x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Untangling modern family ties

Jo Frost, also known as Supernanny, is helping families navigate the stresses of the modern world through her show Family SOS, which runs on OSN's new channel TLC HD.

Jo Frost with members of a family she is trying to help in Family SOS on TLC HD. Courtesy TLC / March 2014
Jo Frost with members of a family she is trying to help in Family SOS on TLC HD. Courtesy TLC / March 2014

Jo Frost has been helping families solve their child-rearing issues with her no-nonsense attitude and clipped British accent for years, shooting to fame more than a decade ago on Supernanny. Now the 42-year-old former nanny is back with Family SOS, one of a roster of shows debuting in the UAE with tomorrow’s launch of TLC HD.

When should a mother go back to work?

I certainly feel that there are some women who don’t have the option of being able to go back to work when they are personally ready, because we are living in a world of much austerity and crunch time, where one needs to work and to be able to bring in the finances to keep the family’s head above water.

I certainly feel that if you are a parent who has that flexibility, then it has to be when emotionally you feel at a place that you are ready to tread into those waters, and what allows us to be able to do that is to make sure that we have the childcare that allows us to feel that we can do so, otherwise we don’t feel right.

Maternally, we don’t feel that we are leaving our children in a safe place, so preparation is key for when you are going back to work. Be ready to set the benchmark of when you feel you will go back.

Make sure you have in place what’s necessary in order for you to feel very comfortable and at ease emotionally in that situation, whether that’s obtaining childcare in an institution, whether that’s having a personal nanny or whether that’s having perhaps a family member take care of your newborn, because we now know in this day and age many a grandparent’s job has changed. They no longer have just the title of being the grand­parent, they now are becoming the primary caretaker of their newborn grandchildren.

How are parents supposed to choose a nanny?

When it comes to a nanny, you want somebody who has the mental and emotional maturity, somebody who has the experience, somebody who has impeccable references, somebody perhaps who needs to meet your demands for having a driving licence, perhaps to pick up a newborn as well as drop an older child off to school.

You are looking for somebody who is very responsible, somebody who is very dedicated, somebody who understands children and somebody who is there to support you, because having a nanny means that you will hire a very intimate, confident part of your family, who will become your friend and will become your child’s friend.

How do we explain to children that their parents are going to split up?

With sensitivity, first and foremost. Unfortunately, I have had the opportunity to aid many a parent in this unfortunate circumstance and the first word that comes to mind is “sensitivity” … I think that one has to be very careful in making sure that a discussion is had with both parents first before they talk to the children and, if possible, certainly presume what some of those questions may be so that they have answers.

It takes dignity and respect and composure from both parents to really recognise that it’s about making sure that these children – even though you’ve just told them something that would have left quite an earthquake underneath their feet – that you can create as much stability as possible.

You are talking about the values that parents should instil in their children so I was wondering what values should a child have that will help in becoming a stronger adult?

It’s a conversation I choose to have with parents every day when I’m helping them – what kind of children are you raising? What is important to you in how they’re raised? You’re character-building, their honesty, are they trustworthy, will they show loyalty? Will you show them a strong work ethic and the importance of working for things that belong to them? Will you teach them about having good etiquette and manners and being loving and respectful and kind to other people?

They are the things that really are discussions that should be had and is important for you to give them a childhood that will be fun and playful and imaginative but will be filled with structure and boundaries, all about integrity. They are all the kind of discussions that one should have certainly with their partner, so that when you do have your newborn you are able to really raise your children knowing the example that you’ve set.

What is the biggest mistake that you see parents making?

I’d love you to be able to change this word around. It’s not about the mistakes we’re making, because really it’s about the things that we do that become life experiences, and so it’s not really a mistake if it’s the first time somebody does something and then they realise that was not the right choice. Our mistakes happen when we continue to repeat the same behaviour and end up in the same place and then we are actually doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same result.

What I’d like parents to understand is that if we’re going to get through the challenges of raising children, it means we’ve got to continue to talk …

I find myself constantly in family dynamics and issues where nobody is prepared to sit down and talk about the situation and resolve what is necessary in order to create more harmony – and if you can’t talk and take time out to do that then you will never understand how the other person feels, you will never understand and work together in how you can resolve and you will never learn how to compromise so that you can get there.

• Interview provided by Discovery Networks