Elizabeth Lindell: Most everything I know about being a parent, I learned from being a nanny.
I learned how to make organic baby food from scratch, how to clean an air purifier without chemicals and how to tell if a baby had a fever by kissing her forehead. I learned where to find gripe water (in the nearest English pub) and the importance of routine, schedule and spontaneity. I learned how to distract a toddler with an impromptu picnic consisting of Oatios and a baby blanket, the safest car seat to buy and which pediatricians in town would listen to and care about pages of questions. I learned how to lie on the floor and play with blocks, forgetting about everyone and everything else in the world. I learned how to prepare for the day my baby would learn to self-soothe while I reassured a distraught mother who sat on the other side of her whimpering baby's door.
On certain temporary jobs, I learned things not to do, such as be an emotionally absent or overly attached parent. As my daughter approaches the teenage years, I keep both of these in mind, and as I walk that delicate balance (as most of us do), I find her needing me much less as a mother, much more as a parent -- but also as a companion.
Lately, I've been happily putting on the hat I used to wear as nanny as I parent my 11-year-old with a love that's void of the emotional charge that I feel fuels conflict between young daughters and their mothers. As I read a book, watching her play in the park or swim in the pool, trying to give her space, I feel I have transitioned from Mary Poppins to Mommy Poppins.
Parenting a tween is tricky. They need more space, privacy and room to grow, and, at the same time, need more guidance, reassurance and boundaries. Learning which of these to offer, and when, I'm realizing, is a gift and an art. But the path to getting there involves knowing who your child is and understanding that being a parent is different from being a mother.
We become mothers when we give birth, and it comes to us instinctually. But we have to learn how to become parents. I was very fortunate to work with wonderful families who taught me exactly how to do that.