During a dull day minding some children back in London a few years ago, Jo Frost spied an advertisement from a television producer searching for a nanny with at least five years of experience.
She made the life-changing call and became television's "supernanny." Now Frost is stopped by strangers in airports seeking child-rearing advice.
"Supernanny," on ABC Mondays at 9 p.m. EDT, is a breezy example of the "kids behaving badly" TV subgenre that owes its success primarily to Frost. She offers a firm yet warm voice of authority, and the knowing looks she shoots over her glasses at the camera says she knows what you're thinking — these children really are acting like little horrors!
After "Supernanny" became a success in England, it moved to the United States. Frost makes episodes with families from both countries, and "Supernanny" is also seen in 45 other countries.
Her signature may be the "naughty spot," where children are banished to contemplate bad behavior. She's seen her share of it, too, and it's a wonder it doesn't tarnish her view of child-rearing. With television's need for dramatic transformations — and perhaps to give viewers the sense that no matter how chaotic their home, it can't be THIS bad — there's plenty of kicking, screaming, throwing and hitting.
She also sees the other extreme, with parents so intimidating the home has an atmosphere of fear.
Frost recoils a bit when asked what she considers the greatest failure of parents these days.
"That's a negative word, failure," she said. "I don't think any parent strives to fail. I think parents try and if they don't succeed they recognize that and make changes and use better judgment. I think it's a learning curve, parenting."
One of the best examples of Frost's approach was seen earlier recently with the Carsley family, a divorced mom with a seven-year-old girl and two sets of male twins, ages four and five. The household was a disaster area, with kids screaming out for attention and lashing out violently, the mom too overwhelmed to deal.
Frost made clear what behavior was unacceptable, mapped out a way for the mom to give special attention to her needy daughter and got the kids working together toward goals instead of competing.
Has she ever come across a family so dysfunctional that even the "Supernanny" can't do anything?
"I don't look at it like the WWE, to be honest," she said. "I get asked, is there some family you haven't cured, as if it were a terminal illness. Have you ever met your match? Do you ever give up? It's the sensationalism of the program, because it's under the reality TV banner. To me, I see a family, a very unique family, that has a situation that needs to be resolved."
To parents who feel overwhelmed, Frost suggests they look after themselves and not feel the need to be martyrs.
"I think it's important for parents to recognize that it's OK to have a weekend with my wife (or husband) and have my kids looked after," she said. "It's all right for us to go out and have `me' time at a restaurant once a week for dinner. Then we can give continuously to the kids as well."
Frost, 36, is single and childless. Her father is enjoying her special fame; her mother died of breast cancer 12 years ago when she was only 43. Frost said she and her brother felt "very special, very loved" while growing up in a home where they were taught compassion for all.
"I had parents who were very loving and very much involved," she said. "My father, if he promised he would be there, he was there. Wild horses didn't stop him at a school play. Trust was set up and never broken in our family, which gave us a very strong foundation."
Frost hasn't yet reached the point — if she ever does — where she resents people stopping her in airports and on the street to ask parenting advice.
She even had one encounter with two young Australian men who said they watched "Supernanny" with their fiancees and took notes, anticipating when they would become parents.
"I expect people to come up when they see me," she said. "Why wouldn't they? And it's cool. People come up and shake my hand. Some people come up and give me a big hug and say, `Oh, my God, I've used you on my seven-year-old!"