By Sandra Beck
My nanny lets the children eat in front of the TV. I don’ t. In the early days it caused countless rows. My nanny would babysit a few hours – and I’d return to my daughter sitting in front of cartoons with her dummy and a lap tray of snacks. “It’s not even that I begrudge her the junk food.” I’d say, exasperated “But she doesn’t stop nagging me for TV and cookies for two days afterwards”. It was infuriating to see my precious, carefully constructed edifice of healthy parenting being cheerfully dismantled.
It’s a version of a fault-line that threatens to undermine many otherwise good childcare arrangements. At its heart is a very revealing question: are you looking for a carbon-copy of you to care for your child?
My argument was that toddlers in particular thrive on consistency. They like to be able to understand the rules of their world. It’s unfair for behavior to get a laugh in some circumstances and get punished in other circumstances.
On the other hand, I think that the variety of personalities and approaches that my daughter has been exposed to balances her experience. I was a bit shocked when one of the nursery-workers put nail varnish on my friend’s 3 year old daughter. However, objectively, I can see that her daughters yearning for pink and frilly far exceeds her mother’s ‘girliness’. A little bit of something sparkly on her nails helps her bond with her caregivers, and gives her some new input into her developing sense of individuality.
Here more than anywhere, it’s crucial to pick your battles. Car seats, holding hands across the roads, choking hazards – I repeat my messages emphatically again and again. However, this needs to be balanced with – frankly – not becoming a control freak. The childcare you choose is presumably competent, well intentioned and loving. Following too many of your rules ‘to the letter’ might actually thwart them in expressing their innate initiative and sparkle.
As my sons get older it has got easier with the grandparents, babysitters and nannies. “But Muuuum, Nana lets me” gets cut off with a brusuqe “Nana rules, darling. Now it’s Mummy rules”. I’ve become more secure that it’s my approach that sets the foundations for her. I’ve now mellowed to see that an afternoon eating chocolate sauce from the jar in front of cartoons is simply a holiday.