Thursday, November 12, 2009

Finding and Keeping a Great Caregiver

When my kids were small and I worked full-time, I was fortunate to have some wonderful caregivers. Yet, finding the right person was cause for major stress. My husband and I tended to choose women who generally stayed for only a year, because they ended up going back to school, starting families of their own, or moving into office jobs. Though that meant starting the process all over again, with few exceptions, the sitters we chose were phenomenal.

When it’s time to choose a caregiver, there are many things to consider. Do you want that person to drive your children? For my family, that was a must. If so, you need to be sure they have a clean driving record and a reliable car. Whenever possible, I would let the sitter use my car which I knew was safe.

Do you need flexibility of hours? If you travel or have a schedule that isn’t always fixed, the sitter will need to be flexible. You may even need her to spend the night on occasion. If so, is there a place where she can comfortably stay in your home?

Of course, references are vital. I was all set to hire Mary Poppins, or so she seemed, until one of her references warned me not to hire her. Unfortunately, not all references are honest, and some certainly may have grudges for whatever reason, but you have no choice but to listen to what they tell you.

When interviewing a potential candidate, have her spend some time with your children. See how she interacts with them and them with her. Does she instantly find a game to play or some way to connect with the kids? Do the kids seem to relate to her? How is her tone of voice?

If you can, try to be around the first day she sits. Maybe work from home if possible, or pop in and out several times throughout the day. Try to stay out of her way to encourage her to take charge, but you can keep and eye and ear out to see how it’s going. For the first week, if you can, have your spouse, parent, or neighbor check in occasionally. Set up play dates with neighbors and see what the neighbor thinks of how your sitter is doing with your children.

We had a wonderful sitter who had an eyebrow ring. That certainly wouldn’t be top on my list, but she was so great with the kids that I had to let my feelings about that go. Another one smoked and that was a fireable offense. She said she’d only smoke outside, but I could smell it the moment I walked in the house.

Your child’s teachers will also get a great sense of your sitter. How do the kids react when she picks them up? Is she receptive to passing on communication between the parents and the teachers? Is she on time?

Your children are the most precious thing in the world, and finding someone to fill in for you is never easy. Take your time, take a deep breath, and do your homework. And, if you suspect things aren’t going well, move on.

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