How to find a good mother's helper or other childcare solution?
January 4, 2007 10:00 AM   Subscribe

Child care solutions for working at home with a newborn?

Our son is now 2 months old, and I am just starting to get back into my work. (Unfortunately, I'm sort of jumping into the fire: I'm a corporate event planner, and my biggest gala of the year is the first week of February.) My husband and I are both fortunate enough to be self-employed and work from home, but we're finding it near impossible to accomplish all we need to with a newborn at home. With my biggest deadline looming, and January being the busiest month for my husband's work as well, we're both stressed to the limit.

Unfortunately, trading off shifts hasn't been effective for us. We don't have any family members or close friends who are available to assist with child care with any sort of frequency, nor do I know any other moms who might be able to swap child care duties. We're not willing to put our baby in a day care center -- I already have significant trust/guilt issues about even leaving him with my mom, here at my house, while I'm under the same roof! We would be willing to hire someone to assist us in our home, but how do you go about finding someone reliable and trustworthy to work just a few hours, a few times a week? (I'm assuming here that "good" mother's helpers/nannies would be looking for full-time work.) The other downside to trying to hire someone is that, due to the immediacy of our work demands and deadlines, we don't have a ton of time to dedicate to the very-necessary screening process.

I hate pre-emptively shooting down a ton of natural suggestions (such as asking friends, running advertisements, etc). I'm just in a bind here and trying to give as much information as possible in order to find a resolution that works. Ideas or personal experiences are appreciated!
posted by justonegirl to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, relax. I could tell you not to feel guilty about having someone else watch your little man, but I'd be a huge hypocrite as I'm the same way. So, what to do? Since taking shifts with the hubby hasn't worked . . . is there ANYONE you could count on? ANY friend/family? Is there someone in your neighborhood that you've noticed to be relatively friendly or nice? Someone from work, perhaps that could help out or suggest someone to help you? You have the wonderful opportunity to be able to work from home. Having a helper sounds like a great idea. You're not leaving your child. Hire a teenager from the neighborhood or get a referral for one. Have him/her come over for a few hours each evening while you lock yourself in a room and get a few hours work done. Relax knowing that if any situation were to arise, that you'd only be a room away. I am not a very trusting people, but be aware that babysitters and friends/family can adequately care for a wee one especially if I'm literally right there.

I feel for you.
posted by Sassyfras at 10:09 AM on January 4, 2007

If you only want someone for a few hours, a few times a week, you may be able to find a suitably experienced and trustworthy college student (or graduate student) who fits the bill. Nearby schools should have some sort of office that could post an ad for you; you might even be able to find a student studying a early childhood education or another relevant field.
posted by sueinnyc at 10:09 AM on January 4, 2007

Do you know any other work-from-home or stay-at-home parents? Would they be willing to swap childcare?

I work from home and have an almost two-year-old. I am still not using childcare. However, I do not work full-time hours right now. Do you both want to work full-time? I would imagine that's very challenging with a two-month-old. I started doing bits of work when my son was 4 months old and I didn't really get back into things until he was 8 months old.

Consider that, if you had to pay a full-time nanny $2000 or $2500 a month, you'd be spending $24k to $30k a year. Could you or your husband look at earning a little less than full-time earnings, given that you're saving money by being at home? By my own calculations, a parent who earns $20k a year at home is equivalent to $80k-$100k of earned income in the workplace, given the costs of lunches out, transporation, childcare and a higher tax bracket.
posted by acoutu at 10:10 AM on January 4, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for the quick responses so far. Unfortunately, we don't really know anyone who is in a position to watch our son very often -- our neighborhood is like a ghost town during the day, we don't have any friends who stay at home with their children, and family isn't an option. Also, my husband and I are both self-employed so we don't have a lot of connections with coworkers, etc.

I should mention that I definitely don't want to, or plan to, work full-time. It's just that periodically, my work in special events requires a period of intensive hours -- this month is a great example. As of February 7th, my need for childcare assistance will be minimal. My husband's situation is similar -- after a couple of months at the beginning of the year, the sales in his industry slow down tremendously and he has more free time. This makes it even harder to find outside help, since it's just for a month or two that we really need someone.
posted by justonegirl at 10:16 AM on January 4, 2007

Do you have any friends who are parents of teenagers? When I was 14-16, I was a "mother's helper" to a woman who was in pretty much exactly your position. She found me through a "mommy and me" group that she was in with my mother. She worked from home, and I came into the house three afternoons a week after school for two or three hours and took care of her infant while she worked. I had references from several other families I had babysat for in the past, plus experience caring for my own baby sister, and the situation worked out well for everyone.

If you don't have access to a known teenager, there are other ways to find part-time help. If you're a member of a church or some other community group, you may be able to get a recommendation for a good babysitter through word of mouth. If you don't trust a teenager, you may be able to find a retired person who wants to work a few days a week for extra cash; my mother hired a lovely retired elementary school teacher to care for me part-time when I was a baby. You can check references to ensure you're getting someone trustworthy.

