17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Friday, May 04, 2007

From the Tales Inbox: Miss Poppins is in Trouble

Now that I am a college student, summertime has become work-your-butt-off time. This summer I am a nanny or better phrased as "mother's assistant." I didn't babysit at all in high school except my own younger siblings. I have never been that fond of children and actually have a dying fear of giving birth/mothering etc (not good when you are an LDS young woman!). Anyhow, when I heard about a family in our stake who was in desperate need for someone to care for their two year old boy while the pregnant mother was on bed rest, I rose up to the challenge to face my fears. It's been a week since I started and things have gone pretty well except for a few things...

When I first met the parents I knew right away that they were very free-style in their parenting. They told me he didn't really have a schedule. He was allowed to sleep and eat when he wanted to. They told me they didn't believe in spanking or yelling and would really like me to "parent" him like they do. Sounded good to me, until I had to deal with him myself.

Problem #1: He literally is allowed to eat whatever he wants. This morning when I asked the mom what he had for breakfast she told me he had ice cream. Sometimes he eats sour cream for breakfast. It's pretty much take him to the kitchen and have him point out what he wants.

Problem #2: He is allowed to eat unlimited amounts. After seeing his mom eat chips he wanted some so of course she gave some to him. When he ran out she gave him more and more and more....

Problem #3: He doesn't have an eating schedule. I don't think he ever really eats meals. He grazes. It's hard for me because I never know when to feed him. If I hand him food he won't eat it unless it's something he wants and he hardly ever tells me he's hungry.

Problem #4: He doesn't have a sleeping schedule. He used to take two naps a day but his mom is trying to transition him to only one. She breastfed him to sleep (yeah, crazy, the kid is flippin' two!) until about a month ago when she was put on medication that made her breast milk bad. Now, he doesn't know how to fall asleep on his own. His bed is still in his parents room so I can't fuss with him in there
because his mom is sleeping. All I can do take him on drives or put on a movie until he finally crashes. It's frustrating because I fight with him for like 2 hours a day trying to get him to sleep.

Problem #5: He doesn't talk, he points. He can talk though. The parents just don't push it because they said that "he'll talk when he's ready." That's cool but the problem is why not encourage him to talk when he can? It makes things a lot easier when he uses words to communicate. I already taught him how to count to three and his parents were amazed. I didn't tie him down and force him to read flashcards, he simply just followed my example.

I respect the parents. I think they are good well meaning people who really love their child, I just think I'll go crazy if he isn't on some schedule. I think he would be much happier and healthier (or at least I would be) if he were at least on an eating and sleeping schedule. I also think he would turn out to be a better kid if he learned that sometimes he can't have what he wants. How do I "parent" him differently when his mom is in the house? How do I even begin to get him on a sleeping or eating schedule? I've thought of discussing this with the parents but I'm not sure what to say without sounding like I'm criticizing their parenting skills. I know that I'm trying really hard to be a super nanny so is it even my place to try to change things? Am I even right that these are problems? Help me

Miss Poppins Wannabe


  • If you can't parent the way they want you to, you should quit. Period. They aren't doing anything actually abusive to the child, so what they do is none of your business.

    That said, I think they are doing several things that are not in the best interest of the child--most notably unrestricted food choices and no schedule or sleep pattern. I do not think breastfeeding a two year old is a problem, and, to be completely honest, your judgmentalism of this bothers me a little. Lots of kids are nursed until 2 or 3. Lots of kids co-sleep, and I think that that is a legitimate choice as well.
    posted by Blogger Julie M. Smith at 5/04/2007 12:11:00 PM  

  • Yes, julie, but how can she get him to nap if he's co-sleeping and the mom doesn't want to be disturbed during the day? Sounds like the instructions were not thought through by the parents.

    Here are my thoughts: You do have to listen to the parents. You can't change the way they parent and you shouldn't try to. But maybe your presence is needed for this family. I have some good friends that could not --and would not-- allow their child to be sad. Any tantrum, and he got what he wanted, when he wanted. One day, the mom came to me in tears, asking me how my kids could be on a schedule, sleep through the night, etc. etc. It turned out that this mom was desperate to know how to be a better disciplinarian, but she just didn't know how --she was terrified of being a bad mother. Perhaps the child you are watching is in a similar situation --and with mom on bedrest, it's even harder for her to cope.

    Just do your best. Listen to their instructions, but try to be helpful. Love the kid; but remember, it's not your job to raise him. If you were the nanny for his entire life, it might be different. But this is temporary.

