It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Here’s a question

A few years back, I was the Network Leader for our local association of home childcare providers. My role was to provide phone support for caregivers and to arrange social and professional development events for the women in my network. Once in a while, a parent would phone up, looking for childcare. I would happily pass on names, with the caveat that I was not providing recommendations, only information. (Because, frankly, there were women in the network I would never recommend. My job wasn’t to screen, either: just give names and numbers and the rest was up to the parent.)

But one time, I had a call from a mother who wanted to attend one of our meetings.

“Oh, I think you’ve misunderstood the role of these meetings. They are support meetings for childcare providers. The association does provide information nights for parents, if you’re interested.” I offered her the phone number of the co-ordinator.

“No, no,” she explained. “Yours is the meeting I want to attend. I would like to meet with caregivers, not other parents. I think we’d have so much to learn from each other.”

I held my ground, primarily because I knew my network would flay me alive if I invited her. We were discreet and professional when we met in public, but when our meetings were in someone’s home, top item of conversation is almost always “horrible parent” stories. How could we have a convivial bitch-and-vent session with a parent in our midst?

I mentioned the call at our next meeting. It was greeted first with horror, and then with puzzlement.

“We could learn from each other?”

Ranged round the room were women with anywhere from one to five children of their own each, children ranging in age from two years to thirty years. No one in the room had less than four years’ professional childcare experience. Many had a couple of decades.

It was clear that this woman (mother of a seven-month-old baby, with no other childcare experience) could stand to learn a lot from us. The question of the hour was: Could we have anything to learn from her?

It was an interesting discussion.

What do you think? Any thoughts?

September 26, 2007 - Posted by | daycare, parents


  1. I expect that she likely meant that you could learn about the parents concerns with respect to childcare providers and childcare decisions, etc. However, what she *likely* would have ended up doing is discussing why certain childcare policies are hard on parents (like charging for late pickups, not allowing kids that are *only* a little bit ill to go to child care) that type of thing. I might be wrong about this (I am a parent, not a childcare provider), but I’m pretty sure it would have been stuff you’ve heard many many times.

    Comment by b*babbler | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  2. another example of a new Mom thinking she is the first mom.

    Comment by Peter | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  3. I was thinking srt of what b*babbler said – that she probably thought having parents and caregivers talking about different aspects of daycare would be helpful in that you’d hear things about what the parents like and worry about, and they’d hear about how you manage things and why you do things as you do.

    But I agree that having one parent at a meeting that is for caregivers to discuss their concerns and experiences and share ideas is not the forum for that.

    Comment by kittenpie | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  4. You all have tons of experience but maybe what you could learn/remember from her is what it feels like to NOT have all that experience.

    Just a thought.

    (ps – I’m usually a lurker but I love your blog!)

    Comment by Tali | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  5. Hm. That’s sort of interesting. I think it took a lot of guts for that mother to call.

    Did she explain any more by what she meant when she said both groups could learn from each other? And without sounding judmental, did you ask? You seem like the kind of person who would probe a bit before ending the conversation. My experience is that people don’t always say what they want to mean.

    In any case, I think an open mind should be kept, particularly since children are involved, and what you may learn from the parent may surprise you.

    That being said, your meeting was for caregivers, not parents. Its not appropriate to have parents there. It may be appropriate to set up a small group (I want to use the word sub-committee here :)) to meet with the parent.

    Comment by Nicole | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m sorry, I laughed reading this, and I shouldn’t. That mother was probably looking for help, but not really wanting you to know she needed it. Or, she is delusional and thinks she has all the answers.

    Comment by mamacita tina | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  7. One of the best books about autism I’ve ever read begins with the author’s description of the doctor’s visit at which his son’s condition was first diagnosed. I looked up reviews of the book and found one from a doctor describing how enlightening the book had been simply in allowing him to appreciate more fully was these conversations feel like from the opposite side of the desk.

    One thing my home-care provider might learn from me is that when she earnestly assures me that her concerns about my son’s behaviour arise mostly because she doesn’t want the two-year-olds to follow his (bad) example this does NOT help me feel better.

