Okay, I have to put it out there. This whole debate I see online about babysitters, daycare and nannies drives me crazy. My biggest ‘ahhhhhrrrgggg!’ moment is when SAHMs say to me “I just couldn’t trust someone else to take care of my kids.”
I understand where they are coming from and potentially what they are trying to say (well, I mean, maybe..) but what I hear is “I care about my kids more than you so I stay at home while you choose to leave them every day in the hands of satan.”
Some of these parents are amazingly wonderful mothers who I absolutely adore and envy for being as brilliantly amazing as they are, night, day, weekend, holiday and every other moment of their lives. Some of them are the normal kinds of moms who lose their minds 3x a day, cry in the bathroom, melt apart from never getting a break, are bitter towards their spouse for not doing enough and pawn off their kids on any grandparent, cousin, aunt, uncle or gym daycare center they can get their hands on. Some of these mothers fall somewhere in the middle.
Where my rant here lands is finding someone you trust to help take care of your children so you can work, or have a date night, or a moment to yourself, is not shameful, it is not the wrong decision, it doesn’t make you less (or more). We are all just trying to make something work here.
When someone says “I just couldn’t trust someone else to take care of my kids” – they might well mean “I can’t believe you freaking leave your children in the hands of anyone else and you are a horrible parent for doing so” – but what they might also mean is: “I don’t make enough to cover childcare so it financially doesn’t make sense in our family for me to work, or spend money on sitters”, “this was a personal decision my partner and I made for various reasons” or “I absolutely couldn’t wait to be a stay-at-home-parent and I love everything about it. I never want a break.”
What they likely don’t mean is “I evaluated my options for childcare thoroughly and exhaustively, I interviewed, researched, and invested time and energy into finding reliable, professional, principled and experienced caregivers I can trust and turned up zero.”
I see online a lot of folks jumping in on the comments train about care.com – how could you hire a complete stranger to take care of your kids? What kind of parent would do that? Honestly, I completely agree with that sentiment. It’s also worth noting that care.com is a platform like Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, etc. At no point am I under the impression that someone on the other side is screening these candidates and setting me up for success. That is all up to me.
I have hired roughly 8 babysitters from Care over the last 3 years from long-term to short-term or occasional sitters and I would say absolutely not once did I hire a ‘stranger’ in the end. I ended up knowing my candidates so thoroughly that I had no doubts about their morals, skillset, backgrounds, capabilities or character. Some of these girls have become like extended parts of our family – we send pictures of the kids growing up and check-in on them at college or their new jobs in the real world. We have met their parents or siblings and invited them to birthday parties. Some have gone on trips with us or helped us in dire pinches. If you can put the effort, time, and energy in to find the right caregivers – you’ll never hire a stranger. Instead, there is a chance you just bring more wonderful people into your child’s world who can love them and show them care.
(Side note: It is very “funny” to me that the one sitter I hired who did not come from care.com but actually I knew from the neighborhood ended up being my worst sitter and I had to fire. She was no stranger – so I wasn’t as exhaustive as I am on care — a reminder to never let your guard down mamas!)
Using Care.com to find the perfect sitters:
Know What You Need (and want)
Write down your needs, expectations, compensation, and wishlist. This deep dive won’t be shared with anyone but your spouse (as applicable), but you’ll need to refer to it often in your search.
You should also write up a super simple and clean paragraph that you can post on care (though I have better luck in “search” (i.e. combing through profiles) vs. posting a job. This paragraph or two should be ‘cheery’ (remember, you are partly in sales-mode here) but straightforward.
Once you find someone (or hopefully a handful) or candidates that pique your interest, send them a quick, high-level message on the platform:
Hi there, your profile looks great! We are a family of 4 (2 little girls under 5) looking for a part-time/occasional sitter. We’d love to find someone who is outgoing, fun-loving, responsible, proactive and who adores children. CPR certified is a plus! The duties would include taking care of the children (playing, laughing, reading, diapers, feeding, bath and bedtime routines…) as well as cleaning up after them (putting away toys, cleaning up after their mealtimes, helping put away their laundry…). Must have experience with young kids, great references, have a clean driving record and able to commit to 4-8 hours a week. We live right near Christopher Park. We pay $13/hour hour. Please let me know if you are interested in chatting further!
Once your sitters start replying and you like what they have to say – go deeper on your needs.
Anyone you don’t like (weird response, too slow in response, other things that throw you off…), nix right away. Don’t waste your time.
Something like this will do for a secondary introductory message:
“Thanks for writing back, Claire! I am so impressed that you took Infant CRP as well as a Toddler Positive Behavior class! Also, I love that you are so into sports. Being active is a great model for my children – who also love playing games outside. Like I mentioned, we are a close-knit, active family on the search for the perfect sitter! We can be flexible on days but will need 4-8 reliable and consistent hours every week, preferably in the morning and occasional date nights.
Some quick questions:
Do you have a reliable car? Clean driving record?
What is your normal availability like at this point?
What are you looking for in a babysitting job (family, kids, responsibilities, location, etc.)?
What other activities are you involved in week-to-week (school, family, friends, church, club etc.)?
Are you able/willing to pass on references?
Do you have a resume you’d be willing to pass along (even something as simple as summer jobs, school activities, educational performance, interests, etc.)?
