Two days ago my 23 year old daughter Mary called. She is the nanny for three beautiful, affluent little girls. The girls have a lovely home and their parents have great big important jobs.
Unfortunately, the girls, who are 6, 8 and 10 say really ugly things to my Mary. She is paid well but that doesn’t make up for their remarks. Generally, the girls are lovely and well behaved, but sometimes they say horrible things like, “You have to clean up our mess, our mom pays you to clean up after us.”
And “you’re just a employee”.
This kind of language, directed at my daughter, makes my hands shake. Mary has tried every known form of “nanny discipline”…from lectures to time outs, explanations as to why the words hurt her feelings and taking away everything good like ice cream and movies.
The girls just don’t seem to care. When Mary called for advice I didn’t know what to say, I was out of ideas. All I could tell her was, “Use the scary calm voice, remember when you were little? My shouting didn’t scare you nearly as much as my calm voice.”
“Oh God, you were freaking terrifying,” she said,
Two days ago Mary called, squealing. She took a tiny notebook to work. When the oldest daughter said, “we don’t have to listen to you, you’re just a baby sitter,” Mary took out the notebook, wrote down the words, verbatim, dated the entry, then read it back to the ten year old.
“Is that what you said?” she asked pleasantly.
And hour later the youngest daughter said, “Do it yourself” when Mary asked her to put her dishes in the sink.
Again, my daughter wrote down the child’s words and read them back.
Later in the afternoon, when it happened again, the oldest daughter said, “What are you doing with that book?”
Smiling, Mary explained, ” I’m writing down the mean stuff you say and tonight when your parents get home, you get to read them out loud, to your folks.”
The girls freaked out. A conversation and negotiations began. Mary won.
#2. Last Christmas my friend Amelia had a problem. Her daughter asked for a pair of blue jeans that cost nearly one hundred dollars. Amelia is a thrifty woman, she’s a brilliant folk artist who can whittle a monkey out of a peach pit. She recycles and donates used clothes to shelters. A one hundred dollar pair of jean makes my friend physically ill.
So, Instead of caving in and giving her daughter a pair of ridiculous jeans, she wrapped up a one hundred dollar bill, lots of pretty paper and bows. When her beautiful daughter opened the box she was hysterically happy. Amelia explained, “if you want to buy the jeans, go right ahead, I just couldn’t do it myself.”
Of course once her daughter got to the mall she ended up buying three pairs of pant and two shirts with the crisp one hundred dollar bill. Amelia and common sense win.
And finally, when Ameila’s other child was stuck in an apartment lease with three other terrible dope smoking kids there seemed no hope. She couldn’t get her kid out of the year long lease unless the other three tenants signed off on the move. They didn’t want to do that cause they didn’t want to pay more or find a new roommate.
My brilliant friend sat down with the three strung out hipsters and cheerfully explained, “Here’s the deal. If you don’t let my kid out of this lease I’m moving in, in his place. And all I’m going to do is sit around, watch tv, burp and whittle.”
Guess who moved out the next day. No one ever yelled, screamed or cursed. Amelia and cleverness win again.
I love these three stories because they prove great parenting doesn’t have to involve spanking and screaming. Just be smart and friendly.