Hiring some sort of parent/cleaner/nanny/grandma/sitter/SEA
May 10, 2014 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I've got kids with medical problems and I need someone to help me manage our home. What is this called and how do I go about finding it?

I have two children in primary school. One of them has complex medical needs and the other also has multiple challenges. I'm a single mom, although they go to their dad's some of the time. Their dad really doesn't do enough to co-parent fully - he refuses to do or just doesn't do any of the parenting that he considers non-fun and has made it explicitly clear that he won't do this stuff. I have pretty much had to give up my career to manage the sheer number of medical appointments. I spend most of my week running around to medical appointments, doing advocacy, grocery shopping, doing all the errands that I can't do in the evening because I have the kids, filling out forms, etc. My doctor says that most people would find having one kid with special needs is a full-time job, but I have two and then I have my own medical challenges.

Because of my kids' special needs, there can be outbursts or episodes where stuff gets thrown all over, dumped, etc. Right now, there are boxes pulled out (the kids pulled them out and opened them), there are toys dumped all over, 2 overflowing baskets of laundry, stuff just piled everywhere, dishes everywhere, a dirty bathroom, dirty kitchen floor, a fridge that needs to be emptied out, not enough groceries, etc. One of us has a major allergy, so I can't even seek reprieve by going out for dinner, ordering takeout, getting a pre-made meal at the health food store, etc. I tried having a house cleaner before, but it was so stressful to have to pick up everything and get ready before they got here and they've since moved away. I have laundry on my needs-to-be-changed bed and there is junk all over the dresser in there because I have to take stuff away from my kids all the time. They will climb counters, cupboards, desks, etc to get at stuff they want. (To be clear, they have medical care and things are actually improving, but it has been years of this.)

I'm exhausted. I have very little money, other than child and spousal support. I can't just go get a full-time job or even half-time job. I had to give up on the work I had. My kids don't qualify for any sort of government respite services. A lot of our "extra" money goes to paying for special supports, tutoring, therapies, etc.

I feel like I need some sort of doula for my home, like when I had a post-partum doula and sometimes she'd help with the kids, sometimes she'd tidy up and sometimes she'd fold laundry. Somebody who would get to know that you have no idea what you're walking into when you get here. Somebody who gets that my kids and I might be here, because that is just how the day works out and it doesn't work for us to stay away from home. I don't know if what I really need is a housecleaner or something. I feel like it is such an unmanageable situation. When my mom comes to visit, she just seems to always know what to do to help and she gets things back in order.

I'm not sure what service I should be looking to get or what it is. I basically want someone to do what my mom does when she visits. Like Rent-a-Grandma! I don't want to feel like I have to clean or tidy before they get here or feel embarrassed that my kids, who have complex needs, totalled the apartment before they get here. Sometimes, I wonder if I should be hiring a special needs assistant or something and doing the cleaning/tidying myself. I can't just go hire a cheap babysitter because my kids can be challenging. DOn't have a yard and can't just send them outside. My schedule is kind of unpredictable, too, and so I might be here or not here, although I can leave a bit of a list. Sometimes, it would help to have someone sort through all the paperwork that comes in or to look at all the notices the kids bring home. I guess what I really need is what a husband/father would have been doing if I had married (and stayed married) to someone who was wiling to do the non-fun part of parenting.

I hope I don't sound distraught or anything like this. This is a very practical problem. The way life is now, I have no time and I'm just exhausted. I feel guilty that I am too tired at 10 pm to be cleaning the house. I do feel super embarrassed about the state of my home, although I'm sure anyone who reads what I just said above gets it. I grew up working class - my mom was a housecleaner - and so spending money to even hire help is fraught with emotion. But I feel like it's more like I am not even sure what would solve the problem here. I am toying with advertising for a "Special Needs Kid & Home Doula", which is a title I made up. :)

