by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Yesterday over my morning coffee I devoured the New York Times “How to Speak Nanny ” explication on well-educated, highly empowered moms stymied by communicating with our children’s caregivers.
As a working mom who’s employed only two nannies in 13 years of motherhood, I thought with self-satisfaction about my enviable communication skills, learned at Wharton business school, strengthened by Harvard Law School’s negotiations course, and honed through years of quarterly presentations, employee evaluations, and professional speaking engagements. I contemplated with compassion the misguided, guilt-ridden women in the Times, struggling with what the reporter termed “a peculiar passive-aggressive form of communication,” something I could only imagine hypothetically.
The mom whose caregiver cut her son’s hair without permission; the mom tried to communicate “don’t ever do that again” through a look in her eyes. That’s not how I learned to deliver bad news at my b-school communications elective, I reflected sagely. Moms who pay big bonuses to cover up tantrums (their own, not the kids’) and ones who hesitantly plead with caregivers to clean up or do laundry “if you have extra time.” Another mom whose nanny abruptly toilet-trained her toddler, driving the mom to tears and self-accusations of inadequacy. Instead of talking out the issues, the mom dragged the nanny to the pediatrician for a triangulated question-and-answer session about the ideal age for giving up diapers. I chortled, imagining the tension when the pediatrician announced that the nanny’s timing seemed to be working, so why mess with success?
Then our teenage babysitter arrived. She is 17 and the daughter of a friend. Six months ago I hired her to work two hours a week to help with homework, take the girls bike-riding, and in general to ease my children’s anxiety during a time when I’ve been traveling frequently, building a new part of my business and caring for an ill parent 1,000 miles away.
She’s been wonderful.
Except that when she is here, the children she is supposed to babysit manage to interrupt me every three to five minutes while I’m trying to write on my computer or complete a conference call. I hear them fighting in the sunroom above my basement office. I hear them screaming in the alley behind our house when riding their bikes. The one time I left them alone this babysitter melted our brand new raclette grill by turning on the wrong stove knob when attempting to make cookies.
When her two hours were up yesterday, I realized neither daughter had done any homework.
The kitchen was covered in flour, glutinous butter and stray chocolate chips because of another baking attempt.
The sunroom was scattered with pieces of Sorry and Monopoly – the board games they had played, fought over, and abandoned before cleaning up.
I cheerfully paid her an outrageous sum of money, smiled and thanked her for coming. “See you next week!”
Yeah, I’m a GREAT communicator. I went back and read the article again, this time looking for assertiveness tips in How to Speak Nanny.