Choosing Child Care
Choosing Child Care is enormously important. And enormously difficult. Do you want a Carer who will care for your child a lot – or might that person replace you in the child’s affections? Do you want a Carer who is reliable, or should you go for fun? Do you want your child to be with others or the only child in the equation? How can you check that the wonderful person you interviewed does not turn into a rabid monster as soon as you leave, or, maybe worse, neglect the baby? This is the biggest first decision you make about your baby, and the most complex. How do you consider the variables? and what should you choose?
For most people, and, I assume, all people reading this, children are the most important concern in the world. We are programmed to ensure that our genes go on, and must try to ensure that our children become the best representation of what we want to show the world. We accept that children are all different – the genetic mix coming from two parents makes minor and sometimes major differences inevitable -, we accept that our children will not be miniature versions of ourselves – unfortunately -, we also accept the responsibility for making sure that our children can maximise their potential, and be happy and successful human beings. In an ideal world, possibly we would all stay and home and bring up the children ourselves. Or perhaps not.
Some of us need to go to work to finance these children, some need to continue with a career, others need to be away from their family for whatever reason, others cannot cope with the demands made by small children on a 24/7 basis. It often makes very good sense to give the childcare over to an expert, to someone who will devote her or himself to the children and do exactly what you would do if you had the talent, energy, time and skill. And, of course, even if you were the model parent for your first child, you might relate less well to the second; even if you got on wonderfully with the second child when he was two, you might find him a lot harder to deal with when he is four. So, Child Care can be a very positive choice, as well as often essential to the well-being of the family.
In some societies, bringing up your own children is not an option. In many cultures, grandparents traditionally bring up the children while parents fund their families by working, often elsewhere. This can be very stressful: the children inherit the values of the grandparents, they might seem old-fashioned, may barely recognise their parents who might feel they or their life-styles have been disparaged by the grandparents. Parents can be very jealous of other people being the first to hear special news, to provide the money from the tooth-fairy, to care for the children when they are sick. However wonderful the grandparents, there is always the niggling fear that they might be the most important people in the lives of your children. But these are, at least, blood relatives.
In other societies, any one with some means is expected to employ child care, usually a loving and committed youngish woman who spends all her waking hours dedicated to the child’s needs and usually loves them. This person, often a young woman whose own children are being cared for elsewhere, is usually devoted and caring. She is, in any event, always responsive to the directions of her employer. In this situation, the parent is able to give over the day-to-day care of the baby and children while enjoying control of what they experience. Choosing Child Care in a Western society means determining what are the most important criteria for you and your family, identifying someone who can meet these criteria and then ensuring that this person stays with you.
Generally these criteria include:
being able to keep your child safe ,
being able to prioritise your child’s needs over her/his own
a shared language,
a willingness to commit for at least a year in the first instance,
Sharing your language seems an important criterion when young children are concerned – whilst it might be good for Laura to learn Spanish from a Nanny, it is critical that she develops a fluency in her own language first. Older children can gain a great deal from foreign help or an au pair – both linguistically and in terms of learning about other cultures.
It is always possible to approach an Agency for support. This has a number of advantages: (in no particular order) the financial implications are clear from the start; the Agency has already weeded out the unsuitable; the Agency can make your opinion known to the candidate; the Agency has a reputation which you can check out. Or you can ask friends for recommendations, contact the local training establishment, or place an advert yourself.
Before the interview, be very clear about what you are looking for. Identify your child’s strengths and weaknesses, and your own. If your child is shy and retiring, a booming sports fanatic might be too much. If you like life to be very tidy and punctual, you will find a ‘free spirit’ hard to work with. Plan an interview schedule so that you can compare answers different people give to the same questions. Identify the time you want from your Child Care, and how involved you want to be with that person, how involved you want that person to be with your child. Are you going to determine everything that happens, or will the Child Care have free rein concerning your child’s friends and activities? Be aware that however much there is a four week probationary period, it is very tempting to hold on to someone who is half-way decent, and very difficult to face up to a new search. In the end, you have to go with your intuition: do you feel comfortable with this person? do you find their ideas compatible? do they interact well with your child – naturally, but with respect? If your child says ‘yucky, I don’t like that lady’, then I would suggest you don’t employ her.
Having found the right person is only the very beginning. It is important for you and the child/ren that this relationship continues for as long as is useful. In order for this to happen, you have to be actively involved: Take time to talk to your help every morning, and to ask how things went when you come home. Listen to what is said by adult and child and try to resolve issues before they become critical. Be a good boss, appreciate what is done, but be clear about what is not acceptable – one of my au pairs wore headphones walking with the children to school. A friend told me. Make sure that your child knows that you are still Mummy, and that he is still the most important person in the world to you. Support your Child Care in front of your child if the Carer is in the right; your child will feel more comfortable knowing that the two of you are on the same, fair, side. Accept that some things will not be perfect – perhaps the Carer said s/he does not smoke but you can smell it on clothes; better someone you like, as long as s/he never smokes with the child present. Be aware that your child has to learn to amuse himself too; it’s acceptable for the Carer to sit alone for a few minutes while the child is sleeping or playing, as long as she is available when needed. Pay on time – the Carer is depending on this income.
In the right circumstances, Child Care enables you to be a great parent and a fulfilled person. I used to be thrilled to come home and play with the children on the days I worked – do you know anyone else who took their children sledging in the moonlight? When I was with the children all the time, I sometimes found it monotonous and couldn’t maintain my enthusiasm. When you find someone who supports your ideas and cares for your children you can relax, a little!!