If you have the space in your house to take someone in, consider an au pair. Most of them are foreign students who are in school full-time and will watch your child and do housework in exchange for room and board (and sometimes a nominal salary). There are agencies that specialize in placing such people. Additionally, while I think you're right that most of the best nannies are looking for full-time work, it certainly couldn't hurt to call a few agencies and ask whether they place part-time people.

I completely understand that you want only the very best caregivers for your baby. But the truth is that babies actually aren't that difficult to take care of, and since you'll be in the house the whole time, you'll be able to check in on the babysitter as often as you want. It will get easier to leave your child in the care of someone else; unfortunately, the only way to get over your trust/guilt issues is to let go and deal with the anxiety until it goes away--and it will go away over time.

Oh, and even though you think you'll only need someone during your busiest times at work, you might consider keeping the same schedule even during your less busy times. Give yourself permission to take a few hours a week during the less busy times to run errands, get a manicure, take a bath, do your taxes, get a cup of coffee with your husband, etc. Not only will you be more likely to find someone good and reliable if you can guarantee your care provider a set schedule and number of hours, but you'll also be a better mother if you give yourself permission to take some time off to catch your breath and spend some time alone with your husband. Your baby will not suffer, and I think you'll find that it really makes a difference in your overall stress level.
posted by decathecting at 10:21 AM on January 4, 2007

Are there any doula organizations or centers in your area? I know that at one of the groups in my area, many of the doulas-in-training have a lot of prior experience with child care and babysitting. They also have flexible (although not always 100% reliable) schedules due to the nature of their work. And, they all are trained and/or certified in various infant-related issues, so that should give you some ease-of-mind.

If nothing else, they may be able to point you in the right direction towards someone trustworthy.
posted by hsoltz at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2007

Try Call for Sitters.

There is a fee, but it's worth it.

I have a lot of family and friends that live nearby, so I don't have to use sitters all that much. My sister tutors part-time and has found a great sitter to come watch her autistic child. She found this person through Call for Sitters. The sitter is a responsible senior in high-school, infant CPR certified, and has taken the babysitter class at the American Red Cross. You will find that most of these sitters have taken the babysitter class, etc.

I have a friend who is a commercial airline pilot and her husband works from home. They have a person come in and sit with their child in another part of the house so the husband can get his work done while the wife is away. It works out beautifully for them.

Good luck.
posted by LoriFLA at 10:23 AM on January 4, 2007

Finding someone through a college job center is a good way to go- college students who need cash will be great for this sort of job, especially if the work is part-time/flexible, etc.. Call a few colleges in your area about placing an ad with them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:25 AM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Definitely seconding sueinnyc. Post an ad at the nearest University's job webpage. They nearly all have them. Be specific about hours and duration of job. You'll get a ton of responses. Select a few to respond to and have them over for a trial run.

Also, I would suggest you put the word out that you are looking for someone. Tell all your friends, neighbors, etc. You'll be surprised how perhaps your good friend's co-worker was just mentioning how her daughter is looking for an after school gig.
posted by sulaine at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2007

Not sure if you are near one of the cities listed, but I know several people who have found reliable help this way.
posted by mattbucher at 10:28 AM on January 4, 2007

You could always go to your local high school, explain what you're looking for, and see if they can recommend anyone. When i was in high school, parents got recommendations for babysitters that way all the time. The counselors would ask a teacher to see if their most reliable students would be interested, and if they were, told them to go to the counselling office info to get the necessary info. This obviously wouldn't help during the school day, but I bet there's a reliable older teenager out there who would be great at "helping" after school and in the evening.
posted by cgg at 10:32 AM on January 4, 2007

I wouldn't rule out finding a "good nanny" who will work part-time. I found somebody via Craigslist to come by one day and one evening per week. She was a highly experienced nanny, was trustlined, and had a degree in psychology with an emphasis on children, just to name a few credentials. She's still with us, and, being an overly paranoid mom, I can't imagine leaving my little girl with anybody else.
posted by moira at 10:48 AM on January 4, 2007

Another take on the idea of hiring a teenager, would be to look for a homeschooler. They have the advantage of being more flexible, schedule wise than a teen in high school. One way to locate a homeschooler, would be to check this webpage for your local area, and make contact that way: Use the pulldown menu for your state.
posted by jvilter at 10:52 AM on January 4, 2007

Since you both work at home, you don't need the best sitter in the world -- just someone to make sure the kid's okay while you're in the next room. For now, you might as well hire anyone who seems noncrazy, and then after February -- when you have more time to dedicate to it -- spend the time to find a babysitter or nanny who you really like.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:13 AM on January 4, 2007

It almost seems like you could look for an assistant for your company (just someone to help with some of the legwork) rather than a childcare provider. I'm certain that with a Craigslist ad (or something similar), you could find experience event planners that are probably happy to pick up some business in the post-holiday lull.
posted by parilous at 11:34 AM on January 4, 2007

Nthing craigslist, but also adding sittercity and/or parents in a pinch (which I haven't used but comes up on other discussion groups I'm on). I've found 2 very good part-time sitters via sittercity. It's predominantly college students, but there are also some professional/full-time nannies. My best and most recent sitter is through craigslist.

