Talking About Tricky Topics With Your Caregivers: Podcast Episode #133
Today we discuss the importance of having difficult conversations with your nanny or caregiver. Joining us is Carol Kramer Arsenault of Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Alyssa: Hey, welcome to Ask the Doulas. My name is Alyssa Veneklase, and I’m super excited to be talking to Carol Kramer Arsenault. She is a registered nurse, author of the award-winning book, Newborn 101, and then founder of Boston Baby Nurse & Nanny. Hi, Carol!
Carol: Hi, hello! Thank you for having me!
Alyssa: So I’m really excited about our topic, because we’ve never done anything like this before, and we’re going to talk today about broaching really tricky subjects with your caregivers. I think you’re a great one to talk about this because, obviously, you have a giant nanny agency. But I think this could relate to whether you have a nanny, a postpartum doula, your mother-in-law in your home. Like, how do you bring up really tricky subjects with these people who are helping you care for your child, and it’s especially important right now with COVID, right? There’s all these other touchy subject areas that we’ve never had to deal with before. So where do you want to start with this?
Carol: Yes, well, I will start by saying the nanny-parent relationship is tricky. It can be complicated, and it has to be nurtured. Unlike any other relationship, when we have a caregiver or a nanny in the home, we’re trusting this person to care for our most valuable things in our lives, our kids. Being a mom myself – my kids are older, but it’s tough when you leave your children in the hands of someone else. And you can vet the nanny and do the interview and the background check, but it’s really important to foster a good relationship with your nanny, again, because they’re caring for your kids. And what I’ve found to be really, really helpful is, right from the start, be clear about job responsibilities and expectations. Communication: huge. I think just as a culture, it’s not easy to communicate, right? It’s not easy. And sometimes what I think in my head is completely different about a situation that someone else has. And so learning to really communicate and talk to people is really important, and job responsibilities and expectations, really being clear from the beginning, and being honest and open and letting any strong emotions pass before engaging in any type of productive discussion, if it comes to that. And it takes time to get to know each other, the parent and the nanny. Initially, the first year or so or six months, especially – it takes time for both parent and nanny to get to know each other. I talk to a lot of moms, and I talk to a lot of nannies. And we support both. Our advice is always, if you have an issue about something, in a nice, respectful way, ask the nanny: when you have time later this evening, can we talk for a few minutes? I have a few things that are on my mind that I’d like to talk to you about. And not waiting until we’re frothing about an issue. Just to let her know, you know, can we have some time later? It’s something I’d like to talk to you about.
Alyssa: That’s kind of a good life lesson in general, I think. A lot of conflict-avoidant people find it really hard to say, oh, my gosh, they’re doing something I don’t like, but how do I bring this up? So that’s just hard, parent or not. So it’s almost like if you can set these expectations really early and say, you know, I think in a parent’s mind, they have to realize, this person works for me. I need to set these job responsibilities, and maybe for that person, it’s writing them down, going over it with the nanny or other caregiver and seeing if there’s any questions. Is this detailed enough? Is anything too vague? Because, yeah, I can just see where that could be – when someone is in your home 24-7, basically – do a lot of your nannies live in?
Carol: Most of our nannies are there 40-50 hours a week. They’re not live-in.
Alyssa: Okay. So when they’re there all day, basically, while the parents are at work, like 8:00 to 6:00, maybe, you want to know you’re going to work to do your thing and then coming home and all the work at home has been done the way you want it to. Because, I mean, worst-case scenario, your nanny is not doing what you want and now creating more work for you when you get home. If you’re too afraid to ask, you’re in a spot, right?
