I never really gave any serious thought about having or not having kids before I worked as a nanny. I imagine that in your quest to graduate with good grades, launch a career, or find the love of your life that you aren’t spending too much time considering the impact of kids either.
Yet this choice is hugely influential in the direction of any adult’s life. Kids take a lot of time and resources. They are also experts at pushing their parents’ buttons, bringing up unexpected issues, and, at least at a young age, providing unconditional and tender love.
Here are 5 things that surprised me about working with small children:
1) How needy they are. Little kids cannot accomplish anything by themselves. They need help with everything from putting on shoes to brushing teeth to getting a glass of water. And, according to them, they need your help Now.
2) Everything is a phase with a kid. During certain developmental transitions with the kids I regularly watch the sweet tempered personality I’d grown accustomed to disappeared into a determined, unhappy, screaming mess of snot. And then a few weeks later ‘NO’ suddenly turned back into, ‘Sure, Alison’. Some times are harder than others, but they don’t last forever.
3) The days can drag, yet time flies. Kids worlds are small and routinized. The park. The library. The play date. The days really do run into one another. The struggle over nap time melts into the new found capability of swinging from a tree branch. There are days that are so boring and repetitive that they seem to never end. Then two years have gone by like that. And there is the constant reminder of the passing of time from a small voice who is earnestly insisting to a stranger, ‘Me two’ and holding up three fingers.
4) Community is crucial to survival. The best thing to do as a parent or caregiver is to be friendly to absolutely everyone. Adult interaction trumps ‘Why? Why? Why?’ many times over. Kids see the world as revolving around them, so even a casual exchange with an adult who can offer sympathy and camaraderie is like a salve for the soul.
5) They grow up. I’m still not totally convinced of this one in the case of the kids that I watch, but there seems to be a fair amount of evidence supporting it. I recently read a beautiful book called, “The Gift of An Ordinary Day”, by Katrina Kenison, who writes about dealing with the loss of children to adulthood (aka empty nest). Just as kids are a shock when they enter our lives, they offer a shock when they fly out on their own as well.