When I told my parents that I was going to leave Russia and move to the other side of the world for four months to work as a babysitter, for some family that had approached me online only a few days before, there was no surprise, shock, or dissuading. They knew how much I needed to get away from everything around me and work on a new beginning. They also knew I’d always find the most complicated and risky way to do it, and therefore the only thing they told me that day was, “How are you planning to take care of children if you can barely take care of yourself?”
And even though there was some truth in their words (a lot of truth), I knew there was no better way to learn how to take care of yourself than being in charge of somebody else.
During my time as a babysitter, I’ve noticed that there’s something common between the kids I’ve been living with and the grown-up people around me. It turns out, most adults I’ve met in my life have the same patterns in their behavior as an 8-year-old fussy kid. And even though we try to hide it as we grow older, there’s still a child inside of every one of us, the child that didn’t get enough attention or didn’t learn their lessons when it was the right time, and the child who keeps affecting their relationships with people.
When you constantly see familiar but exaggerated patterns in someone else’s behavior, it’s hard not to think of the times you could’ve acted the same way towards someone without even recognizing it. And even though I was unable to see those patterns on my own, seeing it from an outside perspective helped me to learn some important lessons about my relationships with people and loved ones that I was too blind to recognize before.
1. Being nice won’t hurt you
I know you’re not interested in 85% of what your kid is saying to you during the day because let’s face it, kids talk about everything that comes to their heads, and no one really cares about sea turtles, types of red birds they saw in the yard this morning, or, God forbid, Peppa Pig. But there’s no way you’d ruin your kid’s life by leaving them with a constant attention-seeking disorder after ignoring everything they say to you.
So you reply with something like, “Oh, wow. Sounds interesting!” And move on.
I was never an oh-wow-sounds-interesting person and simply couldn’t understand why I should have to pretend to care about something I don’t, especially if I had to sound excited about it. Maybe because I grew up in a culture where you don’t have to be nice or pretend to be nice, or maybe because I just don’t care about other people that much. But the fact remains, I used to have zero patience in my relationships with other people.
Living in Russia, you can always tell whether or not someone likes you. Russians simply wouldn’t pretend otherwise. I always thought it was more important to be honest and straight in expressing your opinion and would never engage myself in a conversation I didn’t want to have, especially with someone I wouldn’t be interested in talking with. Therefore, it would drive me crazy to see my American boyfriend chatting about life and laughing with the people I knew he couldn’t stand.
“But they’ll think you like them!” I’d protest.
“Why would I want them to think otherwise?”
“Because that’s the truth!”
Soon after I engaged myself in a relationship with these kids, where I always had to be nice and worried about their feelings, I found myself acting the same way towards adults. After all, if we care about hurting a child’s feelings, why shouldn’t we care about the feelings of everybody around us?
The more I watched grownups talk to their kids, the more I realized that they don’t give a shit about what their kid is saying 90% of the time. No one gives a shit about what anybody’s saying 90% of the time! But they are still so nice that I almost believe they do.
For a while, it made me think about all the times my parents were so happy about something meaningful I’d done as a kid, and after reconsidering the whole new truth of life, I came to the conclusion that it’s genuinely nice to be nice, even when you don’t give any shits about what somebody’s saying to you.
Just support them.
2. It’s not hard to become an easy-going person and compromise
Kids don’t compromise. Especially spoiled kids. There’s no way they would do something they don’t want to do unless you trick them into it. Until then, you clearly just don’t love them enough to agree on what they actually want. According to them.
“I want Eupheopean food for dinner!” protested the little girl I’ve been babysitting for a few months now.
“I know, sweetie, but nobody else wants to go out for dinner. We are so exhausted from our road trip. Why don’t we just cook something you like?” her mother suggests softly, trying to cover the annoyance in her voice since this conversation has been going on for 30 minutes.
“You just hate me.” The girls high-pitched squeal unpleasantly filled the whole cabin we were staying in. ”Why won’t you admit that all of you hate me?”
Though I can’t think of a moment I’d say something like that to anybody around me, I can definitely remember the days when I wouldn’t simply accept some activity my boyfriend or my parents and I had to do together.
I-am-not-doing-it-unless-I-like-it was something I considered my motto less than a year ago.
But when you fall from the magical sky where your parents had set up for you when you were born in order to raise their baby girl with full love and support and suddenly end up working and living with a family you’ve known for less than a month, you prefer to just get along with whatever activity they suggest.
Saying, “Right, I’m not going to the fucking Chinese restaurant for dinner” to someone who pays you the money that could cover your college tuition is just rude. But as it turns out, being an easy-going person and compromising feels much better than being that grumpy face no one can satisfy.
Watching the kids fighting about the food, arcades, and movies, unwilling to compromise with each other, drove me crazy. “How hard is it to go somewhere for your family instead of forcing everyone to do something only you want to do?” was my constant hypocritical question until I realized how many times I’d actually made a scene in front of my boyfriend for having to do or watch something he chose for us that didn’t fit my expectations or mood. The evening would be ruined, both of us would be edgy, and no one would get what they wanted. What can be more silly and useless than that, when you think about it from another perspective?
As a babysitter, I had to agree on every activity they’d suggest. After all, isn’t it what they are paying me for? But what surprised me most was the fact that I’ve enjoyed every place we’ve ever gone to, even if it sounded stupid or boring to me at first. A year ago, if my boyfriend told me we were going to Glazed Expectations or Toy Story 4 for a date, I’d probably have fought him until we “agreed” on my activity. Taking it easy and agreeing on everything taught me that pretty much everything can be fun if you set up your mood and don’t expect anything bad before you even get there.