My friend, Barbara Raines, whose business card reads “On-Call Grandma,” transforms families. When she shares about the life-changes she initiates with children and their parents, I’m mystified. What does she do? Are there skills she uses that would benefit the rest of us in our lives, our relationships and our careers?Barbara and I have known each other ever since we car-pooled to the est training over 30 years ago. We turned out to be neighbors and have been friends ever since. When, as a lark and to generate more income, Barbara put her ad in the paper, she launched her career as a professional Nanna-for-Hire. But what does that mean? She’s more than a baby-sitter – although she does care for infants and toddlers when their parents are at work; and she’s not a nanny – although she becomes part of the family. Then what IS an “On-Call Grandma?”
“The parents who hire me,” Barbara begins, “are usually first-time parents, older, in their 30’s, a professional couple with both working. This is the common thread and either they’re unsure about how a new baby will affect their lives – or now that the baby has been born, they need help. This is where I come in. “Barbara explains that, in general, she has observed a lack of physical contact and loving talk between these professional working parents and their children – little if any holding, touching, caressing and cooing. As I’m reflecting on our texting-tweeting culture, Barbara recounts seeing the German grandmother of a client holding her newborn grandchild very closely and whispering soft, loving words in his face. The child would have heard and felt his nanna’s warm breath and loving presence – and felt connected and secure – experiences often lacking in the children Barbara works with.
“Children need the physical expressions of love to feel secure,” Barbara states, “otherwise they become distressed, extremely irritable; have poor eating and sleeping habits and there’s a lack of smiling, babbling and eye contact.”She continues, “As I observe the behavior of my clients, I ask myself, what’s best for the child; what needs to change quickly; what can I do to bring that change about; and how receptive are the parents?” These powerful questions launch Barbara into action, doing what she does so brilliantly.
“I take on the role of being another parent and give consistent loving attention to the child’s needs - including lots of eye contact, talking and listening, music, cuddling, play and fresh air. As a result, well-being, appetite and sleep improve!”Wyatt was 13 months when Barbara began caring for him. “He exhibited all of the distress signals and his mother, a high powered sales executive, had her home office next to his bedroom. She was on the phone constantly and did not give him ANY attention while I was there. He could hear her talking and moving about and would writhe and scream as I changed his diaper or dressed him; he was upset when I tried to feed or play with him. It didn’t take long to assess the situation. I needed to put more distance between Wyatt and his executive mom, so – when I arrived in the morning - I would pack his diaper bag and take him outside in his stroller. We walked for blocks in the fresh morning air, then go to a local green leafy park, where several nannies and parents gathered regularly with their little ones. This became our daily routine.”
“By giving him lots of caring attention, listening and responding to him, Wyatt began to mellow out. He learned to walk, talk and interact with the other children; he became more relaxed and laughed more. Around noon, we'd head home; usually he'd fall asleep on the way; I'd put him in his crib at home and he'd take a healthy nap. At age 2-1/2, his parents split up suddenly and dramatically. Due to his mom’s mental state, Wyatt’s dad would bring him to my home on the days of his custody. Although at first, he reverted to his early tantrums and irritability; over time, he calmed down, smiled, played, and flourished. I found a new park, new playmates and new activities for him and continued giving lots of caring attention to his needs – including to his developing mind and athletic prowess.”“Wyatt is now in the 3rd grade! I continue to see him periodically - meeting his dad and him for lunch, picking him up from school or attending a school function. He told his dad that I am like another grandma to him! He’s a big guy for his age, but a gentle, thoughtful soul who seems to have an understanding of and love for BOTH his parents. The continuity of his father’s and my loving, attentive care; as well as his mother's healthier responses to him have contributed to his security and well-being. Whenever I think of Wyatt, my heart swells with pride!”
Sometimes Barbara’s caring attention takes the form of straight talk. I was astonished when she shared about looking directly into the eyes of a 5 month old infant, who had shrieked to be picked up NOW. “It wasn’t the plaintive wail of a hungry baby asking to be fed,” she distinguishes. “She was demanding that I pick her up. I said to her, ‘My dear, I know what you’re doing. You and I need to get off to a good start and you need to know that you’re not going to get away with that shrieking.’“ Barbara speaks in a soft tone, with no angry edge. “The baby stopped shrieking, her eyes widened and a smile slowly appeared. Now, when she tries those Diva demands, I remind her, ‘Hey, we’ve had this talk,’ and she gets it. I’m being the wall for her and shaping her behavior – not in a suppressive way, or with any anger; but realistically, so she gets how the world works. Better now, while she’s young, than later. ” Temper Tantrums, beware!“I’m an old-style parent” Barbara elaborates. “I set limits, which actually provide security for the child; I’m consistent and I teach. I don’t lecture, but I guide parents into the practical realities, so they’ll understand that a child’s self-esteem is not damaged by setting boundaries.”
