents than their nannies. Children act differently for their teachers. No big deal. Kim Johnson, Live-In Nanny, Atlanta Georgia

  6. I feel for the moms- it’s hard to be a mom/wife/friend/have a career and balance it all well. However, having the right nanny can make that lifestyle choice possible.Children can never have too many people to love, and teach them. In my past postions I’ve always tried to help the mom’s have the best of both worlds. We’d meet up for lunch or at a child’s class. We tried to compliment each other and what the mom was not good at- I was…(i.e, she was great at baking – so her and her child shared that special activity, but the mom was not good at doing artsy projects, so I was able to fill that void.)But in the end no-one is better than mommy and daddy!~Andrea~Professional Career Nanny/Northern, NJ

  7. I agree reading these comments. The report was an opportunity for parents to criticize other parents once again when this mother has done nothing wrong. It is OK to be human and women should support one another not criticize other women. Whether women work or not it takes a village to raise children, we need to support one another. She should be happy her child loves her caregiver.Avery, Las Vegas, Nevada

  8. Thank you nannies! The segment was edited a lot and my comments taken a bit out of context. We love our kids and we all love Tia, she is part of our family. I am happy with the choices we’ve made and don’t feel much guilt because this works for all of us. My kids are very happy and despite how it came off I see them many hours every day. I work in a home office (segment was filmed while we were on a working vacation with Tia). Beth Larson

  9. I read once that for every dollar earned by a working mother a dollar is added to our national economy.If parents did not work nannies and au pairs would not work. Mothers don’t need to feel guilty if they hire quality caregivers.Tanisha Green, Nanny and Newborn Specialist, Richmond VA

  10. Dear Beth Larson:I am glad you read these nanny comments rather than just on the ABC site because your emotions are normal. It seems all mothers question themselves. Parents that work and hire nannies and au pairs often feel guilty, which if they are hiring great caregivers is really ridiculous. No one is perfect and every parent I have worked for is doing the best they can. Whether or not it was a good job or agree with the parents on many issues, all the parents I have worked for loved their kids completely and unconditionally. All of them did the best they could. 1. never have too many people to love children. It takes many people to raise a child.2. child crying for nanny simply means she loves her nanny which is a good thing3. kids cry more for mommy and daddy than for nanny4. working mothers stimulate the economyLinda, Career NannyOak Park Illinois

  11. I think that parents that work because they want to work are better parents because they are fulfilled and happy. But, if the mother has to work because the family cannot make ends meet, then the children are worse off because the mother is stressed-out.Most nannies work for hard-working, wealthy parents who work because they want to. If they go back to work becasue they need two incomes they more likely send kids to daycare which is less expensive but had it’s problems for infants.So, it’s the mother’s happiness that determines child’s success. Mothers working is a good thing for her self esteem and the economy and the mother in the article shouldn’t feel guilty but happy the child misses her great nanny.Mel — Kansas City

  12. I am one of the mothers in the segment. The producers reported inaccurately. Not only am I a workers’ comp attorney rather than a corp. lawyer, I work 9-5 at the most. but if I did work 10 hour days, I would not expect other woment who have the luxury of staying home to criticize me. I believe I’ll be a good example my daughter can look up to.

  13. Dear anonumous mother from the segment above:You sound defensive but all the comments on this blog are supportive of you and do not think it is a problem that you express real feelings.Faith Davis, Montville, NJ

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