It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Yes, yes, no: Picking a daycare family

I’m interviewing again.

778240_little_matheus_5In September, Timmy, Anna and Emily will be old enough to go to Junior Kindergarten. Imagine that! My babies are heading off to the Big World Out There! So teeny to be going. School starts TOO YOUNG. I will miss their little faces.

I have three spaces to fill. Three. Sixty percent of my income heading off to JK.

So far I’ve met with three families, representing four children. (Emma is so excited about the possibility of “Twins, mom! So CUTE!”) I have another interview schedule early next week. By then I should be in a position to offer a position to an interested family. Or, if all goes well, two families!

Let’s recap:
1. Family one. LOVELY people. Soft-spoken, easy-going, sort of granola (as am I — “sort of” rather than “fervently”). Warm smiles, apparently respectful and affectionate marriage. Introverts, (as am I). Both of them interacted equally with the baby. I just got a good, good, good feeling about them. We “clicked”. I hope they felt the same way!

2. Family two. Nice enough people. Mother wants long, long weaning-in, assurances about the number of other same-age children I’ll be taking on, assurances that I will pick up her child when she cries. Mother came with checklist on a clipboard. I don’t recall if dad spoke during the interview.

3. Family 3. Only met the mother, in fact. Dad was home with the twins. LOVELY woman. Warm, ready laugh. Extrovert. Anxious about finding care, but sensible, balanced, relaxed. A slightly irreverent sense of humour when it comes to her kids, a thing I love to see.

My preferences are, in this order:

Family 1, Family 3, Family 2.

Family one is just a good fit. The parents and I are on the same page about any number of things, beyond child-rearing. This is what I look for. It just felt right, and I would have no hesitation at all in offering them the space.

Family 3 is lovely, but they’re my second choice. Not because of the twins, but because there’s a bit of a mystery surrounding how she came to me. She needs care SOON, as in, five or six weeks, and with year-long maternity leaves, people just don’t leave it that long.

I get the impression, based on something she didn’t quite say, that she had someone lined up and bailed on them. (Or, worse, she has someone lined up now and will bail on them if she finds something better.) While I totally understand why a parent would feel the need to do this, particularly a parent of twins, who has much more difficulty finding a spot, it makes me a smidge uneasy. If she’d do that to someone else, would she hesitate to do that to me? Obviously, if I decide to take her on/she decides to go with me, I’d have to ask the direct question.

They may not opt for me anyway. It was clear that my closing time is an issue. Nothing she said, but she sorta winced when I told her. So I may be excluded on that very pragmatic logistical basis.

And Family 2? I will not take on Family 2, even if the others don’t opt for me. Now, the mother seems to be a nice person. Our child-rearing styles are not too dissimilar.

By the end of the interview, though, there were just too many red flags.

She’s too Earnest. Now, almost all first-time parents are Earnest, so in and of itself that wouldn’t be sufficient to exclude her from consideration. However, she’s Earnest with a large side of Controlling.

Not because of the clipboard and checklist. I have a terrible memory. My home is rife with checklists. Checklists are my friends, and I’m not about to deny one to the sleep-deprived mother of a brain-sucking 5-month-old.


– The so-lengthy weaning-in, where she’d be in my home for part of the day for weeks on end? Not happening. It’s a huge imposition on my autonomy. Yes, I will wean in if the parents want, but for a week or two, not months.

– The expectation that she can tell me how to respond to her child — not that what she wants is unreasonable, but the point is it’s my decision to make on my time. (She can find out what my philosophy on these things is, looking for a good match to her own. She cannot dictate.)

– The request for assurances that I will limit the number of other year-old babies in my care? Well, I’d like to. Three year-old babies is a PILE of work. However, the reality is that I have three spaces opening simultaneously, and that most parents looking for care are bringing year-old babies.

In short, she wants too much control over my work environment.

She also doesn’t understand that the interview is a two-way evaluation, she of me, and me of her. Though she is continuing with other interviews, she requested that if anyone else expressed interest in this spot, I would let her know so that she could have it first. No recognition that the spot would have to be offered to her, that there are two equal parties to the decision. This is the woman who perceives her caregiver as her employee, not (as I am) an independent contractor. This perception of the balance of power matters enormously.

Moreover, she’s not the best communicator. (Not, that is, if you understand communicating as including listening). When I underlined that I could give no such assurances re: ages of children in care, it obviously didn’t ‘take’. In her re-capping of the interview, she listed that as something we’d agreed upon.

I didn’t correct her, because I’d already decided I wouldn’t take this family.

Most of these are things I would not have picked up on 15 years ago. Even if I had, I’d not have seen the significance of them. But now I know that it’s these emotive, relational things that make the caregiver-parent relationship live or die. I can predict with some assurance that within six months, this mother and I would be driving each other nuts.

