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I think my nanny prefers DD2 to DD1 and I think that DD1 is aware of the preference. What to do?

(23 Posts)
Issymum Mon 19-Feb-07 10:10:21

This issue has concerned me for several months, but afer a week at half term without my nanny (she had flu), I feel acutely aware of it this morning. A bit of background:

DD1 (6 next week): Intense, complex, funny, sensitive, curious, "knowing" about social situations, meticulous, conscientious, reserved, stylish and beautiful. Not in the 'queen bee' group in class, but she has a small group of friends and gets on with her whole class.

DD2 (4.5): Straight-forward, exuberant, utterly in the moment, extravagently affectionate, stubborn, wired-to-the-moon, the joker, bright, idiosynchratic and generous. Everybody wants to be DD2's friend because she doesn't give a t*ss.

DD1 is, in a classic big sister way, quite anxious about her position vis a vis DD2. She went through a phase of asking us repeatedly whom we preferred: "Do you love me just a tiny bit more?". We're on nanny #4 and nanny #2 (you may recall the "got drunk and felled a lamp-post in the nanny car" nanny) did prefer DD2 and did admit her preference, so we have been round this before. I have gone through phases of preferring DD2 to DD1 (see agonised threads passim), although got over it. However, DH has always preferred DD1. So, there is some history here, I'm almost certain that DD1 is sub-consiously aware of Nanny #4's preference and I feel bad for DD1 that we are exacerbating some not unfounded anxieties about DD2 being the 'favourite'.

I could give examples of why I think nanny #4 prefers DD2, but they would sound trite and trivial. I don't think I'm being paranoid and I've had 15 months of observation. There are some perfectly understandable reasons for her preference. DD1 is at school all day, so the nanny just gets the hurry-up, process end of DD1 - get ready for school, pick up from school, homework, tea, pyjamas, teeth cleaning. And, like a lot of her peers, DD1 is often tired and sometimes grumpy and fragile at the end of the school day. DD2 has way more time at home hanging out with the nanny and her time at pre-school is undemanding sticking and gluing. I can also see why our nanny, who is emotionally repressed to the nth degree and a little narrow-minded, finds the simplicity of DD2 much more appealing.

So, what to do. Our nanny is leaving in mid-August so I can:

1. Do nothing and wait for her to leave.
2. Talk to her. It will be agonising (see emotionally repressed above), will undoubtedly end in tears and could even precipitate a walk out.
3. Sack her (which of course I would never do without trying 2 first).

Our nanny is a paragon in every other respect and every conversation I have with pre-school staff, school teachers and other mothers begins "Nanny #4 is so wonderful."

Any thoughts?

WideWebWitch Mon 19-Feb-07 10:21:00

I think there's a middle way which is talking to nanny WITHOUT it being agonising or precipitating a walk out. I'm not sure how exactly, but I wonder if you could couch it as asking for her advice about this and telling her that you're worried about dd1 etc? I think August is too far away to do nothing but I also think you might be able to resolve this without upsetting anyone and get the result you want, which is dd1 to be treated the same by your nanny.

(I remember nanny lamp post incident!)

HuwEdwards Mon 19-Feb-07 10:21:39

oh blimey - your DDs are the same ages as mine and your description of your DD2 could be mine...and we have had the 'who do you prefer' from DD1 too (never DD2 as she really doesn't care!). We have had scenarios where DD1 has had friends over to play, only to find that they gravitate to DD2, leaving DD1 in the cold which has been disasterous.


WRT the nanny, she has considerably less time with your DD1 and therefore I think the potential 'damage' is minimal. If you've no other worries, I would leave it till August.

ScottishThistle Mon 19-Feb-07 10:29:52

I think each child will be favoured more by different Adults & it all kind of balances out in the end.

A very light hearted chat with Nanny wouldn't hurt, in my opinion things which are left unsaid fester & become a problem.

marthamoo Mon 19-Feb-07 10:30:36

I think www's idea is a good one. Without laying any blame at the nanny's door you could just have a chat about how dd1 is feeling insecure - "Do you love me just a tiny bit more?". It doesn't have to be all about the nanny - it can be more general that that and maybe it will set her thinking about how she feels about/treats dd1. You say the examples will sound trite and trivial so I'm assuming this isn't blatant favouritism - clearly dd1 is bright and sensitive enough to pick up on it though.

