My Decisions as a Parent

Written by Kathleen O’Malley Brown

Edited by A. Noelle

Kathleen O’Malley Brown is the Executive Director of the Chelsea Foundation. She was both a parent and a foster parent and has participated in child education classes. A trail-blazer in sales, she has traveled five states, calling on engineers and plant managers. She volunteered at a national children’s hospital for 10 years, tending to sick children and helping out the staff. She is well-known for being able to put any child to sleep in fifteen minutes or less (sans threats, trauma, bribes, or drugs).

Image: David Castillo Dominici

As a parent and a nanny, I was fascinated by the following job posting on a nanny service:

Hello, all! Easy job! We are looking for a responsible person to…

I was quite taken aback by that opening.

Immediately, I recalled an experience I once had with an alcoholic mother, who was angry with me because I had refused to enable her horrible behavior. After I left that job, she sent me an email that began with: “Why don’t you get a real job?”

With a mother who showed more of a preference for beer over her own children, it came as no surprise to me that she would place so little value on her nanny and the work that I did in caring for her children.

Long after I left the house, I began to receive calls from the neighbors – “Isn’t there something you can do?” Of course, there was! And I had done it the night I left the house – I called her ex and told him to rescue his children, which he did, thank God.

An easy job? There’s nothing easy about caring for children. You can’t watch TV, play a video game, or even read a book when you have children running around the house – you certainly can’t allow yourself to get absorbed in your Facebook news feed. Children, especially toddlers, with their inquisitive natures, must be watched at all times – you can’t simply say, “Don’t touch,” and expect them to comply. And you definitely should not place the burden of watching small toddlers on pre-teens – no matter how certain you are that your fifth grade son can handle it.

There are two critical rules for raising children:

1. Never leave children unsupervised.

2. Keep a close watch on children below the age of five.

If you’re in the next room and your children have suddenly gone quiet, you know that you’d better check on them. That’s just smart parenting.

Baby Proofing

It’s important to baby proof the entire house – you can’t expect crawling babies and toddlers to take extra care around loose wires and plugs! When my own son started crawling, he had the romp of our entire two bedroom apartment. There was nothing that he couldn’t get into or climb onto. I had to make sure the whole apartment was properly cleaned for this little guy who was always on-the-go; in fact, washing the bathroom down with alcohol became a daily ritual. Given the amount of freedom he had, I still made sure that my son was never out of sight – of course, it helped that he followed me wherever I went.

Choosing the Right Caretaker

When it comes to picking out someone to care for your children, you should realize that a single adult can have an enormous influence over your children. A nanny’s job is far from easy, as should be the task of choosing the right nanny for your household. Making a positive difference in the life of a child without overstepping boundaries is an incredible undertaking that should not be overlooked!

Nannies have as much responsibilities as parents do when it comes to the well-being of a child.

The worse for me are when parents think their nannies should be paid next to nothing, especially when the parents also expect their nannies to double as housekeepers!

The Decision to be a Single Parent

My perspective comes from my decision to be a single parent when few made such a choice; by 26, I had a pretty good idea about what constitutes being a good parent. I did not and still do not believe in corporal punishment as a form of discipline for mine or anyone else’s.

My son was and remains the most precious part of my life, and that now extends to my grandchildren. Whenever someone asked me if I was raising a boy, I always responded with, “No, I am raising a man!” And that is how I approached everything I did.

I never assumed that I had all the answers. With all my experience and intuition – the many hours put in caring for other people’s children – I still read books, took courses in child-rearing, and sought out professional advice. Too many, I think, rely on instincts – or repeat the errors that their parents made, saying, “Look at me! I turned out okay!”

The best child-rearing book I ever read was written by a dad. His best piece of advice: teach them good manners. Don’t worry about the potty training or teaching them to drink from a cup. What they need to learn are key phrases like, “Please,” and “Thank you.” They must also be taught not to lie. It still pleases me to no end that my own son was recognized in school as being a “truth-teller.”

A juvenile judge who taught one of the local foster parenting classes shared an example that hit home with me; she said, “We remember the time spent with parents absent of siblings.” I thought back to my own childhood and realized she was right. It’s crucial to respect the differences between your children and to take time with each of them, individually, even if you’re only going to the grocery store, even if it’s only a few times a week; your children will remember those moments and cherish them! One of the best times I spent with my own son was when he was a teen and we went on a cross country trip together – a great experience for re-bonding with a teenager.

My Household Rule

My son cleaned his own room, took out the trash, and cut the grass without having to be asked or reminded. How did I manage that? The rule was: “You don’t have to ask for permission to go somewhere as long as your chores are done and you tell me where you are going.” He knew that he would always need my approval before he could leave the house and that there would never be a time when I wouldn’t check up on him. Prior to his teenage years, I did not allow a lot of sleeping over at someone else’s house, and I always preferred to have his friends over – I wanted to know who and what they were all about. I never outlawed any of my son’s friends; instead, I just decided to keep an eye on the company my son chose to keep. Today, the risks related to letting small children sleep over at someone’s house are even higher.

No Bad Children

I had a lot of approaches to parenting that were quite different when compared to most other parents. Parents of my son’s friends used to marvel, “How did you get him to do that?!” Well, sometimes, it was easy; other times, it wasn’t. The bottom line for me was: there are no bad children, just parent know-how!

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