My childcare provider is the baby whisperer. She can predict my son’s next milestone with supernatural accuracy. My son adores her, as do the four other children she and her assistant care for five days a week. And she’s been an invaluable resource for me as a first-time career-loving parent.
But I think I speak for a lot of parents when I admit that the relationship between parent and daycare provider can be tenuous. On one hand, I’m jealous of the time she gets to spend with my son. On the other hand, I’m grateful that someone as loving as her can entertain him all day, because I would probably go out of my mind.
Sometimes, though, we hear one another’s advice as criticisms—and that’s the heart of the issue. Her job isn’t just a job, it’s an essential part of my life. Her everyday actions directly affect my family. It’s not just a professional arrangement—it’s deeply personal.
That being said, I’ve found that approaching her as I would a colleague has helped improve our communication and created a respectful, open relationship. I think if more working parents approached the relationship this way, we’d relieve ourselves of some of the discomfort and guilt that we’ve become accustomed to.
But in order to treat your provider like a professional colleague, you’ll first have to truly acknowledge her role and responsibilities. Many parents shy away from accurately characterizing the role a caregiver provides, declining to fully acknowledge the impact she’ll have on your daily life or on your child’s development (and, in turn, the rest of his or her life). But there’s no other way to say it: This person is helping you raise your child. In many cases, she’ll spend 40 hours a week (or more) doing so.
Imagine how this would play out in your professional life: You’re embarking upon the most important project of your professional career. You’re on a team of three, and although one of the colleagues will be working on the project for seven hours a day, you choose to largely ignore her contribution and opinions.
My bet is that the project would be less successful and more stressful than it would if you fully leveraged that third contributor. Here’s how to get started.
Respect Her Expertise
I know what’s best for my child. I decide what he eats and what time he goes to bed, and I work diligently to foster a loving, creative environment for him. The bond between a child and his parents is special—which makes it tough to listen to someone else’s guidance without interpreting it as judgement.
However, my daycare provider has raised three children of her own and has been a childcare provider for over 20 years. So, as a first-time mom, I’ve learned to respect my caregiver’s advice as the words of an expert. If a colleague with twice my experience gave me feedback on a project, I wouldn’t just listen to the advice, I would be grateful for it. It would be unlikely that I’d characterize the feedback as criticism or brush it off—I would probably consider it proof that the colleague cared about me and my success. If I think of my daycare provider’s advice the same way, I feel much less uncomfortable and can focus on the content of her feedback.
Set Goals and Check In
Just as you check in with your team members on a weekly basis to set goals and review project status, you should be constantly communicating with your childcare provider about progress toward established goals. I’m not talking about crazy, helicopter-parent goals like getting your child on the path to an Ivy League—rather, you should focus on the short-term goals that every child needs to meet, like learning table manners, saying please and thank you, or, in my 15-month-old’s case, eating with the correct end of a spoon. Letting your daycare provider know what you’re working on at home, and vice versa, will create consistency in your child’s life and help remind you and your caregiver that you’re working toward the same endpoint but leveraging individual strengths.
Nip Problems in the Bud
When a problem arises with a colleague, you know that it’s best to tackle it head-on. Holding a grudge or letting a co-worker stew isn’t conducive to getting work done. But, aside from major safety concerns, I’ve seen many parents let issues with their caregivers go unresolved for months.
For example, my friend continuously complained to me about how her nanny always dressed her son in a winter hat to go outside, even when it was 70 degrees. Finally, after weeks of picking up her sweaty son at the end of the day, she mentioned it to the provider, who admitted that she was trying to keep the fair-skinned child from getting sunburned. The situation was quickly solved by a summertime hat.
The problem here is that both caregivers and parents are sensitive to one another’s feelings and reluctant to rock the boat. But if you think of the situation as a professional one in which you want to take your colleague’s feelings into account while simultaneously addressing the problem, it’s easy to see that ignoring the problem will only make it worse.
Finally, and this should be a given, it’s important to provide your child’s caregiver with the professional courtesies you expect from your employer: fair pay, flexible sick leave, and adequate vacation. If you use a daycare center instead of an individual, ensure that the center offers these benefits. Without setting this baseline, it will be difficult to establish the mutual respect you’ll need to create a nurturing environment for your kids.