    Last thought: Pray to know how to act and what to do in these situations. There's nothing wrong with listening to the Spirit as you waid through your first babysitting job...
    posted by Blogger Cheryl at 5/04/2007 12:41:00 PM  

  • Julie,

    You have to give the girl a little break. She is a college student who obviously hasn't been exposed to very many children or parenting techniques other than her own family. Yes, some kids are nursed far beyond 2 years of age and yes some kids co-sleep and both are legitimate choices, but in this case, shocking or not, the problem is how does an outside caregiver care for a child that has always nursed and co-slept?

    Miss Poppins, I think you should definitely speak with the parents about the troubles you are running into - especially with the sleeping, and maybe together you can decide on a united plan of action.

    But the reality is, if they want you to spend 2 hours getting him to sleep everyday or want you to give him everything he points at that is their prerogative as his parents and your employers. And may God help them when the new baby arrives and they have to deal with two little ones without schedules.

    In the end, this job doesn't sound like the ideal one to make you more fond of children and/or mothering.
    posted by Blogger TftCarrie at 5/04/2007 01:54:00 PM  

  • Thanks Cheryl for you tender words. I guess I need to clarify some things. I'm loving the job and I love the little boy. I'm excited for this opportunity. I'm learning to love kids and I finally feel like I'm making a difference, even if it's just in this family's life. I just genuinely want to be the best nanny I can be. I want to make it easy on the mom since she is so torn up that she can't care for him herself. I'm a hard worker and, like any job, I want to do my very best. I was thinking that getting him on some sort of scheduling would really help when the new baby comes. So please, enlighten me but please be kind. I'm only 20 and I really have no idea what I'm doing.
    posted by Anonymous Miss Poppins Wannabe at 5/04/2007 01:56:00 PM  

  • Miss Poppins, I think the nursing is/was much more common than you must have realized. and when toddlers do nurse, it's those sleepytime feedings that are last to go. But now that they're gone, some nap routine must replace them. If the parents haven't given thought to how, perhaps you could suggest something, like a reading and laying with him routine.

    The toddler grazing is normal too. The key is to have only healthy choices available, but kids do crave what they need and it may be all yogurt one day and nothing but fruit the next, and what really matters is that the weeks and months end up balanced. and unlimited amount is absolutely normal and healthy at his age! again, the key is that healthy choices are provided, but that's not you're choice, except if you're put of the house and you took along a couple options.

    I don't think it's your place to change or challenge anything. That's why I'm trying to share with you how much of this is normal! but in cases where you believe they want different but have just been overwhelmed, you can cautiously offer your "help" in letting THEM pick how you should handle an issue, such as the nap transition.

    But try not to judge. they're got all the perspective and experience here. They're the ones who have to live with the consequences. And you're seeing them at their worst- exhausted and pregnant and in need of your help. Most everybody else in life you never see from the inside of a mess like that.
    posted by Blogger cchrissyy at 5/04/2007 04:13:00 PM  

  • OK, I probably could have phrased it differently (and more kindly). But I stand by my original thought, but perhaps not for the reasons y'all would think: while I think that these parents are making some poor choices, it is highly unlikely that they are going to change parenting styles (in the middle of the stress of a new pregnancy, nonetheless) based on the opinions of a 20-year-old who doesn't even have kids.

    However, if that very kind 20 year old says that she can't work under theses conditions and quits, then they may wake up a little to the reality of their situation.
    posted by Blogger Julie M. Smith at 5/04/2007 05:01:00 PM  

  • Suggestions for helping him get to sleep: you could read to him, do relaxation exercises with him, rub his back play calming music.
    posted by Blogger Vicki at 5/04/2007 08:38:00 PM  

  • Woah, I'm exhausted just reading your original post. That sounds like a handful. But it is also nice to hear how much you love this little boy.

    I like what Vicki said about alternate ways to help him fall asleep. You could talk to the mom about whether or not she is planning to move him into his own room once the new baby is born. Maybe you can help her transition him if this is something she's interested in. Also, since the mom is on bed rest, who does the grocery shopping? Maybe you can suggest doing some of the shopping yourself and while at the store grab a healthy snack here and there to add to the boy's diet. I, too, think the grazing is totally normal.

    I'm not sure how well you know the family, but maybe it would be good to talk to them (sensitively) about your concerns. If someone were watching my boy I would want them to feel they could come to me and express concerns, but I also may be a little defensive since's he's my boy. The thing is to be prepared for the parents to stand by their parenting style, and to be honest with yourself ... Can you continue to watch this child if some of these conditions do not change?

