Monday, June 11, 2007

Calling All Parents

I know I have a lot of moms and dads who read me. And I know there are a lot more parents who have a tendency to show up and share thoughts when I specifically call them out (*ahem* Her Bad Mother, Domestic Slackstress, Mary P., Mocha, Mothergoosemouse, Crystal, Sandra, Mom-101). So ladies and gents, I need your help on something that's actually been on my mind a lot lately.

How much is too much to love someone else's child?

Let me start with a story. Anyone who's been reading me for a while knows that Lady M and I are close friends. We've been dancing together for years, and though our friendship has gone through phases - just like all relationships - we've grown particularly close over the last six months or so. Our friendship stands on its own, independent of any other ties, but there are other ties.

Bubbers - whom you longtime readers have also read about - is Lady M's son. Once upon a time, I was his very first nanny. He is my precious Bubbala, and I love him to pieces. When I don't see him for multiple weeks, I miss him. When I get a thank you card from him covered with crayon scribbles, I cry. When I hold him, I snuggle him close and breath in his smell and it makes me smile.

But from the very first day I cared for him, I worried about Lady M. Would she be jealous of the time I spent with him? Would she resent my closeness? Would she believe I was trying to replace her in some way? Would she get angry with me for loving her son too much?

I hoped not, but it was always there, in the back of my mind, and whenever I interacted with her and Bubbers, I was watching and wondering what she was thinking. Then last week, it came to a head. Bubbers came backstage with his grandparents before our Friday night show. Everyone came around to admire him, including me. After a few moments, people returned to their tasks, and SwingDaddy and I were left with Bubs. I asked to hold him (Bubbers, not SwingDaddy), and SwingDaddy obliged. It had been probably a month since I'd seen and held him, so I snuggled him up to me and sighed happily. My Bubbers - how I'd missed him.

But then, after less than a minute, Lady M appeared at my side, took Bubbers out of my arms, and walked away, saying nothing. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. What had I done? My brief moment with Bubs was gone, and immediately tears came to my eyes. It took me a long time to calm down enough to go on stage and dance.

Now, don't get me wrong - Lady M did nothing wrong. Never, at any point, was I angry with her for anything. I was, however, hurt and confused, and I decided that after years of this fear, it was time to talk about it openly. After all, we're friends, right?

Lady M couldn't have been nicer. It turns out she really just didn't realize, and that she doesn't at all begrudge me my relationship with Bubs. I tried hard to explain to her my worry, though: Bubbers is her son, not mine, and she has the first claim to spending time with him. I don't want to take him away from her. It's just hard for me, because I love him so much, and I don't get to see him very often. She was very understanding. If I'd like, she said, she would make an effort to make sure I had more opportunities to hold and play with him.

After the fact, though, I really got to thinking. I love Bubbers more than any other kid on this earth - that's why it hurts so much that I don't get to spend much time with him. But is that okay? At what point is it not okay? How much is too much to love him?

This isn't just about Lady M and Bubbers. I'm looking into returning to being a nanny, and this is something that I need to think about. I'm a loving person by nature, and I would like to be able to become a part of the family for whom I work - I want to love the kids in my care. But at the same time, I don't want to cause problems with the parents.

I'm nowhere near the Hand That Rocks the Cradle type of nanny. I don't want to take the kids away and raise them for my own, I don't want to replace their parents in the kids' eyes, I don't think I'm a better role model. But as a part of the "village" raising that child, I will fall in love with him/her, just as I did with Bubbers. I will want to spend time with that child, and when I'm away from him/her, I'll be sad. And beyond that, I'll want that child to want to spend time with me - there are few things nicer in this world than hearing Bubbers excitedly shout, "Nanny Lara!" I want the kids to love me just like I love them.

Is that wrong? Am I overstepping boundaries here? How much is too much love?

Help me out here, folks. I'm really at a loss.


Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I would love to have a nanny as loving and caring as you.

I've never personally gotten so close to another person's child - probably because I never felt that sort of attachment until I had my own. But my older daughter has been in care since she was 3 months old, and my younger daughter is currently in care, and it is hugely reassuring to me when their teachers express genuine affection toward them. I have never felt threatened or uncomfortable. It's flattering to me when someone else - someone who's not their mother - adores the people who mean more to me than anyone else.

Too much love? Not at all.

Trina said...

I am not a parent, but I definitely know what you mean. I really do love all the kids I have watched over the years. I don't think any child can be loved too much. Their parents have never felt threatened by my affection toward them, afterall, at the end of the night, the parent are the ones you turn them over to, and the ones putting them to bed and waking them in to morning. You have that great role of being the adored and oh so cool aunt-like figure who is loads of fun and not quite so strict when it comes to cookies before dinner. Children need to be loved by a multitude of people to learn how different people express love, and to learn how to love themselves. Your friend's son sounds like a lucky little boy to have someone so devoted at his side :)

Amanda said...