My children are very different too- ds1 is extremely shy, sensitive, can be moody, and his shyness often comes across as general unfriendliness - he can also be very 'odd'. Ds2 is sociable, cheerful - what you see is what you get. Ds2 is much easier to like than ds1. I don't have a nanny - but I imagine that it would take a very special person to see past ds1's 'oddness' to the lovely little boy I know he is - I can see how much easier it must be to relate to the 'easier' child.

I don't think it's worth a major fall-out - but you do need her to know that dd1 is unhappy, without laying all the blame at her feet. I hope that would be enough to make her rethink and put extra visible effort into how she interacts with dd1.

Issymum Mon 19-Feb-07 11:56:28

Thank you. I think a conversation may be the way forward, although I'm bit concerned that if I focus too much on being worried about DD1, I will add weight to the nanny's perspective that DD1 is the 'problem child' and so make it even more difficult for the nanny to deal with her preferences.

By the by, it's interesting that three of us on this short thread have intense and complex' first children and easy-going, what-you-see-is-what-you-get second children. Co-incidence or the dynamics of family order at work?

MrsWobble Mon 19-Feb-07 13:08:00

Hi Issymum - If I were you I think I would try and work out what exactly is the problem before speaking to the nanny or you risk make the position even more confused. Are you worried about how dd1 is feeling or how the nanny is behaving (or even potentially how you feel - you've said that your dh has a preference - do you?)

I have 3 dds who will regularly claim to be "your least favourite daughter" - usually accompanied by door slamming and other equivalent dramatic gestures. However, I am as sure as I can be that they don't really believe that. And I'm fairly sure that that's because dh and I don't have a favourite - that's not to say that at any point in time I might not prefer to be with one than another on the basis of how they're behaving at that point in time - but I can honestly say that i don't favour any of them - if asked to choose which one to save from a hypothetical burning building I couldn't make a decision.

If your dd1 is feeling insecure then you need to support her - either by changing how you behave towards her or by boosting her self confidence more generally. If your nanny is part of the problem then ask her to change the behaviours that upset - although I don't think you can ask her just to "like dd1 more" - can you deal with the trivia that upsets dd1 fairly easily?

I'm also interested in the intense first born followed by relaxed siblings observation - it fits my family too. I had always assumed that it's the payback for being an overanxious mother with no 1, relaxed with no 2 and frankly neglectful with no 3 so that I get no 1 requiring constant approbation, no 2 who responds well to praise and no 3 who doesn't seem to care.

Bink Mon 19-Feb-07 13:39:15

Is there space in your lives to give nanny and dd1 some special one-on-one time - a day when dd2 could stay later at nursery? - being the traditional remedy for sticky family dynamics. If there is, I would orchestrate that, with the only conversation being along the lines of "we think that dd1 would enjoy doing x specially with you to herself".

If there isn't such space, tell me I should know better and I'll think again.

Issymum Mon 19-Feb-07 13:45:37

I'm still digesting Mrs Wobble's post and I'll get back to that.

Bink's idea is an excellent one and it's such a shame that our nanny missed all of half-term. It's hard to imagine a scenario where DD1 could spend time alone with our nanny as there are only those few short hours Mon-Fri between 3.30 and 6.30. But perhaps something could be done involving DH who really needs to spend time alone with DD2. It's just such an awkward time slot.

eleusis Mon 19-Feb-07 13:48:54

Some good advice here already. I would probably not have a direct conversation with the nanny -- not yet anyway. Is there a particular activity DD2 likes? If so, I'd probably suggest casually to nanny on Monday morning that she plan to do it with DD2 some time that week. Is there something that DD2 really likes to do, that perhaps is not really DD1's thing. Perhaps DD2 could choose a movie to go see with nanny?

You could possibly mention to the nanny that DD2 is craving more attention from her and ask if she could make a special effort. But, I would definately present this as DD2's need and not as nanny's failing.

eleusis Mon 19-Feb-07 13:50:09

Oh sorry. I got it wrong. Swap DD2 for DD1 in my post, and vice versa.

