Deborah Tillman

A Modern Day Mary Poppins and “America’s Supernanny”

A Modern Day Mary Poppins and “America’s Supernanny”

By Lorin Drinkard

Photo Courtesy of Scott Gries © 2011Lifetime Entertainment Services, LLC, All Rights Reserved.

“They don’t ever walk—they always ride the steps.” What may sound like an amusement park reference is a line from a desperate mother on last season’s “America’s Supernanny.” In addition to turning the stairway banister into a slide, the four Skluzacek boys sucked ketchup from restaurant bottles and refused to shut off their home computer.

With one long look into the camera, Supernanny Deborah Tillman, in her respectable pearls and smart sweater set, swoops in to salvage yet another American parenting kerfuffle. “There’s no easy road to becoming a good parent,” advises Tillman, mother of 22-year-old son Zeplyn, to her TV audience. “But if you put in the work, you will see positive results in the future.”

That strong sense of positivity is a continuing theme in Tillman’s life that led her from super mother to Supernanny. “[It] has been a 21-year-long journey,” admits Tillman, referring to the decision over two decades ago to quit her accountant day job and open a childcare facility. “I picked up my son from the seventh childcare provider, and she was in the hallway talking. I immediately went to a back room where my son was. Tragically, he was in a bassinet. The wall was holding up the empty bottle, and he was sucking air.”

Since Tillman founded Happy Home Child Learning Center in Alexandria in 1994, two additional locations (another in Alexandria and one in Woodbridge) have opened in Northern Virginia.

“The short answer is that it took hard work, determination and the favor of God,” says Tillman, who went back to school for a master’s degree in Early Childhood Special Education and set out developing a vision, mission and five-year goals for Happy Home even in her meager beginning—no hired employees, five children to care for.

Seventeen years after switching careers, the casting agency behind Lifetime’s “America’s Supernanny” came knocking on her door.

“In August of 2011, I received a personal email asking me … if I was interested,” says Tillman, who responded promptly and was given a phone interview later on the same day. After a Skype interview with TV execs, she was then flown out to California where her childcare instincts were put to the test. “They threw me in a house and said, “OK, this is the family … You go in and solve the problem,” says Tillman. After several hours in the home, Tillman had assisted with potty training, fighting between siblings and master scheduling for the mom.

A week later, she was hired.

“This does not happen—’Supernanny’ did not just happen—overnight,” explains Tillman. “This was 21 years of hard work, OK—crying, stress and pain … and it’s the same with parenting. My child is 22 years old now, but it took a lot of hard work.”

After a successful eight-episode run in 2011, Tillman will be back this fall with Season Two. “It’s like 40 minutes [on TV], but really I’m in their houses like 12 to 16 hours a day,” confesses Tillman, referring to the eight- or nine-day process with each family.

“The best thing about this role is that they said, ‘Be yourself,” recalls Tillman. “‘We just want you.”

Catch Tillman as “America’s Supernanny” Daytime on Lifetime


(September 2012)