I think the key to finding a good sitter is to talk in some detail to their references. I eliminated many, many sitters after talking to previous families/employers. Also, be prepared for your criteria to change. When I first hired someone I was very focused on safety and responsibility. Now, while those are still deal-breakers, I've also learned to ask how much direction a potential sitter wants or needs, since I find that I don't want to spend my time "prepping" to make life easier for the sitter (making baby's food, planning the afternoon's activities, etc.). You'll find out what becomes important to you and helps you weed people out.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:38 PM on January 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

Parilous has a good point about an assistant. I hired a house cleaner to free up some time. I recently hired a university student to do some work for me, so that I could focus on the core aspects of my business.

Since you're at home, the caregiver doesn't need to be perfect. But, given your child's young age, I would encourage you to find someone who can work for you long-term. You don't want to have a major turnover of caregivers in your child's life, since, at 2 months, your baby is still forming attachments. That being said, it depends how many hours you mean.
posted by acoutu at 12:45 PM on January 4, 2007

Just a personal anecdote: I was raised from age 2 days to 2 years by a nanny who came while my parents were working, along with my two older brothers. I now consider her my "other mother" and love her dearly. My parents found her through advertising in the papers. She had an adult child already. She now runs a business where she moves into people's houses for the first several months of their newborn's life to help the new mother. These people exist, and I hope you find one as amazing and caring as my beloved "other mother". Good luck!
posted by nursegracer at 2:10 PM on January 4, 2007

I 2nd, 3rd, 4th the college student suggestion. When I was in college, many years ago, I did part-time, flexible child care for a work at home couple. We worked around each other's schedule's. For extra pay you could also ask them to attend to minor household tasks or help with your business.
posted by LadyBonita at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2007

I use three graduate students, on rotation, from a nearby university for childcare while I work at home. They get paid market rate in our neighborhood (which is between $9-11 hour).

They come from the nursing, education and seminary program. The set-up works very well for me and my daughter, with lots of flexibility for me and them. I do have to invest time in managing the schedule around their class commitments but that is usually not a problem.
posted by jeanmari at 4:59 PM on January 4, 2007

I have a sitter come to our house 3 days a week (I mostly work from home). I found her through word of mouth but also had found some great prospects via the site -- you can advertise for part-time nannies/sitters. I had several ping me and would definitely try the site again. Initial registration and looking at the various girls (I only saw women, but there may be guys who nanny as well) is free. You only pay later to contact the nanny directly.
posted by mdiskin at 6:41 PM on January 4, 2007

We're expecting (twins! hominahominahomina!) and are going to be retaining the services of a night-nurse / mothers-helper placement agency, Jewish Family Service. We're not Jewish, nor is the mothers helper (a sweet older woman) who'll be helping us out. Not sure why it's called that.

Anyway, a rep from JFS came out, met with us (and brought the woman who will be helping us) and we had a little interview. I believe the cost is something like $20 / hour. We're much more excited about this woman being with the babies (and the three-year-old) than a college student. We know many college students, including some that have taken care of twins, but we're still much more comfortable with this professional service.

A quick Google search shows that there are tons of JFS's around, probably one in your area.
posted by Alt F4 at 7:44 PM on January 4, 2007

I worked as a nanny for a woman who was in her home office at the other end of the house. There are other sites besides Call for Sitters. Get references from whomever you interview.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:26 AM on January 5, 2007

Just from experience, the maturity of the person can make a big difference. People who say you don't need the greatest childminder since you're in the house don't know what they are talking about IMHO. I had this experience and it was almost unworkable when the less experienced minder kept interrupting for very small issues. She was a younger college student and could often be late, so I had to make sure I didn't have any teleconfereces scheduled early! She would think nothing of bringing the screaming mite into my office while I was on the phone, rather than (as I had asked time and time again) coming herself to signal I was needed. As I was nursing I made myself instantly availible but it makes a better impression to wind up a business conversation quickly without the sound effects! I finally found a more experienced minder with a far more common sense approach and kept my sanity.
posted by Wilder at 4:15 AM on January 5, 2007

People who say you don't need the greatest childminder since you're in the house don't know what they are talking about IMHO.

Flashing my badge: I'm a mother of two who has hired babysitters to look after my kids while I work in my home office.

I don't mean that they should hire any crackhead off the street, even if they have reasonable rates and the kids love 'em. Just that the OP doesn't need to spend days and days doing interviews now -- she can get the long-term babysitter in a few months, when things calm down. You had bad luck, I've had good luck, and she just needs something to get her through a few months without going insane from stress.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:47 PM on January 5, 2007

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