My mum isn't a parenting expert by profession, as I am, but she is the person who taught me most everything I know about how to raise children. I don't mean to disparage the fancy nanny degree I received in England, or the invaluable lessons I've learned from the children and parents with whom I've worked. But when I look at the underpinnings of my philosophy, all I've really done is formalize what my mum somehow did intuitively. Here are the top seven things she taught me that form the basis of my views -- of parenting, and of life.
1. Manners. Naturally, as a Brit, this lesson is paramount. Yes, my mum taught me how to eat properly and wait my turn in a queue, but really what I grasped is that manners are about respect -- respect for my friends, my family, my environment and especially my elders. Whether it was a shopkeeper or a postman, I was taught to give up my seat if it was needed, to heed their warnings if my behavior was too unruly and to never, ever answer back. Manners are all about respect, and respect is crucial to good parenting.
Me when I was a Baby
2. Silver spoons are only for the Queen. My brother and I were never given anything that we didn't work for. We worked for our pocket money, and we worked because it was expected of us as members of a household. I'm a hard worker to this day, and never wait for a windfall of luck or money to come my way. I go seek it, and put in plenty of sweat to achieve my goals. I'd never have gotten to where I am in my career if I didn't have that work ethic, and it's one of the foremost lessons I teach families.
3. Compassion. When I was on the TLC show "Take Home Nanny," one of the parents I advised was a single mum who was working so hard to hold a life together for herself and her two boys, it was difficult for me to keep my emotional distance. In the end, I didn't, and I teared up on camera when it was time to say goodbye. From when I was 3 until I was 12, my mum raised me and my brother on her own, and it can't have been easy for her, either. Parenting can be hard, overwhelming, exhausting, even at times excruciating. I always honor that in my work, remembering that compassion is what many parents need most.
4. It takes a village, so seek and accept help. In my case, I really was raised in a village -- a tiny one outside of Oxford called Fyfield. My Nana and her friends were like my extended family. My mum's best friend, the friend's husband and their sons were also part of my everyday life. Someone was looking out for me, always, and I knew it. I always encourage parents to create a community in whatever way they can, even if they don't have family nearby. What's more, I encourage parents to talk to one another honestly about what's hard about parenting and when they need help.
5. Freedom to be children. Though my upbringing was strict, my mum also afforded me an enormous amount of freedom. I wasn't hovered over, kept on a leash or hemmed in by a busy schedule. I grew up playing in the garden, climbing trees and exploring my neighborhood. Even when I was home, my mum encouraged me to play where I wanted and expected me to entertain myself. I still believe this philosophy engenders trust, encourages good decision-making and promotes independence. Children today need to remember how to explore and entertain themselves instead of waiting for a toy or show to do it for them.
My brother and me playing in the garden
6. Accountability. When I was a child and took some candy from a shop without paying for it, my mum marched me straight back and made me apologize to the shopkeeper. She did not apologize for me or sweep my behavior under the rug. When I wronged a friend, my mum had me face that friend and apologize. If I got into trouble at school, I didn't expect my mum to reprimand the teacher, but rather knew that my own punishment at home would be worse than what I'd faced at school. Holding children accountable provides such an essential foundation for how they make decisions. When they know there will be consequences and accountability, they stop to think about their actions.
My mum when she was 2 years old
7. Quality time comes in all forms. It's lovely if you can spend an afternoon drawing with your child or wandering around the zoo, but quality time has a much broader definition than "kid-focused time." When I was a child, I spent an enormous amount of time with my mum, but it was often doing things she needed to get done, like making mince pies to sell at the village shop. My mum didn't have the luxury of leaving me and my brother at home while she got her work done, so we tagged along. There's a lesson in that -- in our increasingly busy lives, we shouldn't leave the kids at home with a sitter while we run errands. We shouldn't feel guilty for bringing them along to do "boring" grown-up tasks like gardening or cooking. All of these can be done with children, and they will benefit from it in more ways than one. I look back on those mince-pie days fondly, and can still make pie dough that will make your mouth water! So for that and so much more, thank you, mum.