Carol: It’s so true. Yes, you’re right on. And along with that, during COVID, a lot of parents are working at home. They’re working remote, and so a lot of our nannies are getting used to working with parents that are in the next room, door closed, and they’ll come out and get their lunch. So that whole relationship dynamic is different when the parents are in the home. Brings another level to it. But one of the benefits of addressing any issue quickly is that your nanny will learn from you. So by me saying to Susan, who is taking care of my kids, “Susan, I wanted to touch base with you about something later tonight,” and then when I do touch base, it’s not a huge base. It’s, “Susan, the last two or three days, you’ve been coming 20 minutes late, and I really have to start my day at blah-blah-blah. So I just – is there a reason why?” And then Susan says, “Oh, I didn’t realize. I thought you didn’t start –” you know, so it was sort of a miscommunication, and so good to nip it in the bud. That’s an easy one. But what the mom has also done is set an example of having an issue and discussing it with the nanny. Now, the nanny, when she has something, will also feel that it’s easier to approach the mom, and that’s huge because we want to make sure if there’s anything that the nanny is upset about or anything that’s going on in her mind, it’s best to speak to it, because when that builds and issues build, it takes out on the kids. And so it’s very important. So we set a good example when we approach the nanny, and then the nanny will approach us as well. And the longer it sits, the bigger it becomes. Avoiding it doesn’t go away. And it’s funny, so many times, it’s just miscommunication. Like, we just had that where the nanny was coming late, just a few minutes, and she really thought that the mom said, oh, come anytime between 7:30 and 8:00. And maybe she said that, who knows. But the mom just needed to clarify, no, I need to be on my computer at 7:30. So the nanny was like, oh, my gosh, I’m up at 5:00. I’m happy to come. So it was such an easy – but then there are some things that are a little more – you know, they’re bigger issues. And one of the other things that we say to both the mom is to pick your battles. You know, and we can’t be critical and have these expectations because, number one, we want her to be happy.
Alyssa: So I’m curious, when you talk about communication, how this relates to mindfulness because I see that you’re also a certified mindfulness instructor. So what do you do in that realm with your team of nannies?
Carol: Where mindfulness and developing mindfulness and where that comes into play is that, you know, we’re living in stressful times. And being a parent, working full time, having a nanny, is stressful, as is the nanny’s job. And we have these kids who are in the middle, and they’re stressed as well. And so what we teach is a way for nannies to start getting in touch with their feelings and being able to identify what that feeling is. We live in a society where feelings are not regarded and emotions – no, don’t, we don’t want to do this. And they’re pushed down and they’re pushed down, and it creates resentments and creates all kinds of negative mindset. And the whole idea about being mindful is that when something comes up for the nanny that she’s uncomfortable with, she has the understanding – she’s in touch with her feelings enough that she can identify what that is, and she can talk to the mom about it. And then the mom, as well. And mindfulness, the ability to shut down and be in touch with the present moment. And so setting aside a time each day to practice mindfulness, and for the nanny to do that with the children, for the mom to do that with the children, for all of them to do that together. And kids are like sponges. They absorb whatever it is that they hear. We are their role models. And so if I come home from work and I go in the other room and I’m upset and yelling because I had a crazy day at work or something’s going on, even if my kids are in the other room, my kids hear that, and the kids are affected by that. And this is research-proven. It’s not anything that Carol made up. This is research-based. Children pick up on this energy. And so mom’s in the other room, all upset, thinking, oh, I’m protecting the kids; they don’t hear it. But they are affected by that. And part of being mindful is to be aware of what it is. Like, why am I upset? And are there other ways for me to express these emotions? We want our kids to be able to express those emotions in a healthy way and to regulate their emotions. And if we as adults and as moms and nannies can regulate our emotions, then the kids are going to be able to do that as well. But it’s something that I didn’t learn until I was in my 40s. Things happened in my life, and one thing led to another, and I was in a place where I needed something, and it happened to be meditation. And one thing led to another, but it has taught me that when there is an issue, if I hold it in, it gets huge, and nobody benefits. Having a nanny and communicating and understanding the science behind it, as well, is really important. So we try to incorporate the two. Children are the most important piece of this. Parents, we want what’s best for our kids, and our nannies want what’s best for our kids, as well. And by being able to set a good example, and if we’re upset with something, to validate that and say, yes, you’re right. I was wrong. I should not have said that. I’m sorry. I know that hurts. Validating feelings is huge, and so I think as parents and caregivers, we need to recognize that first within us, and then we can teach our kids how to respond. I can give you an example that just popped into my mind. I remember my daughter coming home from school and being upset because she wasn’t invited to a birthday party. And so what I did is I said, well, that’s okay. Come on. Let’s have our own party. Let’s do – you know, it’s okay. You don’t need to be invited. But the point being – in hindsight now, my daughter needed to feel those feelings. And so having learned what I learned, if I had a redo, I would say, Caroline, I know. That really stinks. That must – I can imagine that’s making you feel sad that you weren’t invited, and I feel like that too. It’s okay to feel sad. And you know what? You’re not going to get invited to everything, and that’s sort of the way it is. But, like, acknowledging and letting the child be okay with that is huge. And as adults, any relationship that we have, it’s important. But again, like what we’re talking about, is the caregiver and the child. And so for a parent and a nanny to be able to listen to each other, really listen and validate, is wonderful. And what happens is the respect that grows between the two people is such a positive event that the kids benefit. Everyone benefits. And so if a nanny is having a really tough time with one of the kids, and she doesn’t know how to bring it up to the mom, and she’s really stressed because this kid’s really fresh or he’s going into her purse and stealing things – for the nanny to be able to talk to the child but then also talk to the mom and say, you know, I’m trying the best that I can, but I really need you to support me. And then the mom will say, oh, you know what? Thank you for letting me know. I didn’t realize that. That must make you feel – right, again, validating.
