You Just Didn’t Get Served

He gets it
He gets it.

On nearly every nanny job interview, I’ve been asked how I feel about “light housekeeping.” And my reaction is always the same.

When I am a member in the space, caring for it becomes partly my responsibility. So while I won’t clean up after the child—if he dumps out a box of Legos then that’s his responsibility to pick them up—I have no problem keeping things organized and clean as part of a team, which includes the child. If we played with the Legos together, then I definitely would help clean them up but would expect him to help as well. When I do that, I model behavior I want the child to replicate, we experience how working together makes completing tasks easier and faster, and the child comes to understand expectations and his responsibilities.

As somebody who has taken the time to hone his craft of working with children, I feel disrespected if a parent asks me to perform the functions of a butler or a housekeeper. Everything I do leads back to the child developing skills or understanding reality. So if I serve him a snack he could have gotten himself or I clean up his messes, I’m missing opportunities to help him mature.

After working hard to inform the twin boys I worked with that my function was not to serve them, they became more self-sufficient. They got their own snack, set their place at the table, and cleaned up after themselves. After dinner, we worked as a highly efficient team to clean up, switching roles from night to night (sink duty, dryer, and miscellaneous, usually called “missa”).

Since they knew I was just “Mikey” and not the do-stuff-for-them fairy, our relationship shifted. Thing 1 would go to grab some cashews and ask me if I wanted some. Sometimes, I’d say, “I’m going to the kitchen, can I grab you something?” Or Thing 2 would help me clean up a mess I made. We were simply friends so we’d help each other out from time to time. That’s caring without dependence.

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The Pursuit of Healthiness

“I just want my baby to be happy and healthy.”

I’ve heard it time and time again. Parents possess this altruistic mentality in the hope that their child will breeze through an uncomplicated life. It’s beautiful, noble, and stupid.

I’m not concerned with the “healthy” part, that’s the part we should keep. A healthy diet, plentiful physical activity, and sufficient sleep are the easiest ways to set your child up for success. Furthermore, we need to ensure that children have healthy social sustenance too: attention balanced with independence and appropriate empowerment.

A “Happy Meal” perhaps. But a healthy one? Definitely not.

But then “happy” comes along.

It’s not the hope that a child is happy that’s dangerous (of course we want the child to be happy). But it is concerning that parents too frequently use instant gratification in lieu of a healthy structure.

Sometimes a parent will allow a sweet they otherwise would not have when the child had a rough day. Or bedtime is particularly flexible one night because the parent wasn’t returning home in time. Or the child just wants to veg out and watch TV even though he hasn’t run around yet that day. The parent obliges to make the child happy and directly negates the healthy initiative.

There are examples of situations where the happiness-inspiring action doesn’t specifically conflict with healthy behavior: giving a gift, being falsely enthusiastic, or giving bizarre amounts of affection. These can make the child happy, yes, but if a parent indulges his child too frequently, the child’s equilibrium of neurological chemicals and behavioral expectations gets shoved off-track.

I’m not arguing against finding nice things to do for your child. But there’s a world of difference between “I saw this and I thought of you” and “Since you’re sick, here’s a new Xbox game!” Make sure that the action is authentic and appropriate.

True happiness, or at least a more sustainable, more realistic happiness, is not an influx of stuff or attention. As a manny, I’ve witnessed drastic improvements in mood and behavior by focusing on the “healthy” approach to the physical, emotional, mental, and social aspects of life.

So let’s all repurpose the trope: “I just want my baby to be healthy so she can be happy.” Build a healthy structure. Happiness will come.