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Is the Nanny Culture Bad Parenting?

“I THINK it’s haraam,” my friend said, contorting her face as she sat on the couch next to me. “These women leave nannies to raise their children. They’re not fulfilling their responsibilities as mothers.”

I was quiet momentarily, bothered by what she’d said. “I don’t think they leave the nannies to raise their children. I think they just need help. Being a mother is a lot of work.”

“But this is haraam,” she insisted, her words conveying that she felt it was forbidden in Islam to have someone else raise the children. “You’re the mother, that’s your job, not some nanny’s.”

I smiled slightly. “How is it haraam when the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, himself was left in the care of Halimah all that time? His own mother had someone else take care of him when he was young. How can we say this is wrong?”

She glanced at me, a bit taken aback by what I’d said. I could tell she hadn’t considered that. “But that was before prophethood,” she argued.

“Yes, but it was a normal practice in Arabia during that time,” I said. “Did he forbid the practice after he received revelation?”

She was quiet, her unwillingness to relent obvious on her face. But I could tell she was considering what I was saying.

“To me, it’s a question of trustworthiness and righteousness,” I said. “If the person who helps raise the children is teaching the children Islamic adab, Qur’an, and hadith, for example, to me she can benefit the child more than the mother in that sense. Of course no one can replace the mother herself in many things, but I don’t see what’s wrong with hiring someone if that can bring benefit.”

I forced laughter then added, “I wish I knew a female scholar or student of knowledge I could send my daughter to for most of the day. That’s what some of the Salaf did. They sent their children to sit with scholars for many years. That’s how many became scholars in the first place. The mothers of the Salaf didn’t stay at home all day teaching the child everything in the name of being a ‘responsible parent.’ It’s not even humanly possible for one woman to offer a child everything the child needs for the rest of their lives,” I argued. “That’s why Islamic schools were established.”

“But that’s not what these women are doing,” she said. “They’re just being lazy so they can sleep and shop all day.”

I shook my head. “I think it’s wrong to accuse women of that. Yes, I know they aren’t hiring female scholars to take of their children, but really, let’s be fair. I think it’s really rare to find a woman who doesn’t participate at all in raising her child. Yes, the nanny may spend a lot of time with the child, maybe even more than the mother herself in some cases,” I conceded. “But tell me, how is that different from what the rest of us do when sending our children to school? Are we being irresponsible mothers for not teaching our children by ourselves?”

♦ ♦ ♦

It breaks my heart when I hear people rush in their negative judgment of mothers, whether it’s in hiring a nanny, not packing a snack for their child that day, or getting extra sleep in the morning.

I remember working as a teacher and hearing the constant criticism of mothers on a daily basis. “You would think her parents would be responsible enough to sign a simple permission slip.” “My God, doesn’t this mother check the child’s schoolbag when he comes home?” “This one never shows up at the parent-teacher conference. I’m really worried for the child.” Or the teachers’ favorite, “You know it’s really the nanny raising that child…”

How do you know? I’d wonder. Meanwhile, at that very moment, the teachers’ own children are in daycare—or in faraway school classrooms— being cared for by strangers who are known to them even less than the nanny is to the “bad  mommy.”

At least the nanny is right there living in the house, and the mother can check on the child at any moment.  But what about our children in daycare and school—not to mention after-school activities like sports teams, creative clubs, mall trips, and so on?

If leaving children in the care of strangers is a sin, we’re all in trouble, those without nannies at the top of the list.

At least hired help generally accompany children wherever they go. But who is responsible for ourchildren who have no nanny?

Perhaps we view the faceless teachers, sports coaches, club sponsors, mall employees, and even bus drivers as better caregivers than nannies? Or maybe disapproving of the nanny culture relieves us from focusing on that same culture in a different form—sending our children to school.

“But we send children to school when they’re old enough to be independent,” a sister said. “What’s wrong is neglecting them when they’re young. No one can take care of a young child except the mother.”

Though this is a compelling argument, Allah says otherwise:

“And if you decide on a foster suckling-mother for your children, there is no sin on you.”
—Qur’an, Al-Baqarah, 2:233

Why then do we—in the anti-nanny culture—think it’s one of the worst sins, as far as parenting goes?

♦ ♦ ♦

The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, said, “A sign of a person’s excellence in Islam is that he leaves [or ignores] that which does not concern him” (Ahmad, Malik, and Al-Tirmidhi).

Thus, we need to sincerely ask ourselves, How does a mother’s choice to hire a nanny concern us?

Allah and His Messenger taught that the best of us are those with the most taqwa—God-consciousness or fear of Allah.

So, does hiring a nanny lessen a woman’s taqwa in some way? Does it take away from her Islam?

If you really believe a woman who’s hired a nanny is guilty of bad parenting, then make du’aa and talk to the mother herself. Perhaps your sincere advice can help her determine better parenting strategies.

As the Prophet said, “The religion is sincere advice” (Sahih Muslim).

♦ ♦ ♦

No, I’m not naïve. I realize that the “nanny culture” has its share of problems—and loads of them…

As does the non-nanny school culture.

There are many parents who blindly trust teachers in the same way the nanny culture trusts hired help.

At the end of the day, we’re all in the same boat.

And as I told my friend: Ultimately, it’s about the trustworthiness and righteousness of our “hired help”—whether they are “nannies” or “teachers.”

And many mothers in the “nanny culture” know more about the characters of their nannies than we know about our children’s teachers.

So let’s be honest about the real problem here. It’s not that hiring a nanny is “bad parenting” any more than sending our children to school is parental neglect—even if we don’t personally know all our children’s teachers.

Like hiring a scholar, teacher, or wet nurse for our children, there are certainly times that hired help is beneficial.

So if we are sincere about our love for good parenting, then a good place to start is by being good parents ourselves. And doing this requires, firstly, striving for excellence in our Islam—by focusing on our own parental choices and childcare cultures, not someone else’s.

Hadeeth Newsflash

Reported by K`ab bin Malik (RA): Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, "Two hungry wolves sent in the midst of a flock of sheep are no more destructive to them than a man's greed for wealth and fame is to his Deen.'' [At-Tirmidhi]

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