Having Different Philosophies on Child Rearing...

Received Friday, April 9, 2010
troubled emoticon
I am a 44-year-old mother of teens and have been a nanny for a family for the past three years. Their son was 20 months old when I first started. He is now 4 ½, and they also have a daughter who is now 11 months old. They are a wonderful family to work for in many ways. The pay is competitive, on the books, and always on time. The home is a clean and pleasant working environment. I do no housework, only preparing breakfast and lunch for the children and cleaning up after them (including diapers in the laundry -- they use cloth diapers).

I rarely have to work overtime. The mother is the parent with whom I primarily interact. She is easy to work with, however almost since day one there has been a tension within me because our child-raising philosophies are so different. She does not believe in discipline in the traditional sense of warnings and consequences. While she does many things very well (teaches why certain behavior is prohibited, gives alternatives, engages her son in decision-making processes), she does not gear them appropriately toward his age, making her very ineffectual. Children this young don't respond all that well to reason and logic on a consistent basis.

There are many tantrums when she is dealing with him, much resistance, much misbehavior and rebellion, and often he ends up doing exactly as he had intended because she simply will not be decisive with him. Nor will she ever show any displeasure or disapproval in a way that motivates him to comply. She does not convey authority. She will blandly say generic things like, “We don’t hurt other people.”, or, “Words are not for hurting.”, but she says them with no emotion and no follow-up when he ignores them.

She doesn’t use any discipline technique, not even time-outs (which I think are questionable anyway, but that’s not the point). Although she will put toys in time-out. She has said that she thinks punishment doesn’t teach anything and is constantly making excuses for his misbehavior: he is coming down with something; he is sick; he is getting over being sick; he is tired; he is hungry; he is stressed about something, he picked up some behaviors from school, his allergies are bothering him, he is overly excited because his birthday/Easter/Halloween/Christmas is coming up; she had the flu and was in bed and unavailable for a while; he is jealous of his new sibling, etc. etc. etc.

There is always an excuse for him, and she never shows any [normal, human] negative emotion toward him. She thinks that everything can be accomplished through appealing to him cognitively – and has thought this since before he even turned two. It drives me nuts, but we never really have time to have any good conversations about these issues because in the morning she’s in a rush to get to work and in the evenings the kids are demanding her attention and dinner needs to get started and I need to get home. But I don’t think much of what I have to say would be welcome because in her eyes, her ideas are the most enlightened and modern way of doing things. Even though the results indicate otherwise.

I guess you could say it is none of my business how she chooses to raise her child, but when I am expected to implement philosophies that I am so opposed to, it is very stressful. It also makes my skin crawl to see her son be so difficult for her to handle when he is a piece of cake for me to handle. I can take him on outings all over the city with never a problem, and she can barely take him to the grocery store without having to deal with a meltdown. It is so frustrating to hear about all the time, when I know it is so unnecessary.

The other issue I have with her is that she lets him roam the block by himself (in a free-range type of mentality), which I think he is too young to do. Especially when he’s in my care and I could be held liable (negligent) if something happened to him while he was outside playing down at the end of the cul-de-sac without me.

So anyway, the other day Alex did something to Sofia that was really bad in my opinion, and I started to tell the mother about it when she got home from work. Right in the middle of my telling her, she started talking to Alex, asking him if he wanted to watch a movie. Things deteriorated at that point (he was still upset about the incident and wouldn’t cooperate with her), so I just left. Later I emailed her telling her we needed to talk. Three days later she finally answered my email and said that she had interrupted me to try to get Alex involved with a movie so he wouldn’t hear me telling her about what he did. Then she ended her email with, “What did you want to tell me?”.

Since I knew we would not get the chance to talk uninterrupted, and that I had so many things bottled up to say, I decided to pour it all out into an email. I hope readers will let me know their thoughts on any of the issues presented in the above narrative, and/or in the email.



Just Me said...

I think this was very well written. The OP gave great consideration to mom's perspective while politely stating she doesn't always agree with how mom wants to discipline the older child.
I can't help but agree with OP's ideas on how mom is rather loose on how to deal with the boy.
Hopefully the mom and the OP get on the same level with this before it gets to be a huge problem for the boy. He won't get away with behaviors like that in kindergarten!

Nanny Sarah said...

I have been in situations such as yours and I must admit there is no easy answer for this. On one hand one can tell themselves that it is a job and that one must simply comply with the wishes of her boss if she is to keep the job. But then on the other hand, especially if you have already raised your own children, it is tough to see a young child act this way and get away with it. I would say that as long as he behaves with you, I would just "suck it up" and do nothing. If you are happy with your job in general, the pay,etc..that is probably what you need to do. However, if it is becoming unbearable then you might want to reconsider.
I have seen this a lot with my previous families. I wonder if it comes from "mother's guilt." Maybe a parent feels guilty that she has to work and be away from the child so when she finally does get home, she feels guilty for being away and tries to compensate. Or possibly she is too tired to deal with all the unpleasantness that will follow a confrontation.
I think your email was very good. Good Luck.