Note: if you popped in here to say that the kids should be doing more of their own stuff, like laundry and house cleaning, I totally agree with you, but, unfortunately, my kids are not in a place to do that right now and this is not because I'm lax.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats to Home & Garden (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you qualify for respite care or a PCA? In my state, kids on MA or Medicaid automatically do. I havent used the service myself but I know a lot of special needs families who do. Your caseworker will be able to tell you if you qualify.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:04 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you a member of a church, or are you amenable to joining one? Many years ago, a single mother who lived in my neighborhood had a severely disabled child, and members of her church volunteered to do many of the things you've listed above. IIRC, there were about 10 people from the congregation who took turns helping out throughout the week.
posted by SamanthaK at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just saw you said you don't have government respite care-what we qualify for is private care covered by public medical insurance. Might be available where you live too--where are you located?
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:07 PM on May 10, 2014

One question for clarification, their Dad is not pulling his weight, but does he have enough income to contribute toward your hiring someone to help you out for cleaning or otherwise?

Re getting someone in to clean - could you just have them do kitchen, bathrooms, and wash and fold laundry?, or could you get them to just do one or two rooms per week? That would give you some help but you would not have to pick up the whole place to prep for them coming.
posted by gudrun at 12:10 PM on May 10, 2014

We don't qualify for respite care. We live in British Columbia and my kids do not have the level of impairment required for respite. I hadn't thought about private care, though. What does that mean? My child with more complex disabilities doesn't qualify for government autism respite (because it isn't autism) and he isn't considered to be so impaired that he is unable to feed, dress and bathe himself - even the government reps and hospital / medical team say we're being ripped off, because this is far more challenging than autism and autism is covered. And, trust me, I've tried having the most generous of doctors review the autism part. :)

Their dad is high income, but he's already spending a lot on their other services and his own therapy. My friends say that I should stop looking at how much he has at the end of the month and consider that he is still working in an executive position and that I am not and thus I am losing huge career potential, which will affect me as I age. I am not aware of anything in the Family Law Act that would make this a special expense that would qualify for him to help cover.

Interesting thought about just having them do certain rooms. I hadn't thought of that. I had to argue with my last cleaner (in a friendly way) about how it was really more important to me to get certain things done than for her to fold the toilet paper in a triangle.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:14 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Well, I think you should ask your ex, friends and family to come over next Saturday or Sunday and help you clean and organize the house. If multiple people pitch in, the place will be clean and tidy in no time. Once you have that off your list of worries, you'll feel better.

As for the stuff you'd like help with, in my experience a good housekeeper can help with all of it (childcare, kids homework & school paperwork, making doctor's appointments, cleaning & organizing, cooking, grocery shopping/errands etc.). According to Wikipedia:"The modern housekeeper of today will not only cook, clean, do errands, and help with the children, but will also act as the dog walker and personal assistant, house-sitter. The salary for housekeepers in major cities is anywhere from 15 to 35 an hour."
So if you decide to place that ad, you might look for a housekeeper instead of a Doula.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:15 PM on May 10, 2014

Do you live near any family that could help out? Alternatively, as you're not currently working, would moving near family be possible?

I hope one of the answers helps you resolve this as it sounds like it must be so difficult for you at the moment, thinking of you.
posted by ellieBOA at 12:15 PM on May 10, 2014

Seconding ellieBOA- you mention that your mother fills this role for you when she visits. Can she move closer, or visit more often? Or could you move closer to her?
posted by MadamM at 12:21 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thirding, and was just about to suggest the same thing- living closer to your mother if she is willing to help more often.
posted by bquarters at 12:22 PM on May 10, 2014

I wouldn't get too hung up on what title you give to this job if that's delaying you from actually placing the ad. Describe it as a housekeeper / personal assistant or a family assistant or similar and then describe -- in not quite the level of detail you've used here -- the kind of things they'd need to do. The important thing here is likely going to be to find the right person -- someone who is fairly flexible and self-starting and can take direction but also figure out what needs to be done.

If I was going to write your ad for craiglist (or to send to the student jobs office of a local college/university, because I think a reasonably responsible student who is hoping to work with special needs kids in the future would be a good fit), I would write something like this:

Wanted: Personal assistant for family with special needs kids

A busy family with two special needs kids is looking for a part-time personal assistant who can help us with daily life: housekeeping and cleaning, running errands, childcare, cooking and other household management tasks.

