Knowing Nothing About Parenting, Yet Seeing More Than The Average Parent

Since I became a nanny, I not only get a lot of people asking me questions about children and the care of children. I also get a lot of people sneering at me about how I know nothing about what it is to be a parent, and how dare I try to advise on anything to do with children and child-raising. This doesn’t just apply to being a nanny, either. This applies to being a childless person in general.

Well. (And here I pause, crack my knuckles, and sigh. Well.)

I agree. I don’t know what it’s like to be a parent. I’m not one. I don’t stay up all night with crying or sick children. I don’t have to spend my entire life looking after a child – I do get breaks. I don’t worry about money for kids’ clothes, food and school supplies. I have never breastfed or birthed a child. I don’t really know what it’s like to have a child love you unconditionally and want you always, whatever you do, wherever you go. I don’t know those things. And I am the first person to tell you that I have no idea what it’s like to know those things.

But I don’t know nothing. I could turn around and say, “You know nothing about what it’s like to be a nanny.” Because most don’t. Most don’t know the careful scheduling and planning I do with my day. How I worry when a child gets hurt, not only for the child, but because I live in fear of a false abuse accusation. That I think about my First Aid and CPR training constantly because I’m afraid I’ll forget what I was taught with disuse. How I wonder if the child is eating enough and getting enough stimulation during the day. My guilt over sporadically using the TV. Wondering if I’ve said something wrong, or if I’m planning enough to do for the specific age group. Worrying about the child getting sick and then me getting sick, which means that I don’t get paid. The list goes on. We all worry about whether or not we’re “good enough”. We often shake our heads about how other people seem to have it easier, out of ignorance or less work, but it doesn’t mean those people know nothing about our situation.

I do, actually, know a lot about child development and behaviour. Sometimes it’s more than the average new parent. I’m asked for my advice not because I know more than a parent, but because I’ve seen more than the average parent. I’ve worked with dozens of kids, all different ages, all different personalities, and all different cultural backgrounds. I’ve worked with at least five different parenting styles and a mishmash of those styles. I have seen what works for a specific child personality, and I’ve seen what doesn’t work. I’ve just seen more. I have more hands-on experience.

People expect nannies to be like Supernanny on TV – charging in and advising whether you like it or not! But I don’t actually ever share my experiences or advice unless I’m directly asked. I don’t like to get unsolicited advice; who does? And my advice, while it can be tailored to your specific child if I know your child well, is mostly a one-size-fits-all option. It’s not meant to work for everyone, and it won’t. We’re all different. We all have different opinions.

I’m tired of this culture where if you haven’t lived an exact experience, you “know nothing” and need to “shut up”. I think sharing advice, stories, commiserations, and more can help us all grow. Why do parents dislike childless people? Because they don’t feel like childless people understand or can ever understand parents’ situations. Why do childless people dislike parents? Because they feel demeaned, pushed aside and ridiculed.

Your childless friend may know nothing about kids besides what he or she has read or remembers from being a child. But maybe the thoughts that person has aren’t too far off the mark for your specific issue. Unsolicited advice is no fun, but if you’re venting, you’re clearly wanting an audience if you don’t want advice. And if you get some unwanted advice, all you have to do is say, “No, I don’t think that will work, but thanks anyway!”

In order to foster more understanding, we need to collapse this cultural divide between the childless and the childed. That needs to come with mutual respect for each other’s challenges and less downplaying of each other’s feelings.

After all, we all “know nothing”, really, about anyone’s specific experience. But it doesn’t mean that we might not have a suggestion that will help.

Just a few thoughts.