How long are you looking to commit to a family? (Will you be off to school or a new job in the next year?)
Once your candidates pass through the second round of messages with a positive takeaway, you are likely ready to move off the platform for a phone screen.
“Claire, this all sounds great! I’d love to hop on the phone with you for 15-minute to chat a bit more before arranging a time to meet. Can you talk today or tomorrow at 4:00pm?”
I like to keep my phone screens brief – mostly because you can tell pretty quickly in which direction it’s headed. I have told people after 5-minutes that I don’t think we are a right match (maybe due to schedule, their expectations, location, etc.) and moved right off the line. Why waste everyone’s time just being fakely polite?
If you are bolder – make your phone screen a Facetime call. I find this to be even more revealing and helpful in cutting through the good vs. bad.
What to ask on a phone screen [coming soon].
Loved the phone screen? E-mail or text them right away to let them know and ask for their references.
“Claire, thanks so much for your time! It was really so lovely to chat. I think you might be a perfect match for our family and would love to connect with your references and set-up a time to meet in-person. Can you please pass on 2-3 names and numbers of the families you have babysat for? If you have 2 other personal references (like close adult family friends, coaches, teachers, neighbors who know you well) that is really helpful too!”
Actually reach out to the references. All of them. E-mail exchanges and recommendation letters do not do the same justice as a live conversation.
Schedule an in-person interview to ask the candidate more questions, get a sense of each other and go over your high-level needs and expectations. You should also be in “sell mode” if you like them!! You want them to like you and your family as they are likely interviewing elsewhere.
I prefer this to be a 30-minute meeting at a local coffee shop (if you have the luxury of being kid-free). However, if the phone screen was awesome and the references were stellar, I would actually make it more like a 45-60 minute meeting at my house, with my kids around. Otherwise, schedule it over nap time or school so you can truly focus on the conversation at hand.
Do Your Research
Thoroughly read their profile again, check through any photos they post and read reviews they may have if you haven’t done this already. Search their name on the web for other site reviews. Scope out their social media if possible.
I recommend doing background checks (and even credit checks on long-term professional nannies). Your candidate will have to consent to this and you will have to pay for the service but I find it to be a worthwhile investment – depending on both the situation and the candidate.
Set-up a Trial
Be willing to set-up a ‘trial’ with your potential caregiver. Have them come over to your house for 2 to 3 hours when you will be there (and available). Walk them through where things are kept, how you like things done with the kids/in the kitchen/etc., your expectations of their responsibilities in your house/with the children, and leave lots of room for casual conversation, question, and positive interaction with the children.
Spend time together with the kids and let them see how you play with your little one.
Demonstrate how you speak to the children or how you handle a meltdown or mealtime. Save time to step away here and there and just listen in to them engaging with your children on their own.
Getting to know your potential caregiver and allowing them to get to know your family will help each party make an informed decision about the fit long-term.
Trials should be paid as normal hours and that expectation should be set up front.
Put Together Your Offer
By this point you should already have a grasp on the provider’s requirements for compensation and they should understand what you will be offering them. However, you should make the following crystal clear before beginning the journey together:
- The hourly pay rate
- When and how they should expect to be paid (check, cash, venmo, paypal)
- If there are other benefits or perks you are offering. This might include things like a train or bus pass, gas money, a cell phone, use of your family car, food while working or other.
- Fireable offenses: Absolute don’ts (like inviting friends over while sitting)
- Absolute dos (like playing, keeping an eye on the kids at all times, following house rules)
Be a reliable and fair employer
It is important that your sitter sees you as a fair, reliable and trustworthy employer and that you value their role in your family’s life.
You should stay on the same page as them, informing them about changes in schedules, new house rules, guidelines about discipline, and back them up in front of your kids when necessary.
They should feel like an important part of the “team” and on the same side as the parents.
If you are cutting hours short over the week or month, discuss their financial needs with them beforehand (they may be relying on you to pay bills!) and be fair to them with their responsibilities (doesn’t expect them to clean your bathroom or fold your laundry if that wasn’t discussed in the first place).
Manage their expectations well day-to-day, if you are going to be late, you should give them the same courtesy you expect of them.
Never ask a caregiver to reduce their rate because your kids go to sleep, it is their time and competency you are paying for. Even if your kids are sleeping – if there was an emergency at night- you’d expect the best from them.
Make Room in the Schedule to Train Them
Whether it is a day or just a couple of hours here and there – ensure you leave room in your schedule to spend time with your new caregiver at the very beginning. Writing down instructions and making labels around the house will help also! Set your provider up for success! Training them in a way that demonstrates you trust them and expect great things helps them feel committed to a lasting, healthy relationship with your family.
Make sure you make a list of your do’s and don’ts and go over it with them not once, but twice and post it on the fridge.
Check-in on Them
Come home early or unannounced. Check-in on your cameras. Not always, not forever, but definitely at the beginning once or twice. How is everything going when you aren’t expected or around?
Be open – ask them how it’s going, how they are doing, how they are managing with the kids, etc. Leave time for them to give you feedback or ask more questions in a casual manner.
You might also enjoy my post about nanny sharing! Read it here.
To read all my posts about childcare visit my page here.