The right person will be flexible and open to taking on a range of household tasks based on what's needed. They'll be able to work through a to-do list without supervision, but also figure out what most needs to be done. Though directly caring for the kids will only be a small part of the job, someone who is working towards a career in helping special needs kids would be a good fit. A driver's license is essential, but you don't need to have your own vehicle.

Scheduling is flexible, but we're looking for someone who can consistently be available for X hours per week and we're offering X dollars per hour.

posted by jacquilynne at 12:50 PM on May 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

My ex was (is) abusive and can't be here. I really have a hard time seeing my friends come to pitch in for this sort of thing - I think they would tell me to hire someone, being that most of them are fairly affluent city professionals who don't quite get what it is like without family and money - or if they do get it, they seem to be the ones in similar position to me and they have all moved way out to the burbs and can't get in to help me while still managing their own kids' special situations. My parents occasionally visit, but they have made it clear that leaving an abusive marriage and having special needs kids is my problem. Most of them are just appalled that my parents don't find a way to be here to help more often or even just move. (Example: I called after being assaulted and when I was in shock and filing for divorce and my parents refused to help, because this was not a good enough refuse and surely I could just put the TV on.)

I can't move closer to my parents as they live in a town with no work opportunities, about 5 hours away, and I would lose the comparatively well-funded health care and educational resources we have here in this city. (My therapist thinks it would be an extremely bad idea for me to live close to my parents and she almost never tells me what to do. My parents are shockingly inconsistent and frequently narcissistic. Long story.) Many of the services we use are not available in small towns and I would also lose access to specialist care. My kids' medical teams also say it's really important not to have them changes schools or homes, given the degree of trauma and change in their history. And I don't want to lose access to the only Children's Hospital in the province. And given that my kids actually do love and need their dad, I wouldn't want them to lose his support. Our agreement says neither of us can move outside the city anyway.

I would feel very uncomfortable joining a church just to get services.

Respite care not funded for complex disabilities.

Sorry. Not trying to throw up roadblocks. Just trying to explain why it's more that I have to figure out how to hire someone and how to even figure out what it is that I need.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:50 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you need to consult a family law attorney to determine whether the kids' father is paying appropriate support, given their special needs and his ability to pay, as well as the fact that you are providing full-time, round-the-clock care most of the time. I know nothing about Canadian family law, but many jurisdictions here in the U.S., courts take all of that into account, and they can also order a parent to pay more if s/he is refusing to participate fully in all of the tasks of parenting, including the un-fun ones. Consult a lawyer. IAA(American)L, IANYL.
posted by decathecting at 12:52 PM on May 10, 2014 [15 favorites]

You are awesome, and your kids are so lucky to have you.

Where we live, the rates for a mother's helper are much lower than childcare. We have a lovely student who comes by weekly and just takes care of whatever needs it. I basically told her "Anything you can do to make this place less disastrous." So laundry, or dishes, or stacking/organizing toys, making beds, light sweeping, emergency groceries (not the weekly shopping, but grabbing a carton of milk from the mini-mart on her way over if we need it). I've even left notes asking her to peel and chop veggies to help get dinner rolling faster when I get home. It's not as thorough as a housecleaner, but there are days where I get home and the kitchen is tidy and I almost weep from gratitude and relief. She's graduating soon, and even though it was just two hours of random light chores a week, it was SO HELPFUL that I'm afraid my life will fall apart when she goes.
posted by synapse at 12:54 PM on May 10, 2014 [14 favorites]