    Comment by bubandpie | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  8. What stuck out for me was the statement, “greeted first with horror, and then with puzzlement”.

    Confusion and curiosity, sure. But why would anyone be horrified that a mother, no matter how inexperienced, might believe she has insight to offer, particularly about her own child?

    You said yourself that there are women in the network that you would “never recommend”. So, what does that say about their experience? Decades of experience does not necessarily make for a good child care provider or parent for that matter. God help us all if it did.

    Like Nicole, I’m not suggesting that policies and meetings should have been altered to accomodate one parent, but it could have provided an opportunity to create a forum for parents who wanted to be more involved or who just needed more reassurance.

    No matter how good a child care provider anyone is, the parents love their child way more than anyone ever will…that’s definitely going to affect their perspective.

    I hope this doesn’t sound like an attack. It’s so not. You asked for thoughts…you got ’em. 😛

    Comment by Sheri | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  9. Okay, rereading that, the “God help us all if it did” part was meant to read – if decades of experience was the only measure.

    (Note to self: Don’t blog when you have a fever and are doped up on cough medicine and codiene.)

    Comment by Sheri | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  10. Everybody: A point which many of you may be unaware of is that many childcare providers have themselves put their own children in care at some time or another. Many (though not all) of us have walked a mile in those moccasins — which is why we changed shoes! We are not unaware of the stresses and strains. (My own children were in care at two points during my career: part-time for three years while I supply taught in Toronto, and full-time for a year and a half in another city.)

    b*babbler: That makes a lot of sense. It’s not what she said (though it may be what she intended) but it makes sense.

    Peter: That was what a lot of the caregivers thought, too! 🙂

    Kittenpie: I have good relationships with 99.7% of my clientele. Thus, I have had conversations about what they like and what their worries are with close to every single one, down through the years. Without wanting to sound too insufferable, while it’s possible this mom would have a new insight, it’s probably not too likely. And, as you say, not in this forum.

    Tali: I do know what it’s like not to have that experience: I am reminded of it by my lovely parents, of whom I am quite fond, most every working day. 🙂

    Nicole: Chutzpah, for sure. I did probe a bit, though it wasn’t easy without sounding like I was saying “what on earth could we learn from YOU?” I asked her what discussion topics she thought would be most beneficial, which was my way of trying to discover what she thought each party might be learning/passing on.

    It’s a few years back, so I don’t remember her answer verbatim, though I do remember it was a bit vague. Something about “babies and changes”. So I was still not sure what she was after.

    Anyway, the information nights that I suggested to her are far better for the purpose: get-togethers of administration from the association, some childcare providers, and interested parents. I’m not quite sure why she thought a meeting of only child-care providers would be better than a meeting set up specifically to allow parents and providers to meet and discuss. (And yes, I explained that to her, too. I have no idea if she ever went to one.)

    MamacitaTina: The teacher laughs. 🙂

    BubandPie: I wholeheartedly agree. When a child has special needs/health issues/concerns, there is much to be learned from the parent.

    Comment by MaryP | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  11. I completely agree that this was not the forum for whatever it was the parent had in mind. And it is likely that the childcare provider folks in your group are not in need of additional input since they are in contact with parents every day. But…..

    The childcare providers / teachers where my son goes are fantastic and have been in the business for many years. So many years, that they are unaware of things like slings and baby signs, which many of the parents are using to great success. Now, perhaps the teachers don’t need these things, but I’ve also heard them say things like “I have never been able to get the hang of that” when they see parents doing some of this.

    Comment by girlprof | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  12. Sheri: You must have posted while I was composing my response to that last bunch.

    You misunderstand the source of the “horror”. It was not caused because a parent might have something to say about her child – good heavens. No, it was caused at the thought of having to censor our normally free-flowing – and, I admit, sometimes bitchy – conversation for the sensibilities of a newbie parent.

    Everyone gripes about the job – but you can’t do it when the boss or the client is in the room!

