Hiring someone to care for your child in your absence is a double edged sword. On the one hand, yay! You have someone to look after your kids! But on the other, OMG, someone is going to be looking after your kids. What if they forget to change a diaper? What if they forget to make a flower design after cutting up the apple?! What if they forget about school pick-up?!?! For many parents, it’s the ultimate test in letting go.
“In some ways, separating from your child and leaving them with a caregiver can feel unnatural and may clash with a protective parenting instinct,” explains Ruthie Arbit, a psychotherapist who specializes in maternal and pediatric mental health. “Especially for families with really young children, beginning childcare can be a huge challenge and change. Many parents feel out of control and overwhelmed with the process and respond by asserting control in other ways such as by micromanaging.”
Why do parents micromanage?
According to Julia M. Chamberlain, a child and family therapist in Hingham, Massachusetts, the root cause of parental micromanaging is often high expectations, a little guilt and most commonly, parental anxiety.
“Anxiety can famously manifest as a need to have control over situations that are not necessarily controllable, which often leads to a falsified and temporary decrease in anxiety,” she explains. “However, it often leads to needing to gain more control in order to feel less anxiety.” Put another way: It’s a vicious cycle where no one wins.
Another cause of micromanagement (which ultimately stems from anxiety) is — shocker — the news. “News and media that highlight the dangers of everyday life can lead parents to feel like they need to have ultimate control in order to ensure safety, given the plethora of daily risks,” Chamberlain adds.
Finally, if you’re starting to suspect you’re micromanaging your sitter or nanny, check in with yourself, because, according to Rebecca Schrag Hershberg, a clinical psychologist, parenting coach and author of “The Tantrum Survival Guide,” you could just be burnt out.
“Parents are spread too thin right now and parental burnout is a very real phenomenon,” she says. “You might have the cognitive capacity to remember and take care of things the way you may have in the past, before there were so many balls to juggle. So, for instance, you may be asking your sitter the same question again and again, because ultimately, you’re exhausted and are having difficulty remembering and retaining information.”
How micromanaging may make your nanny feel
Emotions like anxiety and guilt can make it difficult to tune into other people’s feelings, but, needless to say, being micromanaged doesn’t feel good to a childcare provider. Professional nanny of over 30 years, Stella Reid, explains that when nannies are micromanaged, they can feel incompetent, inadequate, stifled, inexperienced and untrustworthy.
“Being micromanaged can make nannies feel like their employers don’t have confidence in their ability to provide quality care,” adds Michelle LaRowe, lead educator at NannyTraining.com and author of “Nanny to the Rescue!” “It gives the feeling that they aren’t meeting expectations.”
When to intervene and when to let things go
When the urge to micromanage crops up — be it in the form of checking in, overexplaining or redoing something the nanny already did — take a beat and ask yourself if the situation genuinely warrants your help.
Aren’t sure how to make that call? Hershberg, Chamberlain and Arbit recommend the following before getting involved:
- Ask yourself if you’re anxious. “Think about the issue at hand and ask yourself: ‘If I weren’t feeling so anxious and overwhelmed about things in general, is this something that would feel important to me?’” recommends Hershberg.
- Figure out if it relates to your core beliefs. “Does the situation relate to your overall values, to the big picture principles that are important to you in raising your children?” Hershberg says. “Or, is it more that you’re so overwhelmed that you’re having difficulty ‘right-sizing’ the matter at hand?”
- Weigh the options. “If there are situations that don’t feel like safety issues but you’re tempted to control, ask yourself the following: How important is this? What is the cost and benefit to me making this correction? Is there a significant social-emotional outcome?” says Arbit. “If it’s not significant, then reining in your temptation to correct is important.”
- Conduct a “news test.” When working with nervous parents, whose anxiety has stemmed from the media, Chamberlain says she conducts the “news test.” “I ask parents how often these unsafe incidents are realistically occurring statistically and within their community as a reference point for gauging the threat,” she says. “I then remind parents that these stories are ‘news’ because they are not common occurrences.” While you likely don’t have a therapist on demand, you can ask yourself these questions when the urge to intervene comes up.
- Do a gut check. “If a situation feels unsafe or your gut is reacting strongly, listen to that and get involved,” Arbit says.
How to deal with the urge to micromanage in a healthy way
Ultimately, dealing with the urge to micromanage your childcare provider is dealing with your anxiety, guilt or anything else that may be contributing to your desire to control. The following ways can help assuage these root causes, according to Hershberg, Arbit and Chamberlain:
- Talking through it with friends.
- Redirecting your attention/urges for control.
- Reframing your thoughts.
- Look for links between day-to-day anxieties and broader ones (such as COVID and other stories on the news).
- Speak to a therapist.
- Try getting more rest.
- Engage in daily calming, grounding practices.
- Communicate anxious feelings to your childcare provider, so they’re aware and can approach the situation with compassion.
- Make a list of non-negotiables and let smaller decisions be made in real time by the sitter or nanny.
- Talk to kids about “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting is common in divorced parents and is the idea that children follow the rules of the household, parent or provider that they are with even if these rules are not consistent across domains,” Chamberlain says. “Think ‘stay in your lane’ or the fact that children have different rules and expectations at school versus within the home.”
PULL QUOTE: “Think ‘stay in your lane’ or the fact that children have different rules and expectations at school versus within the home.” — Julia M. Chamberlain, child and family therapist
Dos and don’ts of common micromanaging scenarios
While micromanaging can present in a variety of ways, here are some of the more common scenarios, along with helpful alternatives.
1. Don’t undermine your sitter in front of the kids.
Do this instead: Talk to them in private.
If the nanny does something with the kids you normally don’t, address the issue out of the kids’ earshot. “Either ask if you can speak for a minute after the incident or address it later on,” says Arbit. “Be polite and respectful, saying something like: ‘Oh you know what, in our house we actually let the kids decide when their tummies are full and we don’t force the kiddo to take two more bites. Thank you.’”
2. Don’t set unrealistic expectations.
Do this instead: Map out your “musts.”
“Identify a short list of rules and expectations you feel are non-negotiable or paramount to safety,” Chamberlain says. “You can ask yourself: How much of these expectations do I have control over? And then relinquish control over the circumstances for which you don’t.”
3. Don’t dictate every second of the day.
Do this instead: Give a general idea, but leave wiggle room.
“Focus on a general schedule and allow choices for the child and caregiver within the schedule,” says Chamberlain. “An example of this can be allowing the caregiver and/or the child to make the choice to clean their room before or after lunch.”
4. Don’t over explain every detail.
Do this instead: Prioritize what’s important.
“Determine what your non-negotiables are and what you can let go; focus on the former,” says Arbit.
5. Don’t text or “pop-in” constantly.
Do this instead: Make a deal with yourself.
“Make limits and boundaries for yourself,” Arbit says. “You can set a contract with yourself that’s something along the lines of: ‘I won’t go downstairs unless X, Y, Z.’ If the nanny needs to learn how to put the baby to sleep and how to soothe the baby, the nanny needs an opportunity to learn those skills, so after showing them and teaching them, let them try it on their own.”
6. Don’t redo the nanny’s work.
Do this instead: Determine if it’s a non-negotiable and if it isn’t, let it go.
“Ask yourself if this is an important use of your energy and question why something like the diaper bag needs to be packed a certain way,” Chamberlain says. “Then assess your reasoning: Is it a necessity or a personal preference?”