Sounds like a really tough situation. We are getting hosed by special needs funding here in Saskatchewan, so I can only imagine how restrictive it must be in B.C. I know that Alberta has a program for parents of special needs kids that provides some funding so that you are able to pay a family member some money for childcare. No idea if B.C. has something like that; we found out about it through our disability case worker.
It's not just church groups that offer help -- could you join the FB groups of some local moms' groups and/or special needs groups? A post to one of those boards can generate some help that doesn't have as many strings attached as family help does.
I'd try posting something like jacquilynne's job posting example on kijiji and your local campus job board and see what you get. If you don't get responses, change the description a bit and try again in a week or two. There are definitely students out there who are looking for jobs like this (we found one thru a campus job board) and even if you have two or three on the go and each one just comes out once or twice a week and does whatever needs doing, it would help. Our disability case worker also suggested we contact the co-ordinator of the early childhood program at our local college and see if we could get any help that way, in terms of students looking for work experience -- especially if the program has a focus on special needs. Not sure if you have the time or energy to follow up on any of this (totally understandable if you don't), but just wanted to throw some ideas out there.
posted by bluebelle at 1:02 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Synapse answered your question sort of in passing, and I don't want it to get lost in the shuffle.

What you are looking for is a mother's helper, preferably one that is experienced working with children with special needs. This should not be difficult to find - you can post on craigslist, or care.com.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:13 PM on May 10, 2014 [9 favorites]

oops, thanks PI. Yes, that is exactly right. And the other point that got lost in the narrative I spun - if you're strapped for cash, it may be easier and cheaper to start by separating the childcare part out, and "just" get help handling the household element.
posted by synapse at 1:18 PM on May 10, 2014

I was also going to suggest the 'mother's helper' idea.

I homeschool and so know a good whack of families with homeschooled teens and there's a fair amount of hiring-out of kids; you might check out local homeschooling circles for responsible teens who want paying work and who aren't constrained by the usual teenager schedules. Generally they are likely to come with the advantages of being used to interacting with a wide variety of ages and abilities, and they are also, well, homeschooled; they know how to prepare food, and they are not shocked by toy-strewn living areas.

I am in a not dissimilar situation (except it is me with the medical issues and not the kid) and don't know what else to say; there really isn't much out there. Friends help and it's lovely and then everything's a mess again in no time. Try to make peace with the fact that your house is going to be messier than other houses. I try to fall back on is anything on fire? No? YAY! because that does put things into perspective a bit -- the ignored paperwork is not life-threatening, we're fed and clothed, etc.
posted by kmennie at 1:54 PM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

My situation is with my elderly parents (who sound not dissimilar to your parents, unfortunately) but it may help you as well: companion care/nursing aid. We use a company similar to this one I found by googling: http://www.wecare.ca/home-health-care-in-vancouver-bc

If searching on the web, keywords might be health care aid or companion or caregiver. Basically they are companies (or individuals) who provide house keeping services or basic personal needs care, mainly to the elderly but my understanding is that it could be for anyone. The caregiver / companion for my parents basically runs errands (with a pre-paid debit card), does assigned housekeeping tasks, laundry, and makes dinner/meals when needed. Here they can have very basic qualifications (i.e. a high school diploma or housekeeping/cleaning experience) or be a CNA (certified nursing assistant) who can actually provide personal grooming help or actually touch the person who needs care and help them.

All the companies seem to have different requirements for the minimum number of hours they will work and the flexibility of their schedules. Even though many were founded to help the elderly, I can't see why they could not help parents of special needs children, especially if the work to be done is basically housekeeping or errands. Check some out--many have forms on their website and you could explain you need help so that you have more time to care for your children, but need someone with more understanding / compassion and an ability to help with more tasks than a house-cleaning service.
posted by bessiemae at 2:41 PM on May 10, 2014

Not trying to throw up roadblocks.

I don't think you're throwing up roadblocks. I think you are re-articulating the parameters you laid out in your original question which some people seem to not have quite read.

I think you need a mother's helper as well. I would run jacquilynne's ad using the term Mother's Helper rather than Personal Assistant. A Personal Assistant files your bills, walks the dog and gets your dry cleaning; a Mother's Helper will pull the cricket out of your kid's mouth, throw in a load of laundry, and scrape alien life forms from the fridge.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:48 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

We can all talk about the semantics of whether you need a housecleaner, a mother's helper or a personal assistant, but for me -- a former personal assistant, by the way -- the key is that you need to find someone you like who then can come and do the job regularly. It's the regularity that's going to be of actual benefit to you, but part of that means that it's going to take a little while to implement. Like, the first 5-10 times this person comes, she will need your direction, she's trying to figure out just what's going on, trying to learn how to relate to the kids, or figure out how your washing machine works, etc. Once you get someone into a rhythm then you can end up with someone who can walk through the door and take charge or one or more aspects of your household and get stuff done.