Anchovy Mon 19-Feb-07 14:23:35

I have reasonable similar dynamics - a serious, sweet-natured, somewhat reserved first child (DS), and a slightly bonkers, attention seeking, full-on, very funny second child (DD). I can see how having 2 of the same gender can make this harder.

I'm not sure that saying to a nanny "we want you to do more with DD1" works - in my experience, I've had better results with my nanny when I've asked her to do something specific or - see below - when I've sort of led her to a conclusion that I wanted her to reach.

One thing that consistently has worked well for us is giving DS the opportunity to do things that DD cannot. DS and DH, for example, have a few things that are "theirs" - he stays up a bit later and will talk to us while we are making supper; he watches Blue Planet, not Charlie & Lola, and then DH has bought him some books about the sea and underwater things which we look at in bed before DS goes to sleep; DH and DS do lego together and therefore look at the lego magazine together. All of these are a good "safety valve" for DS when being dragged down to the somewhat full-on world of DD gets a bit much.

I think I would recommend a few things that DD1 can do to build up her confidence about herself and her abilities and her choices and views, and then have a conversation with the nanny about it. So you present it along the lines that "We've been talking and I think that DD1 needs to do a few things by herself - what do you think? She really enjoys x, do you think you can find some time to do x with her. what do you think?" etc. Your nanny and DD1 then get some one-on-one time and DD1 is learning some skills or interests that mean she doesn't spend all her time in comparison to DD2. And your nanny becomes part of the solution not part of the problem. I would particularly ask the nanny to give you feedback on this, so that the situation cannot slide.

Anchovy Mon 19-Feb-07 16:21:12

Sorry, that was a bit rushed. I think what I was trying to say is that I see the key as making sure there is less of a direct comparison between DD1 and DD2, so it is much harder for DD1 to compare herself unfavourably. I think it is also good for DD1 to feel she has some skills/resources available to her to feel proud about. I also think if you get your nanny to work on the different skill sets you bring about a closeness between her and DD1.

FWIW, with your nanny leaving in August I don't think the head on discussion thing would work terribly well. I would, however, with your next nanny set the relationship up to succeed by explicitly referring to this "DD1 sometimes has a hard time because people think DD2 is easier/funnier but of course DD1 can do x, y and z and I think we really need to keep boosting her self esteem etc."

We also try and work on toning down DD a bit as well. She genuinely is quite funny and hugely appealing - she's a little fizzy thing with a mop of uncontrollable hair and very strong opinions. However I think its in everyone's interests, including her own, not to let her get away with playing the entertaining princess all the time - she's one of those children who could become quite the little emperor if allowed to do so.

Aloha Mon 19-Feb-07 16:23:46

I'd leave it tbh. Older children are usually a bit more serious and take things to heart more. But in later life they are more successful! (huge generalisation of course, but often true)
If you are worried, just keep telling dd1 how gorgeous and fab she is, and praise her for stuff she can do but dd2 can't - ie fab reading/writing whatever. Say how lovely it is to see your girl growing up etc.

Issymum Mon 19-Feb-07 16:32:21

Thank you for some thoughtful and very helpful replies. To Mrs Wobble's point, what exactly is the problem here? I think the problem is less about behaviour and more about feelings; how I feel, how I think the nanny feels and how I guess DD1 feels. If I'm honest, it's probably mostly about how I feel. I also find DD2 'easier' because she is simpler and more openly affectionate, however I not only love but feel fiercely protective towards DD1 and identify with her anxious intensity ("No, surely not!", retort a bunch of ironic Mnetters). When I said something mildly complimentary this morning about DD1 ("It's a shame DD1 left it to this morning to tell me she had a spelling test, but she should be OK as she's a good speller") and our nanny, as she always does, conditioned my praise ("If she puts her mind to it.") it took all my control and the prospect of this thread not just to snap back "If you don't like DD1, if you can't say anything positive about her, then just bloody leave."

My natural inclination would be to wade in and have a proper conversation with our nanny about this. But Anchovy is right, it wouldn't be effective. We have no rapport (that's the nanny and I not Anchovy and I - I like to think) and that's after 18 months of both of us labouring, with painful deliberation, at this relationship.

