Q: Last year, the work hours for my husband and I changed, and we decided that a live-in nanny would be best for child care. Our nanny is a lovely girl, and we enjoy having her, but over time, my kids (2 and 7) have definitely started to prefer her. They get so excited when she walks through our door, and when they have bad dreams at night, they go to her room instead of ours (part of that is because my husband and I are often gone at night). My 2-year-old has started saying "I don't want mommy, I want Allie!" I know I shouldn't take this personally, my 2-year-old spends all day with our nanny, and our 7-year-old sees her a lot, too, but this is getting tough for me and my husband. How can we reconnect with our kids, especially when we already spend so much time away from them at work?

A: Many parents experience their child preferring another caretaker; sometimes it is a nanny or a day-care provider, and sometimes it is a grandparent or another family member. Often, a child will go through periods of preferring another parent. Though watching your child connect to another caregiver can be uncomfortable, these connections should be seen as a benefit, not a problem. I wish more kids could have many loving people guiding them, hired or not.

But your essential question, “How can we reconnect with our kids, especially when we already spend so much time away from them at work?” is a worthwhile, and tricky, one.

What do a 2- and 7-year-old need the most from their parents? Many would argue that it is simply time. All children need time with their parents. If those children have enough time, everyone feels connected and happy. But this isn’t always true, is it?

I have coached and known plenty of parents who spend all day (and night) with their children and yet, these parents are emotionally distant, discontent and poorly attached to their children. Maybe the parent is experiencing depression, anxiety or boredom, but the child doesn’t think the parent wants to be there. This may sound like sacrilege, but many parents are better parents when they are working. Many parents are kinder and more compassionate to their children and to themselves when they are working. These parents may not find the elusive balance that everyone talks about, and juggling a million needs is exhausting, but humans thrive when doing work that matters. So: Just because you had a baby doesn’t erase your education, passion and desire to work. Not to mention, most families must have two parents working to get by. Housing, transportation and other expenses are crushing middle-to-lower-income families. So I am not going to write, “you just need to stay home more,” because that answer is tone deaf.

But . . . (Yes, there is a “but.”)

Just as spending all of your time with your children doesn’t guarantee a connection, barely being home both day and night pretty much guarantees that a connection will be much harder to come by. So much of parenting is found in the minutiae of everyday life. Meal prep, getting dressed, singing silly songs, walking to car or school, drop-off routines, pickup routines, snack, park visits, more meals, books, snuggles, and watching a show or two. There is nothing earth-shatteringly special in that list. But everyday life is what builds your memories, your stories, and your family. Though you are so lucky to have another person to love and guide your children, these routines belong to the nanny, not you.

I am essentially saying that you cannot have it both ways. You cannot want a connection but never physically be there. Especially for that 2-year-old, who is utterly in the here and now, in the physicality of everything.

But before you go into a shame spiral (remember, I am not interested in you quitting all your work and going off the grid for your family), let’s get creative about how you can increase connection in a way that makes sense.

1. Meet with your spouse and revisit your priorities. Almost every parent I know (myself included) occasionally stops, looks around, and asks, “Wait! What is going on here?” We don’t mean to stop paying attention to our family lives, we just sometimes get into a routine that works, and then all of a sudden, you don’t have babies anymore and routines need to change. It can be sobering to sit together and hash out how you want to be living and parenting, but it is clarifying for both the present and the future of your family.

2. If one of your priorities is “see the kids more,” work together to make this happen. It may take some mental and scheduling jujitsu, but it is worth it. I have met some parents who would love to have the whole family together more, but their work realities mean that they trade time during the week. And I also want you to look at pockets of time you may not be used to considering. Mornings are prime time for connection and fun in many families. In fact, though everyone is obsessed with dinner being the primary meal, I have coached many families to see breakfast as being equally important. They use 20 minutes every morning to check in, have a little meeting, laugh and simply be together. Even if you can’t do this every morning, any move in this direction is worth it.

3. Please let the nanny know of your intentions to spend time with the kids more. First, she needs to be abreast of the schedule, and she may also have ideas that could be useful. She can also fill you in on your children’s recent obsessions so you can find easy entrees into your children’s lives.

4. See the weekends as sacred time with your children. I would set up a loose schedule, like “Saturday Swim” with the 7-year-old or “Park Time” with the 2-year-old, and Sundays are pancake days where everyone chips in. As much as you can, cut the nanny loose and let the house be yours. Remember: fancy and expensive does not equal quality time with children. Sitting on the floor of your local library and flipping through books is as significant as a trip to Disney World.

5. Increase proximity when you are not there. Can you read stories into a memo app that the nanny can play at bedtime? Can you leave little notes for them to find? Can you FaceTime them after school or after dinner? Can you buy special little soaps for bath time together on the weekend so they can use them all week? Can you pop into day care or school or home for a surprise lunch or outing? Any action that increases simple togetherness results in memories and connection.

6. Finally, don’t make promises to see the kids if you know you cannot make it. It simply isn’t worth the pain and disappointment for your children. I would rather have you err on the side of caution than make your kids wait.

Whatever you do, keep having discussions with your spouse about this connection issue. Nothing will ever be perfect, and it may never feel balanced or even easy, but the effort is worth it. Good luck!

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