Alyssa: I love that. So are you teaching this to the nannies to then carry forward to the families? Do the parents also have access to this mindfulness training?
Carol: Which is great, and we love it. We make it our goal. It’s like we truly care about the family unit, and I’m so lucky and grateful that when I started Boston Baby Nurse, I was a nurse. I cared for patients. And even though I have a business, I’m still a nurse first, and I’ve surrounded myself with women and caregivers and newborn care experts that really have a passion and care what they do, as well. And if we can make a difference in their lives, that’s why we do this. We’ve been doing this for 15 years. And one of the things that’s come of the forefront in the last 5 years or so is, when we integrate the mind, the body, the soul – right, and it’s not just about scheduling and doing everything that we can and checking off our to-do list and taking our meds because, you know, the child has ADD – some people need medication – but the point being is that, when we can decrease anxiety by just breathing, why not do that? And so our goal is to make people aware of that. And there are certain – you know, just a few, slow deep breaths, the child will calm down. And everyone calms down. So there are just a few techniques that are so simple. They’re almost innate, but we’ve been – I don’t know, in this society, this day and age, we’re busy. We’ve got work. We’ve got this and that and the kids are overscheduled, that we don’t have time to just sit and do nothing. And by teaching our nannies – you know, kids come home from school, and let them play. You know, let them have a little downtime. It’s important that the parents are on the same page, as well. At the end of the day, after a few weeks or months, you see a difference in these families’ lives. Parents communicating better. Parents and grandparents and the nannies. So it really is a way of life that has many, many benefits. We can go on and on about different ways to practice mindfulness, but especially when you have a nanny in your home or a caregiver, you want to make sure that the relationship is positive. And we get calls from nannies all the time, and some of the calls – I’ll give you an example – the nanny said, I cannot work for this family anymore, because all I do is clean all day, and the mom is leaving me more and more and more. And I just happened to overhear the conversation, so I said to the woman I’m working with, well, ask her, has she talked to the mom? Oh, no. I haven’t said anything to the mom. Like, such a great example. So this nanny is ready to leave. This has been going on for six months. And so I ended up calling the mom, and the mom had no idea. She was – she had no idea. And she thought it was a great set up and that the nanny liked to be busy. The baby naps for three hours. I thought she wanted to be busy. And it was such a misunderstanding, but this nanny was going to leave her job, and this mom had no clue. So there is huge disconnect. Huge disconnect. And it’s just natural for the nanny – she’s not going to be that loving towards the kids because she feels upset. So again, it just all comes back to mindfulness, thinking, communicating, and listening and just being respectful of the other person and knowing that when there’s a situation that people see it differently. Everyone’s got their own color glasses on, and the nanny might have a purple pair, and she sees the situation like this. And mom has a blue pair, and she sees the situation like that. So let’s take the glasses off and speak to each other about it. What a great example, too, when these children see that. Right? They mimic our behavior. And it’s interesting. Our dynamic at Boston Baby Nurse internally with our team leaders has really benefitted from this because we all are more mindful now, not just about the parents and the nannies, but the way we interact with each other. I have learned so much in the last two or three years about how I interact with my team and listening and slowing things down and putting things into perspective. If we can take this information and give it to the nanny or the caregiver and the parents, we make the world a little bit of a better place because there’s a little more love. There’s more understanding. There’s more happiness. Little bit at a time, and at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.
