*This post was originally written in November of 2013 for a company I was doing some “freelance” blogging for that is no longer in business. (It was also syndicated by Yahoo Finance, which was pretty cool!) Since it’s a topic several of you asked about on my reader survey last week, I thought I would update it (a little) and share it again here. Feel free to leave additional questions or your own thoughts/advice in the comments!
As a working mom, finding childcare that meets the needs of our family TOPS my list of priorities. When I first went back to work in October of 2011, after Sam was born in July and a twelve week maternity leave, he began spending about 40 hours a week at an in-home childcare facility close to my school with four other infants/toddlers. The sitter had been in the business of child care for more than twenty years and, in addition to coming highly recommended from a co-worker of mine whose son was currently staying with her, she had lots and lots of positive references etc. Almost immediately I knew we had made the right decision when my sweet boy smiled every morning when I dropped him off and was still smiling when I picked him up at the end of the day. In addition, he quickly took to a more structured daily routine and started being more social and happier at home. Especially in the early months, I found SO much comfort in knowing that Sam was in good hands. (I honestly don’t know that I could have gone to work every day if I wasn’t confident in that.) Plus, moreover, I was surprised to find how much I valued and appreciated the sitter’s friendship and having someone else who knew and cared for my baby well to bounce ideas off of, get advice from, etc. Even now, three years later, I credit her with bringing some structure to the totally chaotic early days with a baby and helping me adjust to my new life as a working mom.
My work situation changed when Sam was a little over a year old, and – although we had been very pleased with our childcare situation – we opted to look for a part-time sitter to watch him in our home instead that fall. Though we did interviews through Care.com etc., we ultimately found the right person for us though Facebook (ofallthings) at the recommendation of a friend. In August of 2012, she started keeping Sam four mornings a week. Since then, she has transitioned into working full-time with us, keeping both of our kids, and – most importantly – become a HUGE blessing to and part of our family. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you’ve heard me sing her praises – we, literally, could not survive without her!
Now that we’ve been in the childcare market for almost four years (wow) and had two great experiences with different sitters, I feel “qualified” to offer a few tips for finding a great babysitter:
1. Focus on references and personal recommendations.
No matter how fancy her resume is or how great her paperwork sounds, you should rely most heavily on the references and recommendations of current and former clients. In an ideal world, you will be able to find a babysitter that has been personally recommended by a friend or co-worker of yours that has already had a good experience with this person. Simply knowing that someone you trust has trusted this person with their child is HUGE. Facebook and other social media outlets are a great place to start this kind-of search. Beyond that, don’t be afraid to call NUMEROUS references before settling on a sitter. (Not having references would be a big red flag for me!) When you call, have specific questions you want to ask and don’t hold back. *I offer references for our first sitter pretty frequently, and I’m always happy to do so. It’s such a big decision for a family, and I’m more than willing to offer a small bit of peace of mind.
2. Visit her at home/ meet her family/ get to know her on a personal level.
ESPECIALLY if your child is going to be staying at her house, you want to feel very confident about the environment he/she will be spending time in. Stop by for a visit unannounced. Ask for a full tour. Ask questions about family members and friends that might come by. Look at the photos on the walls, the books on the bookshelf, etc. etc. These things say a lot about a person.
Even if the sitter is going to be coming to your house, I think this is still an important step in the process. In fact, the deciding factor for my husband and I in choosing to work with our current sitter over a few other candidates was that she invited us to her house to meet her husband and kids. Simply seeing the way the kids treat people, the way she keeps house, etc. was big for us. (It might seem intrusive or weird; but, remember, this person is going to play a big role in your child’s life. Now is the time to be intrusive!)
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Even though the conversations may feel awkward at times, it is always best to get everything out on the table in the very beginning of your relationship. Be sure you talk about pay, vacation, sick-leave, family rules, extra duties (like cooking or cleaning), etc. BEFORE you commit to anyone. You might even consider drawing up a basic contract and having both parties sign it (you can find these online for free) just to make sure everyone is on the same page. Later, consider asking your sitter to keep a notebook recording daily schedules, new activities, etc. etc. (Some aren’t willing to do this extra work, and I can’t really blame them since taking care of multiple small children is pretty time consuming – ha! – but it’s worth a shot to ask if it matters to you.) Being able to keep up with these daily details will make you both feel better and more involved. Just like in any relationship, communication is KEY to success.
4. Welcome her relationship with your child & build one of your own with her.
This mostly comes once you have decided on a sitter, but it is really a big one for me! DO NOT try to compete with your sitter for your child’s love!! Be GLAD that this person loves your child and that the feeling is mutual. Yes, she might see more “firsts” than you (though I good one will keep that information to herself 😉 ), or be able to get him to take a nap or let you cut his toenails (true story) way better than you can; but, I try to remind myself that “the more people that care about my child, the better!!” If you are sad when you leave every day, or take offense when your child doesn’t want to go home, chances are he/she will pick up on that and feel less comfortable with the sitter.
Likewise, take the time to build a relationship of your own with this person… Spending even just a few minutes at each drop off or pick up making small-talk and getting to know each other goes a long way in terms of everyone’s comfort-level.
5. Read your child & trust your gut.
Apart from installing hidden cameras everywhere, trusting someone with your child every day requires a good bit of faith! We really don’t know how many hours the TV is on each day while you are gone, or how long your baby cried before she was picked up after nap. BUT, I do think you can tell a lot by paying attention to your child’s mood during drop-off and pick-up. Is he/she happy to see the sitter? Does he/she act like himself/herself in the evenings at home? Ask your child to draw a picture (if they are old enough) of what they do all day… In addition to the obvious things like physical symptoms of abuse etc, these are all important things to pay attention to and can help you gauge if a sitter is the right fit for your family; but, most of all, always trust your gut. YOU are the mom, and only YOU know best. If you feel weird about something, don’t waste time or worry about hurting feelings – look into it!
In the end, as always, whatever route you choose for childcare (or otherwise) will be the right thing for your family! Try to be confident in your decisions and focus on the positives instead of the negatives (there will be both) of your situation.
Good luck!! 🙂
P.S. My Reader Survey and big Back-to-School Giveaway end TONIGHT! Make sure you fill it out / enter if you haven’t already. I will share some stats from the survey and announce the winner tomorrow!