In Part 1 of this series I talked about how you need to stop trying to be Superwoman – learn to let go (stop micromanaging!) and give others a chance to grow and develop both at home and at work. Let’s take a closer look at how this applies when it comes to looking after your kids.
Anyone who juggles work and family knows that the childcare arrangement is one of the most critical things to get right if you want your life to run smoothly – it’s the linchpin.
“Well, if you can afford it, just hire an expensive nanny,” you say and “its’ all sorted.” Sorry, money certainly helps, but it’s not what makes or breaks the situation. YOUR people skills and management skills are what counts. Just like at work, simply paying someone doesn’t mean they’ll perform. As humans, we’re a lot more complicated than that.
Whatever your arrangement – nursery school, childcare in the provider’s home, or some sort of help in your home, whether it be a nanny, grandmother, or perhaps student – think about how you would like to be treated if you were the one being hired to look after somebody else’s kids. Also is there anything you’ve learned in your professional environment about working with people – how to motivate, work effectively in teams, resolve conflict, resolve problems – that might also be useful when it comes to interacting with the person looking after your most precious asset?
You’ve got it. IT’S EXACTLY THESE PEOPLE SKILLS THAT YOU USE IN YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT YOU NEED TO USE WHEN MANAGING YOUR CHILD CARE ARRANGEMENT.
Here are my top three strategies
- Manage the relationship day by day – Don’t let problems boil over. Deal with them as they arise. There’s a scene in the film 'I don’t know how she does it', where Mum Kate comes back from a business trip and her husband Richard says they need to talk to the nanny about her being late all the time. Kate screams, “No! I don’t want her to leave.” Tiptoeing around these kind of sensitive issues may avoid some pain in the short term, but in the longer term it only makes the pain that much worse. By not dealing with issues as they arise, you are also setting a dangerous precedent. In this case Kate & Richard are saying it’s ok to be late and are opening up the door to other potentially unwelcome behaviour.
- Empower the carer – In another scene Kate’s on a business trip and she’s about to go into a very big meeting. She gets a call on her cell phone from her nanny who’s after a telephone number to arrange a play date. Understandably so, Kate is frazzled and searches her handbag looking for some sort scribbled note. Kate clearly is trying to manage the play date and her big deadlines at work. Is this really necessary? Isn’t Kate causing her own stress? Empower the childcare provider to take responsibility for this kind of detail. After all, you’ve got other things on your mind and that’s why she is likely to do a better job than you. Just like at work, when you empower people, they feel appreciated and trusted and are able to handle the situation brilliantly. They figure out how to do things on their own.
The payback is huge when you follow this principle. Currently we have a university student (Callum) who picks our 11 year old son Zach up from school and helps him with his homework. I make it clear that it’s Zach’s responsibility to get his work done and Callum’s responsibility is to support him. When we get feedback from the school that a certain piece of work is done well or not so well – we share that with Callum too and by doing so make it clear that he shares in Zach’s successes and’ not so good’ results.
I always ask Callum for his views – eg how can we motivate Zach to do his work more quickly (he has a tendency to let his mind wander like any healthy 11 year old boy.) What’s his response? He suggests great ideas like promising to play football if there’s enough time after Zach completes his homework. Does Callum feel empowered and personally responsible? You bet he does! The irony is when you give people personal responsibility, their job satisfaction goes up – they feel like they make a difference. The upside for you is your time is freed up and it’s a real joy to see others develop. (I’m even teaching Callum how to cook!)
- Support the carer’s authority – Empowering also means that you need to be careful not to undermine the childcare provider’s authority. I’m sure you don’t like it at work when you’re given a job to do, but then somebody comes along and completely undermines the direction and actions you’ve taken. Always support the carer’s actions, especially in front of the kids. If you have a disagreement, you need to deal with that offline.
Mum Kate in the film loves to avoid conflict. When the nanny takes her son to get his first haircut, she never discusses with the nanny that she’d prefer to be part of these “first” moments. With some discussion and planning lots of things are possible. I remember many times with our two older kids that I had to have a quiet word with the carer about restrictions on television or snack food, usually because the carer was new. Children are natural arbitrageurs!
The biggest gift your childcare provider gives you is the opportunity for you to be you. Without this trusted partner, you can’t go out in the world and show your full talents. Like any relationship it’s a two-way street and this one certainly deserves day-to-day managing and investing. You won’t regret the long-term rewards!