    Good luck. It seems like your heart is in the right place.
    posted by Blogger Beth at 5/04/2007 10:23:00 PM  

  • Miss Poppins, I agree with everyone here that you should not impose new policies into the home that the parents are not on board with, or go strongly against their beliefs about how to parent a child. That being said, you can lead a child into a flexible schedule.

    Most two year olds are open to suggestions, and thus you can lead them without forcing. I have a two year old child, and when it's been three hours since she ate, but she proclaims she is not hungry for anything but cookies, I nonchalantly eat a plate full of fruit and yummy but good food in front of her, which generally changes her mind. So basically tempt him with good food at general mealtimes, before he's starving enough to tell you he's hungry enough to yearn for sour cream. Sometimes something as simple as a yucky face when he picks out the inappropriate food could deter him away and convey the idea that there's better choices.

    The same thing with naps, you can lead him into a loose schedule. Pick up on his sleepy/ irritable cues (usually around one or 2 oclock), and then relax the atmosphere, read books and get him all sleepy, as was mentioned in other comments.

    If he's super resistant to sleeping, and never seems to slow down, it helps to have him outside and doing really rambunctious things in the morning, so he's all pooped out by the afternoon. If you have to be inside, dance to fast music, play ball, sing primary songs, do jumping jacks and somersaults, etc to get his energy out.

    I think it's great that you are teaching him to speak more, children at this age soak up praise like no other, as you've probably already noticed. You can praise him heavily when he does speak, and he might rise to the occasion. Also, think aloud, like when you were counting, and he will soak it up. In the same vein, praising him for going to sleep like a big boy or eating all his food could help. I swear my kid does things just for the high five she receives when I see her accomplishment.
    posted by Blogger John and Jacki at 5/05/2007 01:50:00 PM  

  • There are some easy ways to establish a routine without rocking the boat too much--it sounds you are already on to one with the whole driving him around before he crashes bit. (Believe it or not, that kind of thing turns into routine pretty dang quickly!) Maybe there are other small things you can do that will make your life easier, that won't interfere with the parent's styles: Having story time before bedtime, or doing something around the same time every day--going to the park, or the library, or taking a walk. You can also just get into the habit of offering food at the same time every day, etc. These are not huge things, and you don't have to confront their parenting style (which people hate coming from anybody, 20 year olds or 40 year olds)

    But at the end of the day, they are his parents, and you are their employee. And there is no abuse going on. There's not a lot you can really change. Sorry.
    posted by Blogger Heather O. at 5/05/2007 02:50:00 PM  

  • Thank you ladies for all your advice. I am already beginnig to get him on a better schedule. I didn't realize really all the turmoil he has been going through. He's getting his 2 year mollars in, he misses his mom, and a new stranger (me) has taken over. That's a lot for a little two year old to handle so I'm trying to be compassionate. I'm also trying to let go of how I was parented and how I plan to parent.

    Julie - I believe that the best interest of the child is my business. I respect the parents wishes and always have. I just wanted to improve upon them. About the breat feeding, I apologize but I have never heard of anyone breast feeding that long and I don't intend to breast feed that long if I can help it.

    Tftcarrie - I actually think this job is ideal for my current emotional circumstance because I'm beginning to see the reality of motherhood. Even though every day is a challenge I've learned scary things about what moms have to do but I'm also beginning to experience those special moments with him that make me realize that maybe motherhood is worth it (yes, I've doubted that it was even worth it...terrible me). Through those rough days I've learned to love the little guy.

    Beth - Thanks for the idea about helping the mom with the transition! I never thought of that. And I've begun to take the little guy out with me now that he's become more comfortable with me. What relief to be able to get out of the house. It wears him out and he usually falls asleep in the car on the way home. Yay!

    John and Jackie - I love the idea about making the yucky faces about certain food choices. I think he will really respond to that. Also, he usually does eat off my plate anyway so I think my example will really improve things. His parents are real junk food people so I'm trying to keep him from eating all the doughnuts, cookies, chips....etc. I even requested that the dad buy more fruit and juice. I don't like that he knows exactly where the six-pack of soda is.

    Anyhow, in the end I have decided to leave not because of the boy but because the parents simply can't pay me enough money. I told them I would stay if they could pay me more. It's a very sad situation and I did it mainly as a service project to begin with but the numbers just aren't going to be sufficient to my needs ($5.00 an hour). I feel awful about leaving and I'm not sure what kind of help they are going to get at that rate. They are very sad that I'm leaving but they understandmy situation. Oh well, I did my best. Thanks again!
    posted by Anonymous Miss Poppins Wannabe at 5/06/2007 03:50:00 PM  

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