I think the first step is to decide how much money you can spend. You say you don't have much, but what does that really mean? And what do you think the hourly rate would be in your area for someone like this? If we can collectively figure out how many hours per week, say, you can afford, we can brainstorm about which items on your list are the most important to be handled. Maybe for now you can only afford someone for 2 hours a week and all she does is clean the kitchen and bathroom? Or maybe it would be a bigger load off your back if she did laundry? Let's think, specifically, about what would help you best.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:34 PM on May 10, 2014

Here's my suggested triage for the next 6-9 months:

1. Revise the above post to reflect "Mother's Helper" instead of Personal Assistant. Post and ask friends to repost on the neighborhood listservs and Facebook groups. (Next week)

2. Interview a few top choices. (Following week)

3. Select the top one on a trial 4 week basis. (The month of June)

4. Once you get that going, ask for some family lawyer recommendations. It's not that you want more money for the sake of it, it's that your family may require a different distribution of resources. (July)

5. Meet with one of these lawyers. Bring all the paperwork you can to document the various healthcare and life care needs of for your children. (August or September)

6. Try to do a household purge - getting rid of stuff will help you organize and keep things manageable. With kids growing up so quickly, things that were once helpful might not be anymore, but they are taking up room in closets, bins and cupboards that could better house things that are currently on your floor. (July - after the Mother's Helper has worked there for a few weeks and can help you)

7. This is a bit of a wacky suggestion but read Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD. I really like how she reflects decisions on how to organize and manage routines NOT based primarily on aesthetics (i.e. nice wicker baskets that conceal their contents) but on use value for your actual life patterns (i.e. clear bins with BIG LABELS on front). This might be helpful for you, for your kids, and for any help that you have around the house. It's much easier to put toy cars in a big clear bin that says TOY CARS than it is to figure out where they might live in a kid's bedroom. (August - before school starts)

You have a LOT on your plate and need to figure out what needs to be done immediately (get help), medium term (get organized) and long term (more financial help from father of children or family).

Best of luck to you. Keep us posted or ask a new question about the next stage!
posted by barnone at 3:35 PM on May 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

If you by any chance have a spare room in your house, you could get an au pair, either domestic or international. Much more help for much less money than you can get other ways. A big part of their comp is the free housing. (If you don't live in a desirable part of the country then a domestic arrangement could be the most likely fit - girls from abroad don't necessarily want to come live in the boonies. A friend of mine had a domestic au pair and it was amazingly cheap for the quality of help she got.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

My cleaning lady, who is a divorced mom herself and works alone (not for an agency) would totally take on cleaning-babysitting-helping work like this a few hours a week. My kids like her and she's very flexible about cleaning what's particularly messy rather than following a set routine. The above ideas are really good but this is just another direction to try.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:32 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you were in an abusive marriage, contact your local domestic violence shelter. They may have resources.
posted by desjardins at 5:08 PM on May 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

A live-in housekeeper or au pair would be the best, but that's a big change and if you don't get on with the person, it can be rough. I would look for someone who comes every morning/afternoon 6 days a week, but lives out. The per hour cost of a regular housekeeper would be way lower than someone once a week.

You mentioned worrying about future career prospects and having to negotiate with your ex over support. One strategy would be to present this additional cost as an investment over the next 2-3 years for when the kids are older that you will be able to start part-time work again and eventually be self supporting. Don't promise that on paper, because life can get screwy and you may be needed at home more, but it's something to aim towards that makes the hiring of full/part-time help not a sunk cost.