So, no.

But either of the others? Yup! We’ll see.

January 14, 2009 - Posted by | daycare, parents | , , , , , , ,


  1. Not that I was in the child-care-providing business for very long, but I did learn quickly that no one with an only child under 6 months of age was going to sign with me. Babies of that age are still weak and vulnerable. Their parents still think of them as terribly fragile and precious. They would come into my house, greeted by barking (but friendly) dog, noisy rampaging (active, creative, social) children, and “lived-in” (child-friendly) environment. They would be horrified.

    Parents of older babes tended to be more receptive to my home environment. They understood that their precious babe would not be broken forever by a curious toddler. They had seen their child put all kinds of awful things in their mouth and knew that the play-doh on the kitchen floor wasn’t going to hurt them. They wanted their child to be part of the activity and bustle. Some of them would sign with me. But I never had a parent of a child younger than crawling age sign with me.

    The nice thing about homecare is that there is a style to suit every family. You want hustle and bustle? It’s out there. You prefer quiet and calm? You can find that, too. And yes, it’s generally true that parents get more relaxed about things as their babies turn into toddlers.

    Comment by Dragon | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  2. I have been a child care provider for 2 years now, and wish I had that kind of intuition. I took a family over a year ago that totally drives me nuts now. I wish I could’ve seen the flags flying. Live and learn, I guess. Any other information you can give on which red flags to look for I would greatly appreciate!

    Some flags hold true for virtually all caregivers (lack of respect, for example); others won’t. (What annoys me might not annoy you: you learn what you can and can’t live with.) I was not very good at picking up on those flags only two years into doing daycare. I’ve been at it for… um… 12? 14? years now, and I’m much better. Live and learn is exactly right.

    Comment by Patti | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ve been so lucky with my families, one one mum who has sadly decided that going back to work wasnt working out was wonderful, almost to the point of worship! She thanked me profusely all the time, paid me extra when times changed even though I didnt mind, I’m going to miss her, the boys and the money!

    Ah, the Wonderful Parent. They make all the difference, don’t they?

    Comment by jenny | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  4. I was in the same situation last year when 4 of my little ones went off to kindergarten. I started interviewing six months in advance for my September openings. While I love to have some of the children the same age I cringe when I know I’m going to have so many openings at one time. I find it easier to tell parents at the interview that I am interviewing them as well to see if my childcare is the right fit for their child. How many children under 2 years are you allowed? In Oregon, I’m allowed 2 children under the age of 2. If one child is 20 months I can apply for an exception of the the regulations for a third child. You either get granted the exception (with restrictions at times) or denied.

    Four of them? How many are you allowed altogether? I am allowed a maximum of five children under five years — but beyond that there are no restrictions on ages. If I were completely deranged, and could find enough parents crazy enough to let me, I could take on five 6-week-olds. Since I’m not that crazy, and our maternity leave is a year, it’s not a likely scenario, but legally possible.

    Comment by Theresa | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  5. I can totally picture mom #2. I might have been her, a few years ago!
    My child care provider is amazing. We switched, this year, and my only regret is not doing it sooner. Boy Terror loves her with all his heart, she and I agree on everything so far, and for me, the best sign is that I know her children. She has two teens of her own, and I’ve taught them. Amazing, wonderful girls.
    BTW, what ARE your hours? And how can I be sure my child care provider loves me as much as I love her? What makes a “good parent”?

    My kids have long been my best advertisment. Now I think the dog is giving them some competition! (I had a lot to do with my kids’ behaviour, and only a little to do with the dog’s. She doesn’t jump up — that was my training. She’s gentle and doesn’t bark. I had NOTHING to do with those. All impress the parents equally.)

    What makes a good parent? I think that varies from caregiver to caregiver, but there are probably some that apply to all. If you love your caregiver and let her know it — that’s the most important. You’re a teacher. Who are your favourite parents? I’ll bet a lot of the answers transfer from one profession to another.

    Comment by Tammy | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  6. I just wanted to tell you that I’ve occasionally wished that we could move to Canada just so you could take care of my child! (If I’d make the cut, of course….)

    Heh. Thank you!

    Comment by anastasiav | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  7. Three openings can be a headache! It sounds like that first family will be a great match for your program, so I hope they’ll work out well for you.

    Me, too. She came over for another look round yesterday during business hours. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    Comment by Clementine | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  8. Good for you for preserving your work space and your sanity! I think the other two families sound lovely though.

    Can’t wait to meet your new little people! 😀 (and I’m sad that Anna, Emily and Timmy are off to JK. Those kids are delightful!)

    So am I. They are delightful. This is the best group I’ve had in years. They gel so nicely.

