[Even though she’s out on the edge here, I had to tell you that this was written by CalifMom. Of course, you’ll recognize her voice, but I want to make sure she gets public credit because she’s so damn darn funny. That said, do NOT give this momma a hard time about her *&^$ and #@%t. She’s earned it. :-) cv ]
At profound personal risk of being told that ampersands, hashmarks and percentage signs are offensive, I’ll let you fill in your own blank.
We have one of those problems that happens way out on the edges of the bell curve of normal distribution. So for those of you working with lackadaisical or wimpy APs, I’m sorry but our AP takes her job very seriously. Too seriously. I mean, waaaay too seriously.
If I ask a kid to sit straight in their chair at dinner, she’ll pounce on them immediately, before the child has even had time to comply with my request, as if I need “back up” from Officer Ponch. Even the poor dog is subjected to her extreme demandingness: if I ask the dog to leave the kitchen, she starts repeating my command, louder. (Which, as dog owners know, only confuses the dog, who was obeying the Alpha as a good dog should, and then trains the dog to ignore the AP. In response, the AP barks louder, more frequently, and so it cycles.)
I have talked directly with the AP with these issues after the kids are in bed. I’ve been doing this in a friendly way, from the approach of “Okay, so here’s my take on what happened this morning. Let’s figure out what you could try next time, because I know you were really frustrated.” (Language skills are not an issue.)
I have actually pointed out, directly and in so many words, that the reason the children seem to be ignoring her is because, well, they *are* ignoring her. She talks so much and so often, always chiding and correcting what they’ve done or left undone or didn’t do perfectly that they actually don’t hear her. I told her that while it may not be what she would like me to say, this “not hearing” is a perfectly rational and predictable in response to her constant scolding. She cannot understand this at all and would be happy if I were to mandate perfect compliance and servitude. (I’ll get right on that.)
I have led conversations into discussions about how brains develop, that children are not small adults, and that the reason you need to repeat yourself is because, well, children need to be told things repeatedly. The alternative is to whack them when they don’t put their shoes away the first time, but as much as we all love Little House on the Prairie, I think we don’t really want to take them back behind the shed to get whupped, do we? I have appealed to her own experience as a child (not that long ago!) and pointed out that I bet her mom had to tell her to do things more than once. “Well, but I never…..” is her reply. She is unable to step outside herself much. And yet, she wanted to come very far away from her mother for an au pair year. Hellooooo????
She cannot stop herself from nagging and seeing problems at every turn. She may not want to stop, thinking of herself as Super Au Pair brought in to whip these kids into shape or something. She is subjecting my kids to her mother’s rules as well as our. And there are so very many rules she grew up with! Not surprisingly, her rules do not always align with ours, but it seems that she believes that when she is in charge she gets to set ALL the rules.
In a recent example, she insisted that a child not pick out objectionable bits from a food item, even though they were too strongly flavored. I was home, and in the other room but didn’t hear this happening. I had made the food, and I told the kid to pick out the objectionable bits. Life is too short for these sorts of power struggles. There are plenty of other power struggles that we do have to engage in, as adults, and ultimately win. Picking out offensive bits is not one of them, if the rest of the thing is being eaten. Big picture! How do I get her to see the big picture?
And now, predictably, the power struggles are getting worse. Fine, Child thinks, you’re going to make me eat the bits I don’t like, I’m going to yell in your face and take a swing at you when you try to break up an argument I’m having with my sibling, because you don’t understand me and don’t hear me! You interrupt me every time I try to say something because I’m little and I don’t talk as fast as you do, and I’m sure you’re going to correct whatever I say anyway.
My kids are not thriving emotionally in this environment. They’re at school most of the day, but walking on eggshells a lot when they’re home.
But even with all this, she can be fun (when she’s not nagging) and the kids want her to like them soooo much it hurts me to watch. She’s the type who will never be satisfied, no matter how good they are. She has a sense of humor and she is an otherwise good AP. She drives well. She fears DUI. She is conscientious (duh! — to a fault! see above) and pitches in. She’s just a terrible perfectionist, even while, as she puts it, she feels very lucky because her AP friends’ charges are so much worse than ours. (gee thanks!)
Here’s what I’ve done:
- • modeling alternative approaches with the kids
- • counseling her (after the kids are in bed) to pick battles carefully, etc (we talk every night)
- • encouraging her to spend more time with friends so that her not insignificant energies will spent elsewhere
- • and I’ve talked to our counselor (who advised us to have a stern talk with her about what I see as her basic personality traits. I’m not seeing how that stern talk works out well.)
And, less helpfully, I’m also:
- • biting my tongue until it’s raw
- • laughing out loud (but “at” not “with” her, so I have to zip out of the room in an unseemly, undoubtedly confusing way) and sometimes
- • leaving the room in exasperation, wanting to smack her upside the head or
- • pouring a second drink (seriously; this AP is just so high maintenance)
- • not sharing a lot of this with my hub anymore because he’s tired of hearing about it
- • getting into heated conversations when she has refused to hear what I’m saying and it’s clear that I’ve hit a very stubborn brick wall on a point that is very important to me
I’ve given her tips (try whispering instead of yelling, etc). I’ve tried teaching the theory, I’ve tried coaching on the tactics, I’ve shared mentor-y advice about Life and helping her think about what she’ll do next.
I find myself wanting reassurance on any given day that she’s actually being nice to them while I’m not there. She’s hot-and-cold and rather volatile, so when things are fun they’re really really fun, but she herself is not calm in the eye of a storm when she needs to be (as I saw first hand with the failed attempt to break up a sibling fight. I walked in, split the kids up, and started problem solving but I am loath to intercede when the AP is supposed to be handling it. I gave her a lot of time to be effective, but she just wasn’t. So I felt like I had no other option at the time, because really, the AP was escalating the fight.)
And I fear that she may be acting one way in front of me, and presenting one set of information in her reportage, but is quite different when she’s alone with them and there’s no authority figure around.
What am I missing?
How can you effectively counsel someone to “calm the @#$ down”?
Am I worrying over nothing, and should counsel myself to remember that kids are resilient?