Jun 26, 2013

3 lessons I learned as a Nanny

Many many moons ago I worked a summer as a nanny for a family with an (extremely well-behaved) 9 year old boy and a 6 year old girl.  I was 20, energetic, still loved kids, and had started to slow down on my babysitting jobs, so it came in the perfect "season" for me to settle into a pretty good summer job.  In fact it's a great job for any young person who thinks they like kids.

I can't post how much I was paid, because I don't want to receive job offers as a nanny from readers.  Let me just say I was paid less than a field worker.  I worked every day from 7:45am until 5:15pm and by the end of the summer, sad to say, I was SO over working as a babysitter.  Sometimes, when I think about those hot summer days and the hours of playing with those sweet little kids, teaching the boy to play Cribbage (and being beat by the same kid), taking them to parks and watching movies I start to... no, not really.  For whatever reason, that summer woke me up to a dormant truth inside me... but I'll get to that in a minute.

The parents of these kids were professionals and were both incredibly kind and loving.  They were also "intentional" parents before such a thing existed (in name)...
 I learned things as their nanny that I have carried with me into my own family, and have outlasted many other things I learned when I was 20.  So here they are:

1. I learned how many children I should have.

I grew up in a two kid home.  As a preteen and teen I absolutely loved children, especially toddlers and pre-schoolers {evidence that hormones cause brain-damage}.  I took every opportunity to babysit and did so one or more times a week from when I turned 12 until I was 16... then I became a little more choosey because I could date and had a "normal" job as a Subway sandwich artist - {it was my actual job title}.

I always felt sad that my parents only had two of us, and often dreamed of having three or four children.  I fully accepted the verses in Psalm 127 {3-5} that said that children are a gift of God and blessed is the man {or woman} who has a quiver full of them... that's like 10 or 12.  I didn't need a full quiver, but a handful would be nice.

Then I was a nanny.  Regardless of my countless hours of experience watching children for 2-3 hours at a time, I had seldom watched kids for longer than that, and many times the kids couldn't really talk.  I figured school-aged kids would be WAY easier to watch for an entire summer, no diapers to change, plus the kids were really really smart, so they would be pretty self-reliant, so I took the job.  

I quickly learned that school-aged, really, really smart kids NEVER. STOP. TALKING.   EVER.

I also learned that two older kids actually {literally} demand your attention in a way that younger children simply cannot.  I would get home after a day with them and be exhausted, I began to understand why my mom worked full time.  It's not that they were bad children.  They were very obedient and compliant, they rarely talked back, they ate what I made them for lunch, they never made stuff up that got me in trouble... just used all of the available energy in a room and sucked me dry.

I learned that summer that I should not have more than two children.  I also realized a dormant truth inside of me:  I don't really like kids that much.  I mean, I love my kids, and my friends kids... but I couldn't be a teacher because school age kids make me tired.  SO.  TIRED.

2. I learned that a schedule is your friend. {not your enemy}

I was raised {as many people are} free-range style.  I spent my summers outside, swimming, digging in the dirt, crawling around on grass, building shoe-like callouses on my feet so I could walk across 115 degree asphalt and never even feel it.  There were few rules {be inside when the street lights come on and don't talk to strangers}, there was no summer enrichment {other than summer school, which was crafts and swimming}, and there was certainly NO schedule.

When I took the nannying gig and went over for my first "pre-meeting" {shoulda been my first clue}, I was given very specific directions about the schedule those children were to have.  No more than one hour of T.V. in the morning, no more than one-two hours of T.V. in the afternoon, they must spend a minimum of 2 hours outside playing everyday... and on it went.

I left there thinking that it sounded like a real drag.  I felt sorry for them.  I wondered what this world was coming to.  Then, I spent my first week with them.  Suddenly I realized, the schedule was for me as much as it was for them.  They never seemed to get bored.  They never had a chance, the whole day was broken up into 1 and 2 hour increments.  We went to parks and I took them swimming at my house, we made crafts and had picnics.  I was Mary Freakin' Poppins.

I loved the structure, they thrived in the structure and the days flew by.  Now I have kids of my own, and I implemented the schedule from day one.  It was one of the best things I ever learned.

3. I learned that Daily Quiet Time is the BEST. THING.  EVER.

Part of the above schedule was a daily 2 hour quiet resting time.  Neither of the kids HAD to take a nap, but they had to be in their room, and playing quietly for the whole time.  I lived for the daily quiet time.   At first I felt a little bored.  Then I realized that I could take a nap if I needed to.  Mostly I just brought a book and got in some reading during that time.  I was always refreshed and ready to roll when they came out at 3pm and we started our afternoon routine.

It is the best advice I can give any mom.  Start your kids on a daily quiet time from day one.  Transition them from naps to just quiet, independent play in their bedrooms for 1-2 hours a day.  My kids at 10 and 8 rarely fight the daily quiet.  They both have favorite activities from reading to building with Legos during that time.  They also rarely "get bored", and I get some much needed quiet in my days.

What were some of the best parenting lessons you learned as a young adult?  Where/How did you learn them?

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