In pre-covid times, having extra hands on deck was usually more of a “tag team” dynamic. Usually if our kids were being looked after by a caregiver, it’s because we were off at work/tending to other children/responsibilities, etc. For those of us who are now overlapping with caregivers, tensions can easily arise when differing caregiving styles are combined with situational anxiety and poor communication.
Generally speaking, one thing that bothers me about our society is that no one really warns you that a huge part of parenting requires personnel management. For many of us, management is not our strong suit. And that was probably not a big deal, until kids came along. Now it suddenly matters. A lot.
Regardless of whether your child is in daycare, home with a nanny, public school, private school, or grandparents- managing your support team is a challenge that no one really prepares you for before having children.
Clearing The Air
So what do you do if there is something you’d like your caregiver to do differently? Feedback conversations can be (understandably) overwhelming when you feel like you don’t trust yourself to deliver the message.
I’ve had parents tell me that they were so worried about offending their caregivers that they bottled up all their frustrations for months until they couldn’t take it anymore. At that point, it’s almost too late to fix, and the working relationship becomes strained or impossible to continue.
You’ve Got Your Reasons
Having trouble justifying a hard conversation? Here’s my suggestion: put yourself in the shoes of your caregiver- wouldn’t you want to know if your boss was upset or bothered about something for months? What if I told you that he was never going to tell you what he was upset about, so you’d never have a chance to fix it? And what if their failure to communicate cost you your job? Most of us would not find that very reasonable.
More importantly- what would it mean if you didn’t want to know that your boss was bothered by something? It would imply that you were not happy with the job, and not intending on improving, right? If your caregiver does not want to hear the feedback, they don’t want the job. It’s that simple. So, as always, being honest is a win-win.
I know historically, many people worry that since they’ve never been great at “confrontation”, they are destined to be terrible “managers”. But the reality is, effective communication skills are like muscles- and it just takes practice to strengthen them. As long as you are dealing with a mature adult on the other end, honest feedback can improve your working partnership.
- Be honest: clarify that you want to review/discuss something in hopes that it makes everyones life and experience better. Vulnerability will usually be your best bet when starting a conversation about caregiving. Acknowledging that you worry about their feelings is a good way to help them understand that the feedback is not a personal attack. It can be as simple as saying, “I hope you know how much I respect you/think you are an amazing caregiver. There are just a few things that I want to review with you regarding [child’s] care, I’d love to hear what you think and I believe we can improve upon them. They might seem like silly things but I’d love to try a different approach. ”
- “Do unto others”… Imagine that you were getting feedback from your boss- would you want them to be wishy washy to spare your feelings? Or balanced, loving, and clear? Come prepared with concrete examples to help reiterate your preferences. This is not to throw evidence in their face but to help your caregiver understand exactly what you need/want to be done differently.
- Positive Reinforcement...goes a long way. Don’t be afraid to also talk about aspects of their caregiving that are going really well and allow the conversation to be one that empowers them and acknowledges their hard work as well. The other day I heard my nanny laughing so genuinely at something that my son did. I could see how happy it made him, so I said to her, “It is such an amazing experience for him to see how much he makes you laugh. A lot of studies show that this is really beneficial to a child’s confidence.” I try to deliver positive feedback often, and not only in the context of a difficult conversation.
- Provide context… sometimes it helps to give context for your feedback. For example, explaining that a doctor recommended a change, or that it was recommended in your parenting group, can help you feel confident in your request and can help your caregiver understand where it is coming from. It can sound like, “I wanted to discuss with you that I recently learned in my parenting group that [child’s name] shouldn’t fall asleep while on the bottle because it startles them when they wake up. I would like to try that since it seems to have worked well for other mom’s and it was recommended by the sleep consultant. Can you help me implement that change?”
- Create an action plan together. Ask your caregiver how you can support whatever changes you are asking them to implement. Remind them that you are a team.
One huge takeaway I had from this great conversation I had with Sandra DiCapua, co-founder of Union Square Play. We were discussing the importance of being on the same page as our caregivers, and she reminded me that a caregiver can be viewed as a third parent. I think this is a powerful way to understand the impact of this relationship on your child’s life, and why it is so important that the relationship has integrity.
Remember that no one is perfect, and if you’ve ever been employed you know that feedback can be hard at times, but ultimately helpful if communicated with clarity and respect.
Want more information on this on reframing feedback? Check out this podcast.