‘Caught between two cultures and belonging to neither’

Tens of thousands of Greek children are growing up with a foreign nanny or housekeeper and this is changing the family structure. The nanny’s role has been added to the traditional roles of the mother and father. Children write about these caregivers in their compositions and include them when they play at families. «We have to bring up children in a new way because of these new roles,» Maria Lasithiotaki says. «We have to speak to children about the foreign woman who does the housework, to include her somehow in our families, so the child feels that the woman who looks after them when their mother is away is part of the family, of a group with distinct ties of love and understanding. It would be a great mistake for the children’s upbringing if we simply acted as if she didn’t exist. Happy families are ones where emotions flow, be they negative or positive.» But there are questions about the extent to which the relationship between the child and foreign nanny is one of tenderness and care, and about the women’s training and psychological state. «We must not ignore the unpleasant truth that these are not women who have come here to take part in a scientific program. They are caught between two cultures without belonging to either. They are exiled, in fact, in a disadvantaged role and with diminished self-confidence. Imagine a woman who has been forced to leave her children behind and bring up another child in a foreign country. It is a real tragedy. I would hate to be in their position. They are anxious, and with good reason. And that anxiety comes out, if only as a flow of energy. So one serious issue that arises is the development of a strained relationship between the nanny and the child,» Lasithiotaki says. Sofia is a typical example of a Greek woman who, after careful consideration, had to employ a foreign woman to look after her 3-year-old while she works. She is a civil engineer and her husband is an architect, and both of them have heavy work schedules. Sofia was lucky in her choice, but other issues have arisen in connection with the love that has developed between the nanny and the child. Jealousy and guilt «The first thing I feel every time I leave my son to go to work is guilt,» Sofia says. «And when I come home, I feel I have to introduce myself again, to make it clear to him that I am his mother, and not the other woman. I can see the surprise in his eyes when the nanny leaves and the sense of loss he feels at that moment. The two of them spend a lot of time together; they play and do things together; there’s an emotional bond between them. The feelings that well up at the time are strange and contradictory – hidden jealousy, guilt and gratitude. There’s jealousy for the mutual love, guilt for the love I can’t offer fully in the way a mother feels for her child, and gratitude because this woman really does provide care and tenderness.»