    And, as I said to Nicole, there is (or at least, there was then) just such a forum, which I offered to her. What baffled us was why she’d prefer a meeting of caregivers to one set up specifically for parents.

    girlprof: Parents often say similar things to me, too, when I make suggestions or offer options. Human nature, I guess. I am surprised the caregivers you refer to can be unaware of the newest trends and fads of parenting, though. I use baby slings as long as my back will tolerate them (though they’re hardly new – I used one with my oldest, who is almost 22); I have mixed feelings about baby signs — but I do at least know what both of them are!

    Comment by MaryP | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  13. Clearly I misread your post. I apologize.

    Since I haven’t had a baby in over 12 years, could someone fill me in on baby signs? Slings I’ve heard of…but baby signs…that’s new to me.

    Comment by Sheri | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  14. Sheri: I don’t think you misunderstood entirely. You are totally correct, for example, that decades of experience don’t necessarily make for a good provider. Or, even more sadly, a good parent. You were right to point out that there are caregivers I would not recommend.

    Baby signs? Using selected (and often modified) ASL signs (American Sign Language – speech for the deaf) with pre-verbal babies to enable them to communicate basic needs effectively. Babies of six and seven months can manage to communicate “milk”, “hug”, “mommy”, “daddy”, etc. Proponents say it lessens frustration; others worry that it delays the onset of spoken language. (Some Deaf people are a little ambivalent about the idea that their language is being used as ‘baby talk’, and that hearing children can learn it while Deaf children too often have to fight for the privilege.)

    Comment by MaryP | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  15. Really? I guess I am out of touch.

    Reminds me of the stories I hear about parents trying to toilet train their infants.

    Why do people have kids anymore…is their only objective to hurry the babies from infant to kindergarten so as to make it easier for themselves?

    Isn’t that a lot of pressure to put on babies and potential caregivers?

    Just a thought.

    Comment by Sheri | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  16. Sheri, I think you might have the wrong idea about baby signs. The research shows that babies who learn to sign actually start to speak more quickly and have larger vocabularies than non-signers, as late as age three. But, that’s not why we did signs with our son. He was so eager to communicate and it’s much much easier for babies to do physical movements than it is for them to make recognizable speech. They can see what you are doing with your hands and copy it, but they can’t see inside your mouth. We all had so much fun with this and you can really understand where your child is coming from at a much earlier age. We learned that rocket ships and airplanes looked like fish to him (he could sign fish, but not rocket or airplane). He pointed out butterflies everywhere – and was clearly so happy to share this info.

    From a practical standpoint, it helped a lot that he could tell us he wanted milk or a diaper change or something to eat. Our daycare/preschool has a child with Downs syndrome who still can’t speak – but she can sign. For her, the careproviders did learn some signs.

    Comment by girlprof | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  17. No, girlprof, I don’t think I have the wrong idea.

    BTW – What research? How can there be any substantiating research for such a new concept?

    What’s practical about it? That’s exactly what I meant about making childrearing “easier” for the parents. You say that it helped a lot that he could tell you when he wanted milk or a diaper change…how did it help exactly? Would you have NOT changed him otherwise? Would you have ignored his feedings?

    Parents for a millenia have known when their babies need milk or a diaper change without having to learn and teach sign language.

    Is it not easier to merely pay attention to your child and SEE that butterflies delight him and repeat the word “BUTTERFLY” and WAIT for him to repeat it, than to teach yourself and him sign language?

    Of course a child care provider will learn signs to accomodate a special needs child…that does not make your arguement for you.

    Sorry, but I’m just not buying into new age ideas about child rearing. Been there, done that and learned that the most tried and true experiences are the ones to trust.

    I’m not dissing your choices, just don’t be surprised that there a lot of us “old folks” who think it’s silly to teach a hearing child sign as a first language.