I flashback to my child-rearing days, wishing I could do them over again, then ask her how she learned to be so effective. Was it being a parent yourself? The est training? Barbara acknowledges that, as the child of alcoholic parents, the est training “blasted an opening to my inner child and started my healing process.” Est was followed by therapy and AA programs – Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) and Al-Anon, for spouses of alcoholics. Eventually she became a sponsor and continues to coach AA members through their sometimes years’ long recovery.This process of healing from the inner child out, led Barbara to completely open her heart to children, gain psychic-level sensory acuity and become the “child whisperer” she now is. When Barbara first meets clients, she quickly assesses what’s needed and wanted. She shares about her very first client, another high-powered executive mother, who had her cell phone tucked between chin and shoulder, and was carrying on a 3-way conversation among Barbara, the phone and her daughter. The mother gave the little girl, a first child, 90 seconds to eat her oatmeal. The little girl had hives. “Children that age don’t get hives,” Barbara asserts firmly. Obviously the mother’s frantic energy was stressing the child out and put Barbara on alert to check out the cupboards and refrigerator for any foods that might be contributing. Were there ever! She later discovered giant-sized cartons of packaged toddler snacks and other “add water” white-flour foods, loaded with empty calories and allergyns. Barbara also noticed that the little girl had lots of toys, but no interest in playing with them. Small wonder.
In est-speak, Barbara is the stand for “Loving Parents and Secure Children” and her antennae are set to pick up on everything that’s inconsistent with that. This first job as an On-Call Grandma was one of her toughest and helped Barbara develop her result-producing communication style. “There has to be an opening to speak into and I could see that this first visit was not the time to speak up. Everyone was too stressed out. When that opening showed up at a later time, I started out by expressing concern and keeping any lecturing tone out of my voice and words. Later, as I gained more experience, I learned to share what I had observed while tracking children from infancy to toddlerhood. This then leads to my offering helpful suggestions. All the while, I’m looking for common ground in the conversation, to maintain a connection and lack of threat. Usually the common ground is what’s going to be best for the child.”1. Wait for an opening
2. Express concern
3. Share from experience
4. Offer suggestions
5. Find common ground
To wrap up our interview, Barbara focuses on some of her guiding principles. “My children and grandchildren have taught me to let go of my expectations that things have to be a certain way and to practice compassion. We’ve all messed up, from time to time, fallen down, gotten back up and done it all over again. Acknowledging this has helped me let go of my pride and my need to be in control; to see the dignity and humanity in others and to stay fluid, go with the flow and hold my tongue when my buttons get pushed. This allows me to stay in the process of organic, natural change instead of trying to force it.“Other guiding principles: “Children have taught me to bring all my heart, fully and totally, to my work. I’m IN IT, without reservation. And last but not least, I stay connected to my joy. With my heart and joy fully engaged, success shows up naturally in each family."
· Release pride, expectations of perfection and needing to be in control
· Stay fluid and hold your tongue when your buttons get pushed
· Fully engage your heart and joy
Barbara’s success as an “On-Call Grandma” reflects every requirement that I teach about extraordinary communicators and speakers:· She sets outcomes – Having what’s best for the child show up
· Has sensory acuity – Responsive to openness and receptivity, maintaining connection and lack of threat, observing what’s inconsistent with the outcome
· Uses flexibility – Adjusting to the children and parents, staying fluid as needed or being firm as needed, speaking up or being silent
· Is congruent – Communicating consistently with the outcome
· Is fully associated – Giving her heart and joy completely to the task
· Establishes rapport – Uniting with the families and maintaining their trust
Now it’s crystal clear why parents hire Barbara and why she’s so effective. In our "More, Bigger and Faster" culture, her skill sets, attitudes and wisdom offer deeper, richer, more empowering choices for our lives, relationships and careers.Contact Barbara Raines at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pamela Kelly Communications - www.pkelly.com