Mommy vs. Nanny: Battle for Kids' Affection

Photo: Beth Larson and daughtersCourtesy Beth Larson
Beth Larson worries that her daughters Ella, 3, and Erin, 11 months, prefer the company of their live-in nanny to spending time with her.

Overnight, Stacey Isaacs, 36, is a hands-on mother. But at 8 in the morning, Stacey switches off mommy mode, revs up for her job as a corporate lawyer and hands over her 3-month-old baby, Reese, to her baby sitter Alicia Apaestegui, 57.

It's Apaestegui, not Reese's parents, who will give the infant her first bottle of the day. The nanny will talk, sing and play with the baby for the next 10 hours while mommy's gone.

Like many first-time moms, Isaacs is torn between the career she's nurtured for years and the newborn baby who needs nurturing, too.

"It just feels bad to me to pass her over when I could be home taking care of her myself. I feel guilty when I'm leaving." Isaacs said.

VIDEO: What to do when kids prefer caretaker to mom and dad.Play

She is also worried that when she's at work, she'll miss out on certain milestones like her baby's first words, her first walk and first laugh. And her worst nightmare? Isaacs says she fears that her daughter will come to prefer the nanny over time.

Ella Larson, 3, who has had baby sitters and been in day care since she was born, is not shy about telling her mother that she'd rather be with her nanny.

During a family vacation in La Jolla, Calif., last week, Ella suddenly missed her live-in nanny Tia Sumption, 27, and began to throw a tantrum. "I want Tia!" Ella screamed. "No! No! Go away!" the little girl told her mother, Beth Larson, 36, as she was trying to calm her down. "What do you want? Tell mommy what you want?" Larson asked. "I want Tia!" Ella insisted.

"It's horrible. It's horrible. Part of me is so sad, but I'm so happy for her that she loves Tia," Larson said. She also has another daughter named Erin who is 11 months old.

By 6 every morning, Larson is juggling work and caring for her baby, while balancing feeding, e-mailing and playing. When Sumption shows up at 7, she takes over, and Larson is off and running, literally. She takes time out from the kids in the morning to run because she believes it helps her stay healthy and energetic all day.

"I love my kids. They're the most important thing in the world to me, yet I'm a strong, independent businesswoman, very independent. I like my own time. I like to do things for myself," Larson said.

She describes her mommy style as very hands on at times and then very hands off as well. "I feel bad about that, but I also realize that makes me who I am, and I want them to see who I am," Larson said.

Larson has many friends who are stay-at-home moms. They enjoy taking their kids to the museum or library, and reading them stories during the day.

"I see a lot of people that do want to spend 24 hours a day with their kids. I really have no interest in doing that because I want to work," Larson said.

Larson believes she's doing what's best for her children and for herself. The kids get the best personal care and attention from the nanny, while she devotes her time and talent to her own burgeoning business marketing medical devices. "For me, this is the choice I've made. I have guilt and I have concerns," Larson said.

She explains that the guilt comes from not being there at critical moments like when her kids get sick, and Sumption is the one to take them to the doctor.

"It breaks your heart when you can't be there, and we do everything we can to be there, but it's not always the case," Larson said.

Larson acknowledges that she's sharing co-parenting responsibilities with her nanny. Larson's husband, Chris, joked with the nanny when she was interviewed for the job that if she was hired, she was hired for the next 18 years. Larson says that's because her husband also prefers a nanny to look after their kids because both parents are very busy professionals with demanding work and travel schedules.

But do their kids ever get confused as to who's in charge? Larson says her agreement with Sumption is that during the day between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Sumption is in charge.

She tells her kids to go to Sumption for every want and need during the day. Even at times when Larson is home for a few minutes to grab coffee or lunch, she says "Go to Tia" if her kids ask her what they should eat or wear.

Sumption, on the other hand, observes that 3-year-old Ella often throws temper tantrums while both Larson and nanny are in the house during the day.

"She'd wonder mom's here, but Tia is not gone, who's the boss now?" said Sumption.

Larson agrees that when she works from her home office, it can be confusing for her kids. She sometimes worries her nanny may have an impact on her children's long-term development. But child psychologists say while children may cling and listen to their nannies more often than their mothers during the day, it's the mother who will, over time, have a bigger influence on the children.

When Ella was asked what kind of mom she wants to be when she grows up, she's confused saying "stay at home" and "go to work!"