Many working mothers are beginning to find their way round the problem of combining the care for their newborn babies and working, thanks to the many crèches and day care centres, which are springing up in different parts of the city in recent times. This is especially so given that the practice of using nannies or housemaids for this purpose is fast fading, perhaps as a result of the shocking stories of maltreatment, sexual abuse, and killing of babies by housemaids or nannies. Whether within our immediate society or in a foreign country, such news usually sends shivers down the spines of well meaning people, especially mothers.
Sometime last year, the Internet was awash with news of a Chinese housemaid who used a knife to slash the face of a baby that was in her care due to a grievance she had with the baby’s parents. A similar occurrence also took place in Surulere, Lagos, last year where a house maid drowned a baby in a drum of water and took off for the village. When she was finally caught, she said she did it because the baby’s mother was wicked to her.
An endangered specie
Helen Mgbaragu, the proprietress of Small Feet Crèche and Nursery School, Gbagada, is of the opinion that whoever is given the responsibility of a care giver must be properly trained to fit that role. “A nanny is not someone you pick from the village and bring to the city and entrust the life of your child to,” she said. “Mothers, especially the busy and working mothers should understand that the person who spends more time with their children must be properly trained to perform that role or else the wellbeing and future of the child is adversely affected. In my profession, I’ve heard so many gory tales of what house helps do to children in the absence of their parents. Some starve the children, molest them sexually, beat them, and in very sad cases, kill them. Every mother must investigate properly the background of their house helps or nannies, train them, pay them well and also treat them well. If they can’t find such people, they should consider the option of good day-care centres and crèches.”
In the traditional African society, grandmothers of newly born babies usually move to the homes of their children to care for the babies for a period of time, in some cases, lasting for more than a year. This practice, however, according to a majority of women who spoke to NEXT, is slowly fading away and may soon become extinct especially in urban areas. “My mother did not stay with me for up to one month after I had my first child,” said Ronke Ashiru, an interior designer. “I had to learn fast. But I don’t blame her, she has her own work to face. I probably will do the same for my child. The world is changing fast.”
But when a family member such as a grandmother is unavailable to care for a baby, Bamidele Lawal, a working father of two admits that an institution such as a crèche is preferred to placing the baby in the hands of an outsider. His view is based on an unpleasant experience he once had with a nanny after the birth of his first child. “My wife and I employed a nanny to take care of our first son,” he said. “She was just coming to Lagos for the first time. She looked humble and pleasant and we thought we could trust her until my mother visited unexpectedly one day and found out that she locked our six-month-old son in the house and went out. The boy was crying hysterically and she had to call other people to help her break the door open. Since then, we never employed another nanny or house help.”
Threatening the mother-child bond
For Sade Lewis, her decision to start Blessed Kids Crèche and Pre-School, Ikeja, stemmed from her frustration with various nannies whom she says often had one flaw or the other. “I changed my children’s nannies four times in two years and I realised it had a negative effect on them,” she said. “Just when they were trying to get used to one nanny, she would do something that would make me sack her. If she wasn’t stealing, then she was dirty or rude or teaching my children bad manners.” After sacking the fourth nanny, she decided to get proper training in child care and obtained a license to run a crèche and pre-school. “I love children very much and supervise the toddlers’ class in my church,” she said. “Since I was not very satisfied with my previous job, I transferred my love for children into a job and I’m glad that I’m taking care of not only my children but I’m helping other working mothers cater for their children too.”
The crèches and day-care centres are not meant to take over the responsibility of the mothers however. This view was expressed by Patience Chukwudi, a nanny with Toppies Daycare Centre, Ikeja. “There is no better time for a child to bond with his or her mother than during the first few months of life, especially during breast-feeding,” she said. “Unfortunately, some mothers breast feed their babies for just a few weeks after birth and then put them in a crèche and rush back to work. Toppies Daycare Centre operates an open house policy where parents of the children are encouraged to come in at anytime to spend time with the children but very few parents take advantage of this. Some of them because of their work bring their babies here so early and leave them in the daycare well past our closing hours of 7pm.”