One of the ways I deal with my conflict over motherhood and work is by finding a truly amazing caregiver for our girls for when Jim or I are away from them. I have had exceptional luck with finding truly loving, compassionate, awesome people to take on this role and I have been asked often how I find them. Here's how:
I post an ad on Craigslist.
People are often surprised by this, but here's why I do it:
- I can write as much as I want in the ad, describing what I'm looking for in a caregiver.
- I get a lot of responses – plenty to pick through.
- Lots of cool people use Craigslist to look for jobs.
- It's free and easy.
- I can change the ad easily.
I compose a Nanny/Caregiver Wanted ad with a lot of detail.
It shares not only the basics of what I need (days, hours, times) but also describes our parenting approach, our “no technology” rule, our desire to find a long-term caregiver, lists the pay range and tells them how much we will appreciate them if they take great care of our babies. I believe that this longer, descriptive, over-communicative (they might as well learn early on that I'm an over-communicator!) ad narrows the responses down to people who are attracted to a situation like ours.
I collect responses to the ad in an email folder for 4 days to a week.
Depending on how many responses I get and how quickly, I wait a bit to see what the “pool” is looking like. I make notes on a pad of paper to keep track of my first impressions from their emails. Basically, I write their name then things like: “really fun” or “focus on loving care” or “loves crafting and park play.” If I'm not impressed, I write “unimpressed.” This way, when it comes time to respond (and I try to respond to everyone who writes a meaningful response to the ad), I know who I want to say “no thanks” to right away.
I call the top 3-4 applicants and have a casual conversation with them.
I ask them things like, “So, what made you respond to our ad?” and “What do you like to do with kids?” In my experience, it's less important that they have years of Nanny experience (though they have to have cared for kids before to take care of three girls for long periods of time.) It's more important that they are excited about being with kids and that they get it about what makes kids happy. They also must have fed, diapered (when ours were in diapers) and put kids to bed before. Those are totally higher league ball games than just playing with them and I don't want to do all of the training there.
We talk a lot about driving and technology.
Since I have taught college classes for over a decade, I know that texting has become a huge communication medium (and often obsession) for many college people. Since college students are the vast majority of respondents we get to our Nanny ads (we only look for part-time), we have a direct conversation early on about the use of technology. Essentially, we make it very clear that we have a “almost no technology” rule. Unless they are texting with us to check in, doing a very quick plan text or phone call with someone in their lives or using the computer for dance music with the girls, there is no technology allowed while they are “working.” If this bothers them early on, then we are not the right family for them. I have found that the people that work out for us in our family are totally happy with that program. Our latest caregiver, when given the “texting speech” said, “Oh my gosh, we are going to be too busy playing outside and having fun to use technology!” That's what I'm looking for!
As for driving, they must have a clean driving record. They must never talk on the phone or, of course, text while driving (<=this is a link to the story of a girl who died retrieving a text while driving, just to bring the point home) with the girls. It's just that simple – but we make sure they are on board with this.
If that initial phone conversation goes really well, I invite them to our house.
Often the phone conversation narrows us down to two or three people – sometimes just one person. I try to keep the in-person meeting down to two people (or less) because the girls get involved here and they can get attached easily. This meeting is primarily to get an energetic hit on the person and how the girls – and Jim and I – connect with her. I can tell really early into the meeting how much she genuinely enjoys kids and whether it will be easy for us to communicate. I am looking for both enthusiasm and a sense of confidence as both are critical in taking care of kids.
I call references.
Whichever person seems like the best fit – and this is usually really obvious at this point – I call at least two child care references. These calls tell me a lot about how the relationship might play out. Our best caregivers have references that say things like, “Oh, if I could have her back today, I'd take her. You are SO lucky!”
Finally – nope, we're not done yet – I invite her for a trial day.
I'm expecting that everything will go beautifully at this point but before I commit, I want to see and hear her in action on her own with the girls. I want to hear how the girls respond to her when I'm not there. Except, I stay home. I go work in another bedroom while she cares for the girls. I can hear them through the door and peak out windows when they are outside. I have never had one of these change my mind, but I always feel so much better doing this last step. I pay her, of course, for her time.
Then, I offer her the position.
I am as clear as possible about pay and hours (though our hours change so much that “clarity” is a little murky.) I offer pay that beats many other jobs available with the kind of flexibility of our caregiver position. I think this helps attract really good people. I thank them profusely for going through the process and tell them how excited I am to have them with us (because I am VERY excited!)
I share my gratitude regularly.
We have wonderful relationships with our previous caregivers for the girls – every one of them. They are family to us. I truly cannot think of a more important job than this one in our lives. I try to let them know this as often as I can, whether it's bringing home a coffee from the coffee shop when I'm out or trying to come up with the birthday present that I think will truly make her happy and surprised. Mostly, I just tell her how grateful I am and try to get to know her and be meaningfully connected. I want to – she's amazing, that's why we chose her!
I know how hard it can be to hand your babes over to someone else so you can get some work done. I feel so lucky that we have found such amazing women to partner with us in caring for our girls – the kind of people that we are excited to leave the girls with because we know they will have a fabulous time. I hope this window into our process helps you in some way get out there and get more of your important work outside your home done, too.
Now, I've got to go find myself a dress so we can attend the wedding of one of our most excellent caregivers next weekend! A wedding at which our girls will be the flower girls. That's how good it can get!
I'd love to hear your process for finding great caregivers for your kiddos. Please share tips, suggestions, stories, thoughts in the comments below.