by Jenny Scheer
The notion that I would offer up parenting advice is laughable considering the way I struggled with the transition to motherhood when I had my firstborn in Uganda 20 months ago. I considered writing a blog post about how hard the first 3-4 months were. Not one of those posts about how it is hard but you endure and then you see God was with you all along, but one of those bewildered, exhausted posts when I only knew that the days were incredibly long and hadn’t yet experienced the months passing quickly.
Yet here I am with one piece of parenting advice that I say with conviction for anyone moving to a developing country: Hire a nanny. Not a bad nanny; that’s a terrible idea. Ask people for recommendations, interview several candidates, have a probationary period, and try again if needed. Look for someone who fits with your personality, who has experience working for expatriates, and is willing to accept and implement your expectations for care and discipline. The nanny may or may not become “like a member of your family” but definitely needs to be a trusted, caring member of your team.
Having a nanny has made a huge difference for me and here are six reasons why I think it could help you, too.
1. There are few alternatives.
In my passport country, I could find a daycare for my child for when I need to work, but here in Uganda the style and standard of care is so different that I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving my son at a nursery. There is no gym here where I can drop my kids off for an hour while I get in a workout and no MOPS group to attend. There’s no “Mom’s day out” organized by a local church like you might find in cities in the U.S. The best and really only option for regular care is a trusted, consistent nanny.
2. More caregivers = more care.
We all know that it really does take a village to raise a child, so why not build that village with a nanny? My favorite thing about having a nanny is that it means my sons gets an additional caregiver. Without grandparents or aunts and uncles around, our son would only receive intimate, regular attention from my husband and me. I love that he is able to be loved by someone else. It is clear that he really enjoys our nanny and that she really enjoys him.
3. Diversity enriches our children.
I firmly believe that my son is benefiting from having a third personality, and especially someone from a different culture, caring for him. At his age it means that his development is enriched by having someone who plays with him differently, speaks to him in two other languages, and has different expectations of him. While we foster American independence, she instills community expectations. When he is older, I hope this will establish in him an intuitive understanding for this culture and others like it that are less individualistic, more indirect, and more focused on saving face than our American culture.
4. It helps us maintain our margin.
One of the hardest things about living overseas is that even after being here three years I find that my emotional margin is thinner than at home. Our part-time nanny is with our son every weekday morning. Having this time to do what I need to or want to do helps me get my margin back. Often, I have work I need to do during this time. But I may be able to use the time to tackle logistics for a trip to the States or for visitors who are coming. Sometimes I go grocery shopping or fold laundry or prep dinner.
For me, a nanny is a requirement when I am formally employed, or when I am doing research in the field. But even when I am in between contracts, having a few free mornings gives me an opportunity to do worthwhile, meaningful things like meet a friend for coffee.
5. It helps keep family relationships in balance.
Having my margin back has made a huge difference in my marriage. The early months of baby-rearing when I was on my own were bleak. I felt so low. I had no margin at all and it affected my relationship with my beloved husband. Having a nanny means I get my margin back, have time to prep dinner so our evenings are more peaceful, and have a trusted person who is available to babysit for dates.
6. It’s extremely affordable.
This is a practical consideration: having a nanny in a developing country can usually fit in most missionary budgets. We pay our nanny above the norm for such a position without being outright ridiculous. She is able to send her kids to school, provide medical care for her family, take the more expensive form of public transit to work, and she even saved enough money to buy a plot of land.
With so many benefits of having a nanny, I hope you will consider adding a nanny to your village if you are living or moving overseas. It has made such a positive impact on our lives and work in Uganda, as well as in our nanny’s life.
Jenny Scheer lives in Kampala, Uganda where she works as an agricultural economist with organizations like USAID and UKAID and her husband works as a civil engineer with Engineering Ministries International. She absolutely adores her son and the gift of motherhood. She blogs recipes and meal ideas for Western cooking in East Africa at www.kampalakitchen.com.