I’ve always loved being around kids. From my pre-teen years I was a mother’s helper, then a babysitter, and later a nanny. I’d spend Sunday mornings in the nursery at church and summers working our vacation bible school. As the youngest of five I guess I always wanted a little sibling. I even tried my darnedest to convince my parents to adopt. All of those years of experience certainly shaped and informed how I approach being a mom. But one family, one mother in particular, had a huge impact. Nannying her two children through my college years imprinted me with so much insight, wisdom, and knowledge. Today I want to tell you about her. We’ll call her, “M.”
I met M while she was pregnant with her second. She wanted to on-board someone with her son before a new baby arrived. I can now appreciate just how important it is to find someone you trust. And we clicked right away. She was warm, inviting, with a quick wit and beautiful home. Not to mention that her little boy immediately melted my heart. Later on, while I was pregnant with Colton, my sisters would constantly joke with me, “What if he’s not as cool as M’s son? What if he’s not as cute? You really set the bar high with that one.”
He was two-and-a-half at the time. He was an absolute sponge for information, loved to sing songs like “Life is a Highway,” and spent hours poring over his train table. But of course, in many ways, he was still very toddlery. He’d have irrational meltdowns and moments of ill-advised independence (why, no, you can’t climb out of this SUV all by yourself). Naturally, those things would tax on any caretaker–related or not. But M had the most incredibly humbling reactions.
Of all things, M excelled in patience, respect, and level-headedness. Perhaps she’d say differently, but from my perspective she never lost her cool. If little boy was having a tantrum she’d make them both take a deep breath together. If he was sobbing over a stuffed animal in the wash, she’d calmly say, “It’s very hard for me to understand you when you’re crying. Could you please tell me what’s wrong without the tears?” I imagine these things were an attempt to keep both parties sane.
But perhaps what I valued most about their interactions was the way M spoke to little boy. I’d personally never witnessed anything like it. She treated him beyond his years. She spoke with respect and never patronized him. She’d use full sentences and explain herself in detail. Yet, at the same time, she was never expecting more from him than what he was capable of. She didn’t assume he’d catch all the big words or adult concepts. But she offered them out of consideration.
Watching M mother her children taught me an entirely new way to nurture. With Colton I’ve strived to show similar levels of respect while still cherishing his tiny-ness. I’ve tried to emulate that balance between letting him grow up and admiring his childlike wonder. And by all means I fail on a daily basis. I don’t take my own deep breaths. I don’t hold back tears or anger or frustration. But every day I start anew hoping to put into practice what I learned by nannying. I’m more grateful to M than she could know.
Is there someone in your life who has offered motherhly wisdom?