Love my kids? Too much? Not possible, we all want our kids to be loved. I adore my sitter, but I would cherish a person who felt such tenderness toward my girls. Can you imagine adding to loving parents and grandparents another person with no obligation to love you, who just does it beacuse of how special you are? Can you imagine what the world would be like if we all had that extra layer of love?

Mom101 said...

No such thing as too much love, provided it doesn't cross any boundaries that makes the mama uncomfortable. And knowing Lady M just a bit, she's a doll - can't imagine she'd be anything but delighted that there's another person in the world to love her kid.

(BTW "The Bubbers" is what we call our dog. It cracked me up to read this.)

Anonymous said...

Well, I'll say it. There is a boundary. And there should be.

That being said, I think that boundary is different for every person. And that boundary isn't a boundary of love- it is a boundary of...placement? Does that even make sense? I guess I look at it this way. If someone is on the peripherals of a child's life, an extreme love and affection may be misplaced and sometimes inappropriate. I am not a parent, but I cannot imagine myself being completely comfortable with someone I or my child has little contact with being obsessed with my child.

However, you do not seem to be on the peripherals of this child's life. If the parent doesn't seem uncomfortable, than I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely be uncomfortable if bubbers were my child. The way you speak about him -- it's very intense. I think you're a kind and loving nanny, but I think you are probably not being totally honest about what you think your role really is. The short answer is, yes, I think you're loving too much. Don't mean to be harsh, because I'm sure it comes from a good, if not confused, place.

Unknown said...

All I have to say is the love that you have for this child and children in general is beautiful.
A true gift.
Do what makes your heart soar.

Anonymous said...

I think in any relationship a mom can want to pull away to keep her little one to herself a bit. Even when my mom is taking care of my daughter I sometimes have the urge to say "Just remember, I'm the mommy." That being said, there is no such thing as loving too much and I'm so proud of how much a few of my friends (Hailey's "adopted" aunts) are devoted to her. Nanny's, aunts, and friends help to raise your children. We can't do it alone.

fourthbreakfast said...

One way to avoid this specific concern (future, jealous parents) but to have children in your life is to teach preschool/nursery school. Plus, hopefully, you'll get some fun adult friends in the mix too. Being a nanny can sometimes be isolating. Expanding your social network through work might be good.

aMom2E said...

I agree there is no such thing as too much love. You are actually speaking to a fear that I have the other side of... As you know, I am a mommy-in-training now... I am so afraid that I will be the crazy jealous mom that would want to put some boundary on your (I don't mean you specifically, but a "you" with your perspective) love for my kid and that is just wrong.

I am afraid I would be wildly jealous of how much my kid adores you and even though I know a kid can't have too much love, I am afraid I would get posessive and not want to share my kid with you because... It's my Kid! (say that with a childish whine)...

I agree that it takes a village and that any village will be lucky to have you and that you are not crossing any rationale boundaries here. You did the adult thing and spoke with Lady M about your feelings.

I would be afraid if I were Lady M that I wouldn't be able to tell you about my own personal issues and in the end the best interests of the kid would win in the end--you getting to love as much as possible!! Any jealous mother issues would just be gotten over (and these are my issues! I am making no assumptions about Lady M, I am sure she is far more rational than me and was honest with you!)

I hope this made sense to you!!

Bottom line is this, there is no such thing as too much love for a child. You are a blessing in Q's life!

Anonymous said...

Loving any person, not just children, is wonderful. I doubt a person can be loved too much; there is always room for more.

From a strictly practical viewpoint, it would be nice if you could be involved with children who don't already have a loving and caring home environment. I volunteer for a tutoring organization on campus; we're always really short on volunteer tutors. I know one troubled girl who sure could use someone like you.

Lady M said...

Hello dear, I must say that I (and others) were worried about you backstage that night and completely unaware why you were upset. It's because I see you as "one of us" in taking care of Q, and didn't give a long explanation of who I was taking him to meet next. I'm sorry I upset you, and I'm glad we were able to talk.

You have a lot of thoughtful commenters here.

We're teaching a morning slot at the Waltz Weekend. Want to come play with Q while we're teaching?


Anonymous said...