Hey, Alyssa here. I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming. Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between. You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood. You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more. You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most. And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls. If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com. We’d love to see you there.
Alyssa: So let’s say there’s a doula, a nanny, some sort of caregiver listening. Are your courses available for just random nanny and – you know, wherever they are in the country and the world to get ahold of not just mindfulness, but do you have other courses, as well?
Carol: Yes. We have an online education platform, and it’s available to nannies. We have au pairs. We have caregivers from all over the world that take the classes, and it depends on what their interest is. We have a whole series of mindfulness classes, but we also have caring for kids with allergies, caring for kids with special needs, caring for multiples. There’s so many ways that we can educate ourselves, and the more that we know, the better job we can do. So our mission really is to make this available to everyone, and a lot of times, it’s the parents who purchase these for their nanny, which is kind of cool too.
Alyssa: Yeah, that’s a cool gift.
Carol: Yeah. And we have to pay for our platform, obviously. Our goal is to make the world a better place. And so we’re putting out this content, offering it to you at the best prices that we can, and we continue to make new classes all the time when things come up, different things come up. And we have a team of experts, really. We have pediatricians, and we talk to child psychologists and different types of people. And so the information that we do put together is all approved by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It’s researched. It’s evidence-based. Again, we don’t make up our own information, but we make it available.
Alyssa: That’s great. And then before we sign off, I would love to hear a little bit more about your book and where people can find that.
Carol: Great, yes. Newborn 101. It is everything that a parent needs to know from birth to the first year. We talk about the tough things: sleeping, getting babies on a little bit of a schedule, developmental. We talk a little bit about baby hygiene, breastfeeding, food, pretty much the first year. The first part of the book is focused on what we call the fourth trimester and bringing home a new baby. The first three months is a crazy time. I mean, it’s been a long time for me, but I remember those times, and I was ready for any information I could get. And when I was a labor and delivery nurse, parents would say, can you come home with me? Can I take my nurse home? I want to take my nurse home. And so that is where the idea from the book came. It’s a lot of information that’s exactly what I would tell parents and patients when they were leaving the hospital. And it’s available on Amazon. It’s online on our website, Boston Baby Nurse, and other bookstores as well.
Alyssa: We’ll put links to those in the show notes.
Carol: And I didn’t say this, but I think it’s also important that the power of mindfulness with children, with kids, is greater than with adults, because their brains and bodies are still developing. So when they are mindful or they are meditating for a few minutes, they’re literally reinforcing and strengthening the neuro pathways that underlie focus, self-control, self-regulation. It’s crazy. And I will tell you real quick, we did a video on teaching mindfulness and yoga, and we had a 4-year-old little girl. She’s running. She’s on the mat, having fun, and took a little teddy bear. I put it on her belly, and I had a little teddy bear on my belly, and we both laid down. And so we taught this little girl how to breathe by having the teddy bear rise up and down. And she did it for five or ten minutes, but that whole five or ten minutes, that was meditation for her, right, because all she was doing was watching her belly go up and down, up and down. So later that day, the mom called me and she said, I don’t know what happened to – Jo-Jo is her name – she has been an angel all day, and she helped with her brother’s bath, and she went to sleep. She’s been amazing. So who knows, but I just thought that was funny because she did say to me, wow, and they’ve been practicing ever since with that little teddy bear. So we videoed that, and we ended up putting that in one of our online classes. What kid is going to sit there and meditate? No. A 4-year-old? They’re too crazy. So those little tricks, we have those, and I think it’s really cool to do. Like, I took a class and learned how to get their attention because the kids – we are changing the next generation and changing the paradigm of childcare. No more time out. It’s not like that. Anyway, I just feel passionate about that.
Alyssa: No, I agree. They’re growing and developing at such an exponential rate that we’re literally creating the next generation of adults who can now self-regulate because a lot of them can’t. They cannot.
Carol: No, I know. It’s so true. It’s so true, yeah. Good stuff. Good stuff.
Alyssa: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining me today!
Carol: Thank you for having me on your show! It was just a pleasure. It was a pleasure to speak with you and to meet you. Keep up the good work!
Alyssa: You too!
Carol: Thank you. Take care!
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