OP Here said...

OP here... thank you for the feedback. The mother responded better than I expected and we had a constructive talk about the issues.

Just Me -- you are right, he won't get away with stuff like this in kindergarten, that's for sure!

Nanny Sarah -- I agree, there's really not much of a real solution except to just focus on the positive aspects of the job and know that every job has its negatives. The parents are really nice people to work for, they treat me well, I have it better than many nannies I read about on this site. It's just this one area that's really difficult to put up with, and I forgot to mention in my post that the reason I see so much of how the mother deals with the son is that she comes home for lunch for about 1 1/2 hours every day and that's when I see it.

Anyway, thanks again for the feedback, I appreciate it. :)

Nanny Sarah said...

OP so glad that things went well w/mom. I am glad that you guys could work it out. I credit that in large part due to the excellent way in which you worded your email.

I am glad you are fortunate to have found a wonderful family to work for. I am still searching for my "wonderful" family and reading how happy you are w/your job has encouraged me to keep the faith.

Best of luck to you. :)

just today said...

Holy crap! I'm a great nanny, but you sound awesome! Being flexoble with parents is a great skill, listening to their opinions and implementing them successfully is often hard...cause frankly, this is my fourth 'set' of kids that I have raised, so the first time parents 'ideas' are hard to implement if you know what kind of kid that creates.

That email is concise and appropriate, there's no parent that should take offense. You are allowed to say, wow, he sure acts like a weenie sometimes and to set boundaries when it comes to legal liabilty.

You could be my nanny1

OP Here said...

Nanny Sarah - Oh I really hope you find a good family. Trying to be a good nanny is demanding enough, but if you are fortunate enough to find the right fit with a family that can really boost your morale and keep hou going.

just today - Thank you, what a really nice thing to say. :)

nanny beth said...

Sounds like you got good results with your email, which I thought was great. Just for the sake of throwing some other ideas out there, next time you could ask the child to tell mom what happened, which gives him control/helps him own his behavior. Crouch down beside him and hold his hand and encourage him to tell how Nanny took the hose away and what led to that happening. You can then model for mom an appropriate way to handle it. "And how did Baby feel when you did that?" That really carries through on the cognitive appeal, rather than just using platitudes.

OP Here said...

Nanny Beth, that is a great idea, I will keep it in mind for future use, thank you.

Seattle Nanny said...

A 4-year-old boy with tantrums, resistance, etc. How familiar that sounds! OP, I don't believe the issue is what the mother is trying to do, but how she goes about implementing it.

I was in a similar situation with a mom who had the opposite thinking. Problem was, she almost never followed through and this sounds like your mom's problem too.

She espouses a belief in appealing to the cognitive, but platitudes like "we don't hurt other people" aren't doing the job. I believe the methods she says she is trying could do a little better, if she followed through.

Children can be very logical, often times much more than adults as they usually don't have all the baggage we do, but you've got to sit down and go through it. That said, I'm with you in part, the world isn't consequence free and nor should anyone get the idea growing up that it is. Although I wonder what you would suggest as a discipline technique for a 4-year-old if not time-outs?

OP Here said...

Seattle Nanny - you are absolutely correct, it is the lack of follow-through and enforcement that has caused most of the parents' problems so far

To answer your question, I can give some examples.

Alex went through a food-throwing stage at around 3 1/2. He was not a 1- or 2-year-old having fun experimenting with dropping things. He was old enough to know better. They would tell him, "we don't throw food on the floor". It was said with no authority, in fact there was a weak, pleading tone to their voice because they knew (and he knew) that they were at his mercy. He would grin and grab a handful of food and hold it out over the floor. They would say, "OK, but if you do, you'll have to clean it up.".

Their logic was that they were teaching him that actions have consequences. My opinion was that they were teaching him that it was permissible to disrespect property and ignore his parent's instructions.

Then, when Alex would go ahead and fling food all over the floor, they would act like it didn't bother them, they would just give him a rag or broom. Of course, a little child like that (he was 3 1/2) can't really clean it up adequately so the parents ended up doing the bulk of the cleanup after he made a token effort. And he got all kinds of attention in the meantime as an added bonus. In my opinion, that was just sending the message that it's OK to be destructive and disrespectful to property, and your parents will pay more attention to you.