And please, for the first two months you have someone hired, and either the kids are out or you feel safe leaving them with this person, go to a coffeeshop and drink something ridiculous while reading a crappy book. Crawl into bed and nap. Walk in the park. Do not use the time to catch-up, use it to recharge and recover from the crazy stress you've been living with first.
posted by viggorlijah at 6:00 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you might be overthinking this a bit. There are plenty of housekeepers who do more than just clean bathrooms - you just need someone with flexibility and who is open to watching the kids once in a while. When I was growing up in Los Angeles, I knew families who had "housekeepers" whose primary job was to be that second or third adult to take care of adult-type stuff that kids couldn't be responsible for. This doesn't necessarily have to be a full-time position if you can't afford that. I bet any number of hours of help would really help you out.
posted by stowaway at 6:03 PM on May 10, 2014

Last fall my hubby and I managed have surgery within a week of each other, and we have a toddler, and no family close by. We hired a young guy from CL to just kind of tidy up and do a bit of grocery shopping. I think my hubby hired him for 5 hours a week, split over a couple of days, for a low hourly rate. It worked out because he lived fairly close to us and didn't have to spend a lot on gas, and he got a lot done in those few hours because he was young and energetic and was sympathetic to our situation. The point is, there are people around looking to pick up a bit of extra cash who will do something like this. I think my hubby posted it under something like "Need household help" and then a brief description. You might have to go through a couple of people to find a good fit, but they're out there.
posted by vignettist at 6:10 PM on May 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Wow, there is so much wonderful advice above -all "best answers"/

I think what I will do is confirm with the government again that there is no respite care. (So that they don't deny me services.) I have a call booked for Monday with the team that refused me twice before. (It's really sounding like I don't qualify.)

I'll follow up with my lawyer about whether I can get help for this. I keep thinking it's my fault I need help and that, if I can't cut it, I'm wrong to have my kids more than my ex does. But I would still have to ferry them around to appointments during the week, still be the one who looks after them when they're sick and I don't think they'd be as well looked after (without suggesting he'd neglect them).

And all the job posting info is lovely. I'll take a look at my budget. It's pretty tight now that I'm basically earning nothing. I have savings, but I'm reluctant to use that, and I know the kids are going to need tutoring and other help and that I'll need to contribute something (since I receive child support and so on).

Thank you!
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:39 PM on May 10, 2014

I'm going to repeat the folks above that say you need a mother's helper. I am not exactly in your situation, but there are similarities. I have a 7 month old and a 3.5 year old (so, they both need help doing basically everything, and a cyclone of mess follows them around the living room). My husband isn't absent, but he works late / travels a lot, so I do a lot of flying solo.

I hit my breaking point and we posted an ad on SitterCity (if you don't have this, it's a website where you can advertise for babysitters/nannies/etc; surely you can find similar). We found a girl who works during the day as a 1-on-1 aide for a boy with autism at a school for children with autism plus additional behavioral disorders. She lives nearby us and comes three evenings a week for a weekly total of about 6 hours. We pay her $12/hour. She arrives a little bit before we get home in the evening and stays until we've started the bedtime routine.

Her instructions are "make it better." She picks up, washes/folds/puts away laundry, changes sheets and towels once a week, vacuums, handles dirty dishes. She's available as an extra pair of hands with kids as needed (getting them into pajamas, rushing things to washing machine after baby has a monster blowout, etc). She is not a housecleaner where I feel obligated to pick up first - she reduces chaos all by herself. Also, having her come on a regular basis keeps the house from getting so bad in between visits.

Don't underestimate the calmness and clarity it brings to your mind of coming downstairs after bedtime to a tidy house, rather than the aforementioned tornado. If you can somehow afford a few tens of dollars a week, it will improve your life immeasurably and free energy in your brain to do other things that almost certainly need doing.

We don't specifically need our helper's experience with special needs kids (although patience is invaluable when dealing with preschoolers, and she has that in spades). However it sounds like you would benefit from that, so if you can find such a school near you, you might ask if any of their aides are looking for extra work.

Good luck. Really.
posted by telepanda at 8:26 AM on May 12, 2014

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