So, if talking is out and sacking her, although fleetingly attractive, would be organisationally disastrous and palpably unfair, then doing whatever I can to bolster the relationship between DD1 and the nanny is the only possible course of action. I will suggest to our nanny that, for one after-school session a week, she abandons the homework, parks DD2 in front of the TV (DD2 will slip into a catatonic state and stay there until you switch the TV off) and does some cooking with DD1. DD1 loves cooking and is really very good at it. It's a plan.

Issymum Mon 19-Feb-07 16:35:26

Sorry Aloha, I didn't see your reply before posting. I think we do need to balance out things for DD1 a bit. This Saturday she helped me plan the meals for the weekend, write a shopping list and then went to Sainsbury's with me leaving DD2 behind. I realised that this was the first time in ages I'd been alone with her and she was such good company and genuinely helpful in a way DD2 could never be. She will, as you say, always be the more serious elder child, but she needs to feel a little more of the upside of that.

Anchovy Mon 19-Feb-07 16:48:32

Yes, this cooking thing is deffo good idea - something very concrete (well, hopefully not, but you know what I mean). But something tangible and something she can have pride in.

Also like it re you and DD1 doing some menu planning and shopping together at the weekends. DS and I actually had a similar little shopping trip on Friday, just trip to Waitrose, HMV for DH's birthday present and a coffee together and it was genuinely delightful, like having a real thoughtful, helpful little person with me, rather than having to down-grade everything to the level of an exuberent 3 year old.

MrsWobble Tue 20-Feb-07 11:29:36

Issymum - feel free to tell me to get lost here. I think you are right when you say it's about how you are feeling. I get the impression that you do not have a good relationship with your nanny - that's not to say you have a bad one - the issue seems to be more of a lack of one. At the same time you've identified some unmet needs in dd1 and putting the two together want to get the nanny to change. However, the people that dd1 will most want to meet her needs are you and your dh. My children have had nannies come and go - after an initial 8year stint they have all been a year or two arrangements. Whilst they care to some extent about whether the nanny likes them they are not excessively bothered. It's my and dh's attention they want.

If you can possibly manage it rather than getting the nanny to cook with dd1, can you do it? I've taken to an element of split shift working when I think that one of the children needs attention - I get home to pick them up from school and then finish my work once they're in bed. It's a pretty rubbish way of life for me and dh but for short term solutions to sad children it's brilliant.

I think this is part of growing up - a child's needs become much more complicated and extend beyond the feed me/entertain me/keep me safe requirements of a pre-schooler. I know from your other threads that one of your childcare concerns is finding a nanny able to manage the homework process. My experience is that this gets bound up with the emotional development/needs of the child and quickly moves beyond the mechanical and nannies just don't (and probably can't) have the emotional relationship with a child that the parent can and that this is what the child wants and needs. The alchemist's stone is finding a way to deal with all this in the limited hours available outside a full time job. The good news is that as bedtime becomes later (for them and often us) there are more hours in the day.

I must confess that I have far more nagging doubts that I am letting my children down by working fulltime now than I ever did when they were babies. However, they are thriving, they are pretty happy, they are each other's best friends and we do spend time at the weekend together. What we have recently started, and might work for you, is all spend Sunday afternoon doing something together - and the activity is chosen by each of us in turn. So far this has covered doing jigsaw puzzles,going to Bluewater, cinema, sorting out stamp collections, cooking and making teddy bear clothes (dh was excused the latter two on grounds of incompetence and allowed to play golf). The only rule we apply is that everyone is allowed to join in so you can't pick something that excludes the others (although they can opt out if they want).

I realise this is rather long and probably irrelevant to you so feel free to ignore everything.

frenchconnection Tue 20-Feb-07 16:38:16

Issymum, my children are exactly like yours; my first-born is dd who is clever, manipulative, slightly controlling(!),shy when in certain situations but awful at home.Also not affectionate at all yet demands to know that she is the facourite. my ds is 3 and v relaxed, he'll kiss and cuddle anyone,not worry about anything at all..etc.
Must be the order in which they're born?

Everyone i know adores my ds and have no time for dd which i find hard.She turns her nose up at certain people and in turn they (adults!) ignore her too. She is conscious that people warm to ds more and this affects her by making her even more stroppy.

