NORMAN — A mom asked me a most interesting and currently pertinent question the other day: “How much one-on-one interaction should take place between a nanny and a child under her supervision?” The question is pertinent because increasing numbers of upper-middle-class parents are choosing to use nannies for daily child care instead of, or in addition to, day care centers and preschools. I will say I have no general opinion of this trend. Each nanny situation should be judged on its own merits.
I have some personal experience with this issue because during my preschool years, when my mom was a single parent and we lived in Charleston, S.C., she hired a woman to come in to our flat and supervise me when she was working and attending college. Gertie Mae, with whom I grew quite attached, also performed housekeeping responsibilities, but her role was similar in many respects to that of today’s nanny. Outside of the fact that she occasionally insisted I eat food I did not like, my experience of the relationship was positive. She was an important figure and I remember her fondly.
I am aware that many of today’s nannies are expected to or feel they cannot adequately justify their salaries unless they play with their charges and otherwise provide a good amount of stimulating and enjoyable activities for them. In a word, they entertain. I have no memories of Gertie Mae ever playing with me or providing me with entertainment. Both she and my mother expected me to entertain myself, which is one of the most important life skills a child ever acquires, and the earlier acquired, the better for all concerned. The child who learns to entertain himself is also, later on, more likely to do his own homework without much if any supervision, perform regular household responsibilities without prompting, solve peer problems without coming to adults, and so on.