My two cents is that a person or child can never have too much love in their lives. The bigger the village is that helps raise my child, the better off he is. We have (at least) one friend who loves our son intensely and I wouldn't have it any other way. Hopefully as he gets older it will give him another adult to turn to if he doesn't feel comfortable coming to us. Or at least it gives him another role model who puts him first in their minds.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Lara, for having the courage to write about this!

As a nanny I share your exact worry: how much love is too much love? Are my nurturing impulses (which manifest as an almost unbearable tenderness toward the kids I work with) in any way damaging the mother/child relationship? Will my feelings trigger jealousy or resentment on the part of the parents I work for?

I obsess about my behavior and about maintaining appropriate boundaries, and for years I've kept in my wallet a modified version of Kahlil Gibran's 'On Children,' which helps remind me of my role. It says:

These children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of other people.
They come to you but not from you,
and though they are sometimes with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love
But you are not their family,
For they have their own family.
You may aid in the development of their bodies and their souls, but to do this is a privilege and not a right.

Anyway, about your specific question: I agree that there's no such thing as too much love, and that any child would be lucky to have you as part of his or her life. I also think your sensitivity regarding the parent/nanny dynamic means that you're actually NOT very likely to offend any potential employers.

Again, thanks so much for writing about this. I can totally empathize!

Lara said...

mothergoosemouse - thank you very much for such a compliment. i can see what you mean about the flattery of having a non-relation appreciate your kids. i'm glad you feel that way.

trina - non-parent input is very valuable to me as well. i know what you mean about the "end of the night" - when it comes down to it, nothing can change the fact that i am not actually their parent, and the parent-child bond is special. oh, and actually? i'm generally the stricter one about cookies before bed.

amanda - i certainly hope that for the child it's a completely good thing, having that extra love. i just worry about upsetting the parents. but i'm glad you seem to see it as a positive as well.

mom101 - such is what she (lady m) has assured me, and i believe her. it just took me far too long to talk to her about it. (and i'm glad i amused you with the bubbers reference... even if it was unwitting.)

betsy - i can see what you mean, though i think it's hard to put it into words. it would creep me out if someone i hardly knew was obsessed with my kid, but at the same time, it seems like it shouldn't - not if that love is really pure and without some hidden agenda. but yes, i am not on the peripherals of lady m's life, so i don't think that's the concern necessarily.

anonymous - i appreciate your honesty. it's true that what i feel for bubbers is very intense, but a lot of the reason for that is that i feel as a general rule is intense - my emotions throughout my life are more intense than many other people i know, for better or worse. so yes, i feel my love for bubbers very deeply and strongly. however, i don't believe i'm confused about my role in his life. i've thought a lot about my connection to lady m, swingdaddy (her husband), and bubbers, and i really honestly believe that i'm appreciating my role as "nanny lara" more than anything else. i believe that lady m knows that as well.

tori - i will be doing what makes my heart soar, because i'll get to spend time with bubbers both this weekend and next. once lady m and i spoke, things have been a lot better. :)

jenny - yeah, part of my worry came from knowing that i would feel a little jealous / resentful, because i have a tendency to get that way in relationships. i'm glad that lady m seems to be better able to keep perspective than i am, although it helps that both she and i are always keeping an awareness that she is the mommy.

fourth breakfast - i'm looking into taking some classes towards that very end. we'll see what happens with it. :)

ffbgirl - i can completely understand your side of the fears. i think if you end up having a nanny of some sort, you need to push yourself to keep the communication open. if you keep it inside, you may just start to resent her, and someone who may otherwise be a great person in your child's life, could be pushed away. i don't think you'll have any problems though, because you seem like you have a really good head on your shoulders, and a good heart as well. :)

mme roo - you bring up a good point about helping little ones who don't already have loving parents. i should look into that. i've also been thinking that someday, when i have a home of my own and financial support for it, i'd love to be a foster family for young kids before they get adopted.

lady m - thank you for being so wonderful and understanding. i'm really glad we were able to talk. i'm flattered that you think of me as "one of you" in caring for him. i like to think of myself as a valuable part of the "village" raising bubbers, and sometimes i let my own emotions (i.e. how much i love bubbers and selfishly want to spend time with him) get in the way of what might be best for you guys as the family. i'm looking forward to seeing my birthday date with him, though, as well as waltz weekend. :)

dani - you bring up a great point about having other people to turn to for help as the child gets older. obviously it's always great if the child can turn to parents for anything and everything, but the truth is that it is often difficult to do that. i'd be happy to help bubs in that way if i could.

jen - thanks for chiming in. the poem is good, though i think i have trouble because i think of it from a very different perspective, based on when i first encountered it. but your point is excellent. and you're right: so long as i keep communication open, i should hopefully be able to avoid causing major problems with future employers.