Have a chat with nanny but dont try to sound accusing as she will get defensive..

Issymum Tue 20-Feb-07 17:02:24

What a fantastic post Mrs Wobble and bang on the money. All of it. I need to get some work done right now, but I'm going to think about this and come back with a considered reply.

Just on the immediate nanny problem: last night, in the context of a general catch up on our nanny's first day back after being off-sick last week, I did mention how I felt that the relentless week-day routine cheated both the nanny and DD1 of doing fun things together and that one night a week she should think about letting the homework slip and doing something really enjoyable instead. Our nanny readily agreed (yeah - well done Anchovy) and right now DD1 and the nanny are downstairs practising a craft activity and making decorations in preparation for DD1's birthday party on Saturday, whilst DD2 is slumped in front of the TV after a mega playdate. Weirdly, the conversation was on the phone (kitchen to upstairs flat) which, like email, is far the best way for the nanny and I to communicate.

But your right. The rest is about DD1 and me. And working full-time and carving some time out for both of us.

I'll get back on this.

Issymum Tue 20-Feb-07 17:04:10

Sorry FrenchConnection, I didn't mean to ignore your post but I cross-posted. I'm an adherent to the 'children's personalities are born not made' theory, but there is something about the whole first-born/second-born phenomenon that makes me doubt it. There again I'm an anxious, sensitive second born!

Issymum Wed 21-Feb-07 15:43:27

OK, I'm now 'participating' (in the loosest sense of the word) in a conference call and can reply to Mrs Wobble's post.

You wrote: "a child's needs become much more complicated and extend beyond the feed me/entertain me/keep me safe requirements of a pre-schooler". I absolutely agree. Whilst one or both of the DDs have been pre-school, I've completely focussed on getting the best quality childcare. Come September, when DD2 starts school, it may be the right time to change our criterion. Our current nanny is fabulous for DD2 and it is impossible to imagine anybody who would provide her with more structure, stimulation and affection. The drawback is that I find it really hard to insert myself into the DDs' lives whilst she's there. This is partly caused by Mrs Wobble's correctly perceived 'lack of relationship': I manage life's challenges through a rolling-with-the-punches flexibility, humour, proportion and the knowledge that any sense of control is an illusion, she manages through attention to detail, control, meticulous planning and adherence to routine. Understandably enough my presence at any point during the day upsets that routine and control and makes a non-existent relationship a difficult one.

So, if the DDs are going to need more of us and that "more of us" is likely to be snatched, inconsistent and to some extent spontaneous, one of the key criterion for our au pair couple will have to be flexibility. Not flexible as in 'we'll dump extra hours on you at short or no notice' but flexible as in 'I can come home early tonight so I'll take over homework and the rest if you could pop out to Sainsbury's and get some milk'. Of course, we will probably find that an easy-going flexibility does not coincide with attention to detail, but I think we should be trading detailed perfection for more time with the DDs.

Meanwhile, so far so good on the nanny spending an hour or so alone with DD1 concentrating on "make and do". It seemed to make them both happy.

mainlymayday Wed 21-Feb-07 21:19:52

Really interesting thread. I haven't anything useful to add as I only have one child and she's only four months but I think the birth order thing is bang on.

I am the classic sensitive, shy oldest child and my sister is the classic extrovert fun younger child. I have always been aware that people find her easier than me on first meeting but it's never bothered me because I was pretty confident in my own identity. Also, I happily hide behind her - wait for her to make the acquaintances and then come in later to join in when I feel secure. So the dynamic between the two children doesn't have to be one of competitiveness in terms of who is "better" and who attracts people more easily. Ours has always been quite symbiotic - I hope your girls can get the same relationship going.

My sister describes it as "the chick pea and the angel delight" syndrome - I'm the chick pea - takes many hours of work to get anywhere with but is ultimately satisfying. She's the angel delight - fluffy and easy to love quickly but with less depth!

It always makes me laugh. Anyway, your daughter's sense of worth will primarily come from you and your attitude to her. You obviously value the ways in which she is different to her sister and that's the main thing.

Sorry about the ramble - almost entirely off topic too!

MM

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