By Michelle LaRowe
Recently I was tweeting with Marika Tsircou, star of ABC Family’s Beverly Hills Nannies (follow her @MarikaTsircou) about the terrible teething trouble her beautiful baby boy is experiencing. After having a baby attached to me for more than half of my life and being paid to dole out advice in books and consultations, let’s just say making observations and giving unsolicited advice has become second nature to me. And that’s not always a good thing. Clearly.
And while of course, intentions are always good and comments are meant to be helpful, not hurtful, in the real world, especially in the social media world, that’s not always how they come across.
As I considered our exchange it served as reminder for me and one I’d like to share with fellow nannies, parent educators and others who dedicate their time and energy in partnering with parents to raise their children: We’re charged with walking a delicate line.
As we support parents in helping them to achieve their parenting goals, how can we ensure we build them up and not tear them down, even inadvertently?
First, we can consider our role. Clearly if you were brought in to help troubleshoot a discipline problem or hired as a full-time nanny, it’s within your role to share observations and advice. But if you’re an outsider providing back-up child care or a casual observer in a situation where you think you can help, it may be better off to bite your tongue unless you’re asked to give feedback.
Second, we can evaluate our motives. Does what you have to say truly benefit the child or parent or does it simply showoff your knowledge base? Are you trying to protect a child from serious harm or getting a parent to buy into your beliefs or style, just because you think it works best? While of course safety is always a good motivator to speak up, subtle differences in parenting styles may be best left unaddressed.
Third, we can consider our approach. Being a type A, straight-shooting Bostonian, I definitely struggle with my approach when sharing information or advice (ah, hello the Nanny to the Rescue! subtitle was Straight Talk and Super Tips…). I’ve learned over the years though, that parents receive information differently. Some parents prefer to have a casual conversation, other prefer to be presented with literature, studies and findings and still others are most receptive when you coach them through a problem and let them articulate the solution on their own. No parent, however, wants to leave any exchange feeling judged about their parenting. When sharing advice and information, know your audience and remember the old rule, it’s not what you say but how you say it.
Fourth, we can let go of the outcome. It’s only natural to want parents to take your advice, especially if you’re being paid to give it (ok, and sometimes even if you’re not). But the reality is that the outcome isn’t yours to control. As long as you’ve presented the facts, when appropriate, and clearly articulated any safety concerns, it’s ultimately up to the parents if they want to act on the information or advice you’re provided.
Fifth, we can apologize if we overstep. If you’ve overstepped your role or if your advice has come across in a way other than you intended, it’s important to quickly apologize. Even the best intentions aren’t an excuse for putting off an apology.
Those who partner with parents are in the business of building parents up, not tearing them down. Sometimes it’s important to step back and remember to evaluate our role, motives and approach. When we do, we’re less likely to be married to the outcome and to overstep our bounds.