Thursday, August 25, 2011

Who Is Minding Baby?

You need to return to work and leave your precious child who is still very much a part of you in the care of others for much of the day. You are not sure if you want to take your precious baby to a child care center or have her cared for by relatives and friends in a homelike environment.

Your Aunt Rose and Best Pal Sue have offered to babysit while you work, and you are thinking that this could be a wonderful plan. After all, you yourself spent many summer days at your aunt’s house while your mother worked. And your best friend works part-time at night, so she is available to watch your baby. Best of all, they are not charging you much at all. You would feel so much better knowing that your child is being cared for by people you know. The idea of taking your child to a home setting that you are familiar and comfortable with is very appealing.

“Relative-neighbor” caregiving or “unregulated” child care is a common and affordable option for many working families. The cost of child care centers, the need for “off-hours” care or the preference for a home-like setting often lead parents to look amongst their friends and families for child care arrangements. Many of those caregivers are the grandparents of the children. However, there are a number of things to discuss with caregivers before you go down this route.

Reliability and Commitment. Family members are often well-intentioned when they offer to “babysit.” However, they often do not realize the commitment they are making and that your job is probably dependent upon them upholding their end of the deal. It is important that they fully understand what you are asking of them. Be clear about the number of days and hours the child will be with them.

Understanding of Child Development and Safety. One need not have a Ph.D. in child development to care for small children, but it sure helps to have a basic understanding of what children are like at different ages and stages. Children at different stages need different types of guidance. Even if the person you choose to care for your infant is loving, nurturing and responsive, reassess the situation when your baby becomes a curious toddler or an active preschooler. It is also important to evaluate a caregiver’s ability and skill at responding to emergencies and preventing accidents or injury. If your child will be going to the caregiver’s home, assess the environment for potential danger such as open stairways or uncovered outlets. Find out if the person is trained in pediatric CPR and First Aid.

Willingness to Be Your Partner. Grandparents and other relatives are often big culprits when it comes to bending the rules. All children need consistency. Yet, the special grandparent-grandchild relationship almost demands clandestine ways of defying the system. Have an honest talk with your relative about drawing some lines around when they can allow children some leeway and when it is not okay to do that. Weekends or non-work days are fairly acceptable times to allow some rule-bending. While your child is in their care, the caregiver ought to be conscious of your expectations. If, for example, you do not want your baby eating cereal until the pediatrician gives you the green light, then your aunt or friend should cooperate with you even though they might not agree.

Have a back-up plan -- and a back-up to the back-up. It is always good to have Plan B in case your primary child care option does not work out. After all your homework is done, you may decide that both Aunt Rose and Pal Sue are well-qualified to take care of your baby while you work. However, you might not be as excited about this arrangement as you were when they first mentioned it. Your attention is now turning toward finding a more structured setting.

The county Child Care Information and Referral Services (CCIS) is a great place to start when seeking licensed or regulated child care. Another helpful resource can be found at This site contains information about how to seek center or family home caregivers.

Returning to work after having a baby is fraught with all kinds of emotions. Knowing that your child is safe and sound makes that transition so much easier to navigate. Friends and relatives can be wonderful resources for many wonderful reasons. But your child’s early care is paramount to later success in school and in life. Be choosy about who you select to influence those tender years!

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