It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Ten Nine Tips for Choosing Daycare Parents

Here’s the first list of tips I promised. I didn’t quite make ten items, but this is a good start, I think! I’m sure there are more. In fact, I know I had a couple more ideas which slipped completely from my mind (never to return, it seems) before I could write them down. Hate it when that happens!

When parents interview, they are looking for a good caregiver, of course, and me, I’m looking for Good Parents. You may be surprised to find I am not so concerned with the child. Children, you see, are young and malleable, whereas adults are much more set in their ways. While I always enjoy meeting and playing with babies, my focus during the interview is on the parents. A baby and I can grow into a relationship; I need to find parents I can work with As Is.

Now, childcare is a personal and personalized business. A parent I think is wonderful may leave another caregiver cold. For what it’s worth, though, here’s my list of What Makes A Good Parent.

(To avoid confusion, remember that this list is aimed at caregivers, not parents. In this post, “You” means “caregiver”; “they” is the parent! If you’re a caregiver, feel free to add any tips in your comment.)

Good parents…

1. Cover the basics in the phone call before the interview. There is no point in wasting everyone’s time if my hours or rates make me a non-starter. Now, a sensible caregiver makes sure those standard things get covered in the phone call. If, however, a parent knows something non-standard is a non-negotiable — they’re very firm vegetarians, or they don’t want their child exposed to any television at all, or they want their religious holidays celebrated in the daycare, or any of gazillions of other possible things — it is up to the parent to raise it during the phone call. If the wrong answer means they would never consider leaving their child with me, a good parent gets that sorted out before we go through the time-waste and inconvenience of a pointless interview.

2. Show up on time. Arriving late to an interview is a giant red flag! (They’ll blame it on the baby, probably, forgetting they’re talking to a woman who works with five or six of them and still manages to get to places on time.) We assume that parents are trying hard to make a good impression during an interview. What happens after that contract is signed, and they’re not trying so hard?

(Tip: If you really like them otherwise, and would like to take them on despite this red flag, seriously consider raising your late fees just for them. If you normally charge two dollars a minute, tell this family it’s $5/minute. Yes, really. If they are routinely tardy, such steep fees will either make them choose someone else — which is fine! — or they’ll work very hard to arrive on time!)

3. Understand that not only are they interviewing you, but that you are interviewing them. They will come with their questions prepared; they will not be surprised if you have questions of your own. They also know that when the interview is over, they will be making a decision and so will you. (They will not, for example, expect the spot to be open after four weeks of full radio silence.)

4. Don’t blink at your fees and benefits. Good parents know that good care is worth the price. If they quibble about your fees, sick days or holiday time, don’t take them as clients. You do NOT want to be constantly fighting for your pay, your paid days off, your vacations. You just don’t. No matter how nice they seem otherwise, no matter how sweet their child, it’s NOT WORTH IT. It’s not worth it, but YOU ARE.

I once had an interviewee ask if the down-payment I ask (one month’s fees) was really required. I sort of blinked, looked him dead in the eye, and said in a perfectly pleasant voice, “I’ve never had anyone ask me that before. Yes, it is.” A pleasant voice, but quite, quite firm. He wrote the cheque on the spot, and turned out to be a perfectly nice, no-problem client. Don’t, don’t, DON’T feel guilty about asking for your pay!!!!

4. Appreciate the professionalism and clarity of a contract, and treat it with respect. Good parents appreciate the mutual respect and clarity of expectations a contract provides.

Bad parents see a contract as an obstacle to getting what they want. If the parents pressure you to make exceptions to policies and practices written in your contract, don’t take them. (Discussion of whys and wherefores is fine; pressure is not.) You’ve put these things in your contract for a reason. If you give these pushy types the impression that one thing in your contract is negotiable, then everything will be up for discussion… and if you’re doing that, why have a contract at all? (Corollary: for those things which are negotiable, don’t put them in the standard contract; write them in as required.)

6. Speak respectfully of you and others. If they bad-mouth the other caregivers they’ve been interviewing, proceed with extreme caution. You may be able to forge a decent working relationship with them, but don’t be naive: if they bad-mouth other caregivers, they will bad-mouth you.

7. Are like-minded, or at least open-minded. If you’re an arts-and-crafty, two-outings-a-week caregiver, you may not be a good match for an athletic, outings-every-day family whose ideal family time is a day of cross-country skiing followed by a winter camp-out. (In this situation, make sure the family gets a clear and accurate description of your typical day, so they can make an informed decision. They may decide that your program offers a nice balance to their lifestyle, or they may opt to keep looking for something livelier. Both are good outcomes!) If, however, they’re a low-key, artsy family whose idea of family time is a sing-along… you have a good match!

And finally, two more about the caregiver, not the parent:

8. Know Your Tolerances. (This one comes with experience, usually with bad experience!) What can you not live without; what do you refuse to live with? This will be different for each person. For example, I am very noise-averse.

Yes, small children make noise, and I don’t expect the poor monkeys to tip-toe all day long and speak in whispers. I provide rhythm instruments, we play noisy games, they can run in the house (within limits). I expect a certain amount of bedlam. I do not expect unlimited bedlam, and CONSTANT SHOUTING drives me In.SANE.