    Comment by Sheri | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  18. Sheri,

    Here’s just one example of “what research”:

    Title: Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development
    Author(s): Goodwyn SW, Acredolo LP, Brown CA
    Source: JOURNAL OF NONVERBAL BEHAVIOR 24 (2): 81-103 SUM 2000
    Document Type: Article
    Language: English
    Cited References: 30 Times Cited: 10 Find Related Records Information
    Abstract: The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effect on verbal language development of purposefully encouraging hearing infants to use simple gestures as symbols for objects, requests, and conditions. To this end, 103, 11-month-old infants were divided into three groups, all of whom were seen in the laboratory for a variety of assessments, including standardized language tests at 15, 19, 24, 30, and 36 months. Parents of those in the Sign Training group modeled symbolic gestures and encouraged their infants to use them. Parents of infants in the Non-intervention Control group knew nothing about symbolic gestures or our special interest in language development. As a control for “training effects” (i.e., effects attributable to families being engaged in a language intervention program), parents of a second control group of infants (the Verbal Training group) were asked to make special efforts to model verbal labels. After comparisons of the two control groups minimized concerns about training effects, comparisons between the Sign Training and the Non-intervention Control group indicated an advantage for the Sign Training group on the vast majority of language acquisition measures. These results provide strong evidence that symbolic gesturing does not hamper verbal development and may even facilitate it. A variety of possible explanations for such an effect are discussed.

    A lot of this work is being done by professors of psychology and linguistics. There are many, many more scientific papers on this topic, if you’re truly interested. There is also a very well-developed popular press. The major popular book, Baby Signs, came out in 1996 so it’s not really all that new.

    I actually sort of think you ARE “dissing” our choices. I assume you don’t think there is much wrong with teaching pre-verbal children to wave good-bye? This is just taking that a few steps further. It’s hardly teaching a hearing child sign as a first language.

    The difference between showing a child a butterfly and watching is delight and having him be able to SHOW YOU a butterfly – and have both of you understand what is being communicated – is enormous.

    I totally agree with you that often the tried and true ways are best. But, I also believe that we are discovering new and interesting things about child development and that some of these things can be put to use in child rearing. Which ones? Well, that’s up to each parent and each child care provider to figure out. But, if you’re not open to new ideas (which it seems you aren’t), then you’ll never discover if they work or not.

    Comment by girlprof | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  19. I think we have much to learn from each other.

    I also think that professionals, no matter what field, need a place all their own to let their hair down so to speak.

    There may be some way to do both.

    Comment by ann adams | September 26, 2007 | Reply

  20. Our local child care provider network does a parent ask/answer session once a year where we invite a panel of parents to come and we all talk. It is nice to find out if there are specific concerns or requirements that parents have. I wouldn’t say it’s learning completely new information though. And really, I think my parents just talk to me if they feel something needs to be changed. Home daycare isn’t the kind of thing that needs a forum or mediation. The whole point is to be inviting and welcoming in a small setting for everyone.

    I would never let a parent come to one of our regular meetings for just the reasons you mentioned!

    As for the signing, I personally don’t like the idea of modifying signs for babies. I don’t like talking baby talk to them either. And the one girl I’ve taken care of who could sign extensively would not speak to me. I had her till she was past two and she chattered all night and every weekend to her parents, but she would ONLY sign to me for some reason. But I know it works well for some families.

    Comment by kelli in the mirror | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  21. Normally I pass though this Blog for reasons unrelated to care giving, without comment. (Mary knows why)

    As far as the main point of this article is concerned I tend to agree with most of the posts that seem to think there is a place for both types of forum (foria – whatever)

    But then the discussion got down to baby signs, which I think is an amazingly cool idea. It is now reference in the must consider file in my brain.

    Then I came accross Sheri’s point “Sorry, but I’m just not buying into new age ideas about child rearing. Been there, done that and learned that the most tried and true experiences are the ones to trust.”

    A good conservative atitude is not entirely bad BUT, in my opinion even the oldest of practices can be improved on.

    Personally I think concepts on discipline have come a long way in a very short period of time, the baby monitor has aleviated many new mother’s worries, and improvements in crib design have made sleeping safer.

    The most tried and true experiences are not always the ones to trust, new ideas are not always right either, it is the wisdom to know which to keep and which to disgard that makes for good parenting or so I am told.

