If you are a busy professional, find a caregiver who loves your child as much as you do. Prior to having a child, I thought this was a strange concept. Now, I get it. Having great baby care allows me to go about my day without mom guilt, even when we are operating in an erratically over-scheduled household.
Mom guilt was one of my biggest fears prior to becoming a parent. I imagined returning to work, crying at my desk, missing the baby terribly. Because my baby is cared for by his part-time stay-at-home dad and a wonderful part-time nanny, I have the peace of mind to go on kicking butt at work. I am not distracted from my patients, or worried my child is forgetting who I am. When I come home, my kid is still over the moon to see me.
As a side note, I recommend finding a whole roster of caregivers. I have a written, ordered list of who we can call, should we need backup. My list includes a retired neighbor across the street, a baby-crazy vascular surgeon, two snowbirds from Minnesota, and a postpartum doula. That said, you will need to find one MVP.
To find someone as good as we did will require excellent luck, and lot of legwork if you plan to do it yourself. I was prepared to enlist a nanny agency if my own search didn’t go well. Happily, I was able to find several good candidates with free and low cost online resources. Here are some helpful hints for those getting started.
If you are a doctor or other Type A individual, you might make this mistake. I posted on Care.com while six months pregnant, thinking I could find the best caregiver for our needs, and lock them in early. Not knowing when I’d give birth or how much maternity leave I wanted to take, I couldn’t give an accurate start date. We didn’t really know what we wanted or needed from this person just yet. So I couldn’t appropriately field the responses that quickly populated my inbox. I closed the job posting, and re-posted it a few weeks before returning to work. Please give yourself time to heal from birth (or the stress of adoption, for that matter), and get to know your baby before you take this task on.
Start gathering information. Find out what the hourly rates run for a nanny in your area. Ask your friends how their nannies make their lives easier. One friend, a gastroenterologist, employs a woman to pick-up her two boys from pre-school and do meal prep, so the evening is running smoothly by the time she gets home from work. In- home childcare providers can chip in on various aspects of home management, allowing you to come home from work and enjoy your offspring, not the laundry.
It is a challenge to screen multiple candidates at a time, and trying to split duties with a partner could complicate things further. I became overwhelmed by the task, and came to understand why people hire agencies. My husband checked references, and he joined me for most in-person interviews. Delegating components of this large task is helpful. It’s a strategy I could have used more, in retrospect.
Our plan, upon my return to work, was that my husband would take care of Wesley in the mornings, and a nanny would take over in the afternoon, so he could book freelance work and teach music lessons.
Our online job post looked like this:
Afternoon and Evening Nanny Needed for Newborn in Palm Springs
Seeking a flexible nanny who lives near Palm Springs for a baby who is currently 9 weeks old. Start date is January 22nd. Experience with newborns important. Infant CPR certified. Cloth diapering. I work days and my husband is a freelancer, so we seek someone who is OK with having a different schedule from week to week, and who could stay late as needed. Weekly hours will range zero to 60 plus. Flexibility is key.
We would like basic housekeeping help when baby is sleeping. Potential duties include tidying common areas, laundry, changing sheets, emptying diaper pail, taking out household trash and recycling, loading/ unloading dishwasher and cleaning bottles. Occasional meal prep/ grocery runs.
Our erratic schedule is the most demanding part of working with us. There are nights when my husband is playing music at a restaurant, in Los Angeles recording, or in Reno playing a string of shows, and I have don’t know what time I will be home from the hospital. My work can be done any time between 3 and 9 pm, depending on the service I’m assigned, and the emergencies that arise. We were able to find someone who was OK with this variability because we outlined the requirements up front. Anyone who was put off by this kind of schedule eliminated themselves, thereby saving us time. Here’s a pro tip I’d implement if I were to do this over again:
Another important lesson I learned was to outline required caregiver vaccinations if this is important to you. A kind woman with a well-behaved daughter came to interview with us for on-call baby care duties. The interview was going well, until my husband asked about her willingness to get pertussis and flu vaccines. She was not. But they let her teach Sunday school, she protested. I was not interested in her reasons, and I ended up feeling the interview wasted everyone’s time by not screening for vaccination readiness/ willingness. So I added to my job description: “PLEASE APPLY ONLY IF YOU ARE WILLING TO GET OR HAVE THE TDAP BOOSTER AND FLU SHOT.”
For the sake of safety, screen out smokers. Smoking increases baby’s chance of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome.
For weeks, I combed through applications, asking questions, hearing life stories, and excluding those with red flags. One of our worst interviews kicked off with a late arrival, and was punctuated by the yapping of her small dog. She had childcare issues of her own.
You can find sample interview questions for prospective caregivers online. While all questions may seem important, to keep interviews a reasonable length, they must be limited. I suggest letting the interview develop as a conversation, using canned questions as an aid. It is not possible to learn everything about a person prior to hiring them. Through trial and error, you will hone your interviewing skills.
How much help do you need? How much can you afford? One of our top candidates was a live-in house manager and dog caretaker, after her employer’s children had left for college. Her credentials were stellar, and it would have been a cush setup to have someone completely responsible for running the home. But we would have to guarantee her a full-time income, so she could pay her own rent. In the end, we didn’t need a full time employee. Although she was a great candidate, she was not the right fit for us.
In the process of making a final decision, we performed two background checks. This is easy to do through Care.com. Background checks cost $65 each and have a rapid turn-around. In addition, we checked all provided references.
Sometimes, it won’t work out. We chose a woman around our age with two small children. She dazzled us with her resume and a handout of sample age appropriate activities for each level of development. Then she backed out the week before her start date. Her husband had found a job with higher pay, and she no longer needed to work with us.
With this unpleasant surprise came a blessing. I called our next candidate, a former daycare owner with two grown children of her own. She is a living angel, who does tai chi and zumba when she isn’t working with us. She doesn’t stare at her smartphone, and doesn’t even appear to sit down, unless she is reading to our boy. And I think she loves him as much as we do. As a bonus, she doesn’t mind dealing with our over-scheduled household.
My husband, Marsha, and I share the responsibility. With this setup, our boy gets the best of each of us. No one has a chance to get overly exhausted. Aside from our core group, we have family who drops in to visit several times per year. Neighbors and friends chip in with care occasionally, too. Because baby is exposed to different styles and routines, he is accustomed to change. He knows men can be caregivers too. I hope that exposing our little one to many caregivers will make him a more flexible human being in the future.
There are many ways to figure out the childcare puzzle. Know that if a musician and an interventional radiologist can find flexible childcare, so can you. Finding a nanny or other baby care is not what you do instead of being a great parent, it is being a great parent. You can do this, even if you’re an erratically over-scheduled household. If we can do it, I bet you can, too.
Best of luck!
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The path can be riddled with failures, even if you're doing it right. In this recording, I share some of my gaffes with you.