In my opinion, this should have been prohibited from the beginning, with the reasoning that you respect your home and other people's property. The first time the child shows that he is threatening to do something like this, I could say (with authority), "No, that would make the floor dirty. If that happens, your dinner is over. If your food stays on your plate, we will have time to go for a walk after dinner.".

Then if the child still throws his food, his plate is removed, he has to clean up what he threw (with no help or extra attention from the parents), and now there's no time for a walk. Instead it's off to bath/bedtime, with a reminder of his choice/consequence, and your encouragement that you are confident he will try harder next time.

In Alex's case, if the parents had tried this, it would have initially resulted in a huge tantrum and resistance, and the parents would given up because they are not willing to physically enforce consequences. I don't mean hitting, but physically restraining him from getting more food (or simply moving it out of his reach), and physically carrying him upstairs for bath/bedtime. Of course he will scream and kick, but you just don't get sucked into that emotion and instead send (or carry) him to a tantrum-proof area of the home where he can't hurt himself. A little crying never hurt a kid; it doesn't mean they are traumatized, it just means they are pissed. Human nature.


OP Here said...

Once parents have followed through like this on a consistent basis, the child rarely continues to tantrum in the future, and in fact welcomes the predictable boundaries and follow-through. It makes them feel more secure to know that they are not running the show.

Something that's really helpful is to always, always be anticipating the problem areas. Announce the possible good consequence of the child cooperating, so that you have some collateral if they don't. If the 3-year-old child resists being buckled into his car seat, then on the way out to the car say something like, "Children who help me with their buckles get to pick which music we listen to.", or "If children help me with their buckles, we will have time to drive past the pond so we can look for ducks on our way to the store.", or whatever you know will be enticing to the child.

If the child is in THAT MOOD and is going to fight you (doesn't care about the music or the ducks), obviously you are going to have to force the child into the buckles, but then you can enforce the consequence. Not in a punitive way ("Fine! No music for you!"), but in a more logical way, ("Well, maybe next time you'll get to pick the music or we'll have time for the ducks.").

Again, be prepared for screams and tears the first time or two until the child realizes that you mean what you say and there is no room for negotiating. It's when parents start pleading with children or trying to appeal to their intellect ("But you will be safer in a car seat, we just don't want you to get hurt,") that they usually fail at this age. The time for that is when they are older, IMO.

Or if they resist sitting in a shopping cart once you're at the store, just change the words slightly... "I know you would rather walk, but it is safer to ride in the cart. If we can get you in and buckled before I get done singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb", you'll get to look at a special book I have in my purse that you've never seen before.".

If it works, great, if not, handle it the same way as you did the car seat. And have the intestinal fortitude to put up with a tantrum in public and have people stare. If a tantrum don't get the results they want, children usually don't bother with them after the first few times. I think Alex's parents are afraid that a tantrum indicates Alex is being emotional traumatized, or they feel unwarranted guilt, so they will do everything to coax him out of it when they should really just let it run its course.

There are many creative ways you can use approaches like this, and the better you know the child the easier it is. Try to keep a mental list of things you know the child likes that will entice him, but even more importantly, don't be afraid to use a stern voice, direct eye contact, and enforce what you say.


OP Here said...

For example, if you have to take a toy away from a child and place it out of reach for a while, and he just pulls up a chair to reach it and start playing with it again, don't just shrug and put the toy in an even higher place. You are not playing a game of cat and mouse and seeing who can outsmart whom. Insist that your original instructions still stand and that you are going to put the toy back where it was and that every time the child sneaks and snatches it, it stays in time out even longer and another toy will be added to the time out.

I guess my point is not so much that you have to always just go around responding to behavior with consequences, but you try to structure the child's world in such a way that there is a motivation for positive forward momentum on his part, but that if he won't cooperate, you WILL enforce your authority. Sometimes you can do a flawless job of explaining to a child, but in the end you sometimes just have to say, "I'm sorry, I know you don't like it, but that's just the way it has to be.".

Now to address the water hose incident specifically, I could only do so much because I was the Nanny (not the parent), and I was toward the end of my shift. But I did end the water play and make him put the hose away and close the garage door.

If I had had more time, I probably would have initiated an activity that would have been fun for both children, but explained to Alex that I wasn't sure I could trust him around Sofia just yet, so he would not be able to join us this time.

Well, once again I have have rambled... so I guess I better close now. :)

Phoenix said...

My step-sons mother was/is like that. At my house we have a wonderful boy who says please and thank you. Clears his own dish, doesn't talk back, cleans his room without being asked. Get's himself up for school in the morning and the list can go on. At his mothers house, he complains, he's lazy, talks back, swears.

she will figure out one day that her little boy will not respect her. And it only goes down hill from there. My step-sons mom doesn't even like seeing him anymore because she can't control him.