    I learned that from my sister.:-)

    Comment by Bil | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  22. girlprof: Thanks for the information on BabySigns. Like Kelli, my personal experience hasn’t demonstrated its merits, but I haven’t had a lot (only half-a-dozen kids or so). Perhaps I could even take a course, see it from the other side. It would be tax-deductable! I’d just need to borrow a baby…

    Although it may well be possible that signing enhances verbal communication for the next year or so, I doubt it makes long-term difference. Which is to say, sign or not, your child will probably talk your ear off by the time they’re three and a half!

    Ann: Course there is. Generally, we find it.

    Kelli: I love the idea of the parent/caregiver panel! Seems to be the sort of thing that should be done more frequently than just once a year. I think I shall suggest something similar to my childcare association. (As soon as I renew my membership again. Ooops…)

    Bil: There is a tendency in our society to assume that newer is better, older is passe. We do it in every aspect of our lives, including parenting. As you say, there is merit to both the old and the new, and the trick is being able to sift through the weigh the merits of each. That’s where true wisdom arises.

    Comment by MaryP | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  23. From my one-child’s worth of experience, I can tell you that Baby Signs were a fantastic addition to how Maya and I communicated with each other. Anyone who hears her talk (nonstop, creatively, all the time) can tell you that it didn’t harm her verbal abilities at all.

    My parents tell me that Maya was much, much less prone to tantrums because she felt listened to and understood. I’ll never forget the first time she (at around 11 months, I think) signed something back to me. I’d shown her “all done” as a signal, and she one day flailed her arms at me in an approximation. I asked her, “Oh, do you mean you’re done eating?” The look on her face was priceless. She lit up as if she were thinking, “hooray! Mama isn’t an idiot after all!”

    Anyway, my point is, it’s not that parents ignore children’s needs without signing, but adding a second method — one that is more appropriate for a child’s physical development (hands easier to control than tongue) — makes it a more streamlined process for everyone. Of course I’d change her diaper. Of course I’d let her down from her highchair. But, perhaps, I wouldn’t have done it as quickly if she hadn’t actually TOLD me what she wanted.

    Essentially, Maya’s learning to sign helped us to have a stronger relationship — a two-way one — much more quickly than we might have with words alone.

    The book I read did, by the way, include extensive research references — including research by the (PhD) authors. Check out Baby Signs.

    (whew — didn’t mean to get on a soapbox there, but signing really was a great thing for us!)

    Comment by Allison | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  24. “I’m not dissing your choices, just don’t be surprised that there a lot of us “old folks” who think it’s silly to teach a hearing child sign as a first language.”

    Sheri, if I wasn’t clear before — the signing with a baby is NOT teaching a child a first language. It’s not full-on ASL, but more giving a tool for babies to use when they haven’t yet mastered moving their tongues to make sounds we can remotely understand. You used the example of “butterfly.” My daughter (now three, and not signing at all anymore because it’s unnecessary) could sign something like that far, far earlier (think at least a year?) before she could have approximated that word with her mouth.

    It’s not a new-agey thing. Just another tool in the toolbaox, really.

    Comment by Allison | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  25. Just a note on the baby signs – I am not one to get all new-agey either, but I don’t see signing as that. Nor do I see it as rushing my child – I am emphatically not one to do so. As Allison put it, it’s another tool.

    For us, we only used a few for things like “more” or “all done” that are harder to communicate with pointing and grunting and helped us understand her needs like that a little better. I don’t think the idea is to have full conversations by sign or to have your baby tell you her needs so you can ignore her the rest of the time!

    Obviously this is something to be used on top of (not instead of) good old intuition and trial-and-error.

    Comment by kittenpie | September 27, 2007 | Reply

  26. We had a nanny join the Single Mom message board I’m a part of, using that exact same rationale that “we could learn so much from each other” because all single women charged with the care of children are exactly alike, eh? We ran her off the board.

    Comment by Kimberly | September 27, 2007 | Reply

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