I have learned (the hard way) that LOUD parents are more likely to produce LOUD offspring. (It’s not that quiet parents don’t sometimes get a LOUD child, of course, but when they do, they are equally invested in teaching them an inside voice as I am, if not more so!) Bottom line? A LOUD parent is far less likely to get the spot in my daycare than a quiet one. Fair? Perhaps not 100%, but this is my home and my working environment. I have to choose what works for me.

9. Trust your gut. If there’s just something about that family, that mom, that dad, that niggles, if you feel tense or uncertain… don’t tell yourself you’re just being silly. Keep looking. Similarly, if you just get a really good feeling about this family, even though they appear to be exactly the same as the other family you interviewed last week… go with the one you feel best about.

June 27, 2011 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , | 8 Comments

Assume no assumptions

You can never assume you understand the other guy’s assumptions…

I received a call last night from a couple I’d interviewed last month. They were very sweet, but before he’d finished his first sentence, I knew they were calling to say they’d found other care.

First, dad made the call. Well, hang on. That makes it sound like the moms are total weasels, leaving the dirty work to dad every time. Not true. Moms make the difficult call as often as dads, perhaps more often. It’s just that, when they’ve decided they want to sign on with me, mom always makes the call.

So when a dad makes that post-interview call, it’s to say, “No, thanks.” There’s the tone of voice, too, a little flat and unemotive. Or maybe it’s tentative, or (rarely, thank goodness) defensive. It’s the way they say nice things to start, but instead of sounding enthusiastic about these great things, they sound apologetic. You can just hear the “this was great, BUT…” that’s coming nest.

So, you get these calls. And you know. Besides, I remember this couple. They were nice, their child seemed normally cute. It was a decent enough interview. The usual things were covered, there were no surprises or mis-steps. Nothing went wrong, but there was no spark, either. I told my husband afterward that it could just be that they are very low-key people, and in their quiet way thought I was FABULOUS… but I didn’t think so. I don’t think they disliked me. But that warm connection I feel when the interview is going very well and they are liking me a LOT? Wasn’t happening.

And for my part? A similar sort of response. These were nice enough people. A little boring, maybe, but they didn’t strike me as the sort who’d be difficult clients. If they’d wanted to put their child in my care, I’d have cheerfully signed him on. I didn’t dislike them… but, well… meh.

And that’s okay. I listened while dad listed off the things they’d liked about the care I offered, and then went on to explain why they made the decision they had.

Now, most people don’t do this. In fact, most people don’t make the “thanks but no thanks” call at all. They just vanish. Which is okay. I’m still looking, after all, still interviewing. When I have a space opening up, interviewing is an ongoing process. I’m not waiting with bated breath for their particular phone call. If they don’t call, my working assumption is they’ve found other care.

Now, that’s come as a surprise to the occasional client. They know they’re looking, but, even though here we sit in an interview for a space I have coming open, they somehow assume that I’m not … looking. It’s the same sort of mindset we all had in grade three, when we were SHOCKED to see our teacher at the grocery store. (With a HUSBAND?!?! Buying FOOD?!?! Bizarre!!!) It’s like we all assumed that she lived in some sort of static limbo when she wasn’t teaching. We walked out the classroom, went back to our lives, and Mrs. Baird? She sort of froze there in the school, until we returned the next day and she came back to life.

Some parents seem to have that view of me. Yes, we interviewed, yes, I have a space open, but when they leave my home, I go into that same static limbo with all those third-grade teachers. So then, when they get back to me after two weeks or a month of silence and find the space filled, they are shocked and offended. (Would I have the right, I wonder, to be shocked and offended that they’d chosen someone else instead of waiting for me to offer them my spot?) The problem, of course, is that they don’t really grasp that an interview is a two-way exchange, with two equal parties. They are looking, I am looking. Just as they may choose for or against me, I might choose for or against them. These days I am careful to let interviewing clients know that, just like them, I am in the process of interviewing. I am looking to fill the space, as expeditiously as possible.

And as it happens, I filled the space this couple interviewed for. About ten days ago. But I don’t tell him that, because it’s clear where he’s going with this. They had chosen a different caregiver, you see, because when their 12-month-old starts with her, she will be caring for four other children between the ages of 12 and 18 months. Whereas I will have an almost-two, two twos, a three and a five-year-old.

Blink, blink, blink.

That’s what I mean about assumptions. When they asked about the other kids in care, I thought they’d be worried about the number of two-year-olds. That’s a lot of littler kids. I assumed they’d be concerned their precious snookums wouldn’t get enough one-on-one with me, with all those other babies competing for my attention. I have a response to that concern, of course, but it’s not an unreasonable one.

But no! They WANT their child to be duking it out with a gazillion other same-age infants.

Well. What do you know about that?

Of course, I think they’re whacked.

Assumptions. You just can’t rely on them. Not one little bit.

March 4, 2011 Posted by | daycare, parents | , , | 10 Comments

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 | , , , , , , , | 22 Comments