    Comment by rambleicious | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  9. That’s a well thought out list of reasons, frankly. I never did child care, but I did teach, and I had all these names float through my head reading this….Claire’s mom…Luke’s mom…Bryan’s mom and dad…

    I was an anxious first time parent, too, but I had a sense of humor about it. I knew lots of moms at that time who just…didn’t.

    I was an earnest mom the first time, but I always had a touch of an irreverent sense of humour, and I never thought my child was either perfect or so fragile that a single parental mis-step would break them for life. I’ve discovered through daycare that there are an awful lot of parents out there who, as you put it, “just … don’t.”

    Comment by Bridgett | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  10. This came at the perfect time. I’m dealing with this now, too. Thanks for the refresher course!

    I’ve been doing this for 9 years now, and I’m so happy to be past the point of taking any family that wanted in! For too many years, I didn’t realize that I was the one in control, and did I pay for it. I have finally learned to trust my instincts.

    Enough kids will have had enough birthdays by the end of the month that I will have accumulated enough points to create a new spot…which I filled last week without trying. I have two kids off to kindergarten in the fall, and a possibility of two others moving out of state. That’s a bit too much change for my liking!

    Feeling in control of your work environment makes an enormous difference in the satisfaction you get, doesn’t it?

    Birthdays and points help to create a new spot? This sounds like a system I’m not familiar with. Can you explain?

    Comment by Bev | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  11. The job never gets as tiring when the characters keep changing. I could never imagine a job that remained the same day in, day out with the same coworkers and the same cubicle. Give me the interesting personalities of various children anytime.

    I’ve considered changing careers, and there are good reasons to do so, but I always bump up against this very thing. I could change careers, but I’d be giving a lot up, too. It’s a tough call.

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  12. That is so interesting. Thank you.

    You’re welcome.

    Comment by Z | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  13. Though I give in-home care to families, I absolutely understand the concept of a two way interview. I’ve walked into interviews with families who were looking for babysitters (not a nanny), I’ve walked into homes who were looking for a third parent (I don’t do that either), and I’ve had people who expected me to be more of a Maid than a Nanny or educator (which I’m CERTAINLY not interested in.) I worked TOO damn hard getting my degree to end up cleaning houses.

    I love my job- I find it to be so fulfilling. And I can’t remember the last child I would have refuses to give care to. But parents…oy vey.

    “Parents…oy vey.” You said it. You’ll note that in my consideration of which family to take, I didn’t mention the children once. As a nanny, I’m sure you know why: with a few exceptions, a professional carer can work with any child. The parents? Another matter entirely!

    Comment by Coley Moley!!! | January 14, 2009 | Reply

  14. God, I WISH I could choose my parents… as does Misterpie, as a teacher. Definitely good thinking to try to reduce the potential for being driven crazy.

    One of the undeniable perks of being self-employed: choosing your clients!

    Comment by kittenpie | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  15. I love your blog.

    My kids are too old for childcare but I well remember the first time I selected a childcare provider. While I was apprehensive about leaving my baby with someone new, I had more sense than to ask if she would be picked up if she cried. If I thought my child’s needs would be ignored, I would not have selected that childcare provider!

    As for weaning in, the childcare had a policy of one week to transition. We spent one hour there the first day and she was happy enough so we dropped her off the next morning and did not look back.

    I can certainly understand why you would not select family number 2. The mom is certainly controlling!

    I do a one-week transition if the parents request it, but in my experience, the transition is far more for the parents’ benefit than the child’s. It makes so little difference to the child’s adjustment that I see it strictly as a kindness to the parent — and a little PR for me. 🙂

    Comment by Diane | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  16. I’m curious if dad #2’s lack of involvement was a red flag for you, too? That was the first I noticed, but then I’m biased.

    I mentioned it in the post because it was something I noted as a bit unusual, but it’s close enough to the norm that I’d call it more an oddity than a red flag.

    (NB: I’m going to start saying “in my experience” repeatedly. This expression can be read tinged with insufferably smug superiority, but I’m not intending that. I mean it literally, and nothing more: This is what I’ve observed. So, while I’ve conducted quite a few interviews down through the years, this is simply one woman’s experience.)

    In my experience, the moms do far more of the talking than the dads. (From time to time, the dad doesn’t even come to the interview. Unusual, but not unheard of.) The dads join in the general conversation, but it’s the moms who direct the interview. It’s the mom who has the checklist, the mom who asks the questions. The dad might throw out a question or two, but often he doesn’t. The mom might ask him at the end if there’s anything he wants to know, and he usually says she’s covered it all.

    And, finally, in my experience, it’s the mother who makes the final decision. I don’t think I’ve ever yet had a dad make the call to tell me they’d like to sign the contract.

    So, while it’s unusual to have a dad say nothing at all during an interview, it’s far from unusual for the mother to be the one conducting their half of the interview.

    Comment by Graham | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  17. Selfishly, I hope you and the twins work out, just so I could hear stories about twins in your blog. We just got a nanny for our twins, and she is awesome. I think I’ll go tell her so right now!

    It looks like I’m getting family 1, but I feel badly, because the mother of twins was so very nice, and I know she’s in a bit of a bind re: childcare. Family 1 was ahead in the queue, however, and, given when she needs to start, twins would be a severe logistical challenge for the first four months, till some of my others left.

    Comment by Ann | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  18. Yes, twins are a special treat…and have a natural advantage in vocabulary and social skills. Nannying for them has really been a wonderful experience. I’m in search of triplet infants- just to up the ante. You’re right, Mary, my heart is open to just about every child. If I had it my way, I’d take a full load of 5.

    I’ve never had twins before, and this spring I had two parents approach me! One wanted care at a time when I absolutely didn’t have the space; this one miiiight have been do-able, though it would have been more than a little challenging for the first four months, when twins would have pushed my enrollment to seven.

    Comment by Coley Moley!!! | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  19. OK, for we non-Canadians. what’s Jr. Kindergarten? Is it mandatory? I often wondered why all your kids are so young. What do the parents do for care outside of school hours? Are you allowed to take schoolage kids over and above your regular load?

    Junior Kindergarten is an extra year of school tacked on before Kindergarten (and between you, me and the gatepost, is nothing more than free daycare). I don’t know that it’s available in all provinces, as it’s certainly not mandatory, and has only been in Ontario for, um… ten years or less, I think. In my area, the schools which offer JK (always a half-day program in this city) also offer on-site daycare spaces for the other half of the day. These daycares are run by independent operators on (leased, I assume) school property, and charge a significant fee, but many parents go for it for the convenience of having their child in the same building all day.

    Most people send their child to JK without much thinking about it, but as a homeschooler, I know that mandatory school age in Ontario is the September following a child’s SIXTH birthday (which, for late-year babies like my eldest, could be grade two). Hardly anyone here knows that, though.

    Comment by jwg | January 16, 2009 | Reply

  20. Re: points system. Sorry, I forgot I’m in a different country! And actually, even here, I think this differs from state to state, but this is how home daycare works in North Dakota. There are three different types, but for each one you can only have 3 kids under the age of 2. Unless you only have kids under the age of 2…then you can have 4.

    For unlicensed and registered, you can have 5 kids. With a family license, you can have 7 plus 2 school-agers before/after school (but not during the summer months).

    I have a group license, which allows up to 18 kids based on a points system. 0-23 months is .25, 2 yrs – .20, 3 yrs – .14, 4 yrs – .10, 5 yrs – .08, 6-12 is .05. You can have up to 1.34 points with one caregiver, more if you have a helper.

    I’m licensed for 15 (I chose to not go higher because of the added requirements). However, I usually only have 6 or 7 kids. That is my personal comfort level. Maybe once in awhile 8. And because I only take the younger kids, they take more points. I usually save points until I have enough to take one under the age of 3. I, for one summer, had 12 kids. I refuse to ever do that again. Plus, I don’t take school-age kids because I find it far to difficult in my space to make it work with all these age-groups.

    Wow. That’s detailed. Here, I can have no more than five kids (under five years old) without being licensed, and the licensing requirements are so set up for large-group care — full-on daycare centres, not homes — that there’s no way I could meet the requirements in a family home. Even if I wanted only 6 kids, I’d have to meet all the standards required of a centre of, say, 80 kids and 12 staff. There’s no middle ground. I don’t know about the restrictions on school-age kids, because I don’t do that age. As you say, too difficult to set up for such different needs in a small space.

    Comment by Bev | January 16, 2009 | Reply

  21. In Oregon, a registered provider can have 10 children. Of the ten 4 have to be in first grade(I don’t take school-age). Of the six younger children a registered provider can have two under the age of 2. Unless, they apply for an ex-ception for one more. We, also, have certified providers here. The numbers for certified are a little different. If I were certified I could have 10 two year olds(by myself) or up to 16 (with an assistant). I like a smaller group and infant care is difficult to find in my area. I always have a wait list for infants. Good luck with the new family!

    Comment by Theresa | January 16, 2009 | Reply

  22. I have acquaintances with children who would be like candidate no 2… I wouldn’t take them on either. Nice people, wants what’s best for their kids, great, but I can see how they’re oh so difficult to work with.

    Good luck in filling our your roster.

    Comment by ewe_are_here | January 18, 2009 | Reply

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