Communicating with your Caregiver

Dear Sharon,

We have a part-time caregiver for our 3 year old. We like her very much and she is also a mother and has a small child as well. Without our authorization or any discussion she has lately begun to bring her child with her to work. We are very uncomfortable about this and it wasn’t part of our arrangement. How should we handle this? She’s very nice and we like her a lot, but we never agreed to her child being present.

Dear Parents,

I am happy to hear you have a caregiver that you like for your three year old. Good caregivers are not always easy to find.

However, even under optimal conditions it is important for parents to remember that the personal contact and emotional bond that they share with a quality caregiver is still in the broader context of an employer/employee relationship. As in any job, clear communication between worker and boss is often essential. Unfortunately it is rarely a good sign when a caregiver makes an important decision like bringing their child into the home without having a full discussion with the family ahead of time. I usually suggest that parents address such issues in a one on one in-person talk as thoroughly and quickly as possible.

Here are some ideas that you might keep in mind during the conversation.

It is important for parents to sort through why a caregiver would choose to be secretive about important decisions. They might be shy or simply wanting their way without having to explain. Obviously the later is a more serious problem.

After parents share their concerns, their specific expectations are clearly expressed and a caregiver agrees to parental guidelines then avenues for more regular and complete communication need to be set up. If a caregiver does not agree to any part of the parents’ wishes or communication does not improve over time then the difficult decision of finding new help will probably have to be made.

It might be useful for you to know that it is not uncommon for caregivers to bring their own children to work with them. There are many factors involved in sorting through whether a family would like their caregiver’s child present during work hours.

I have known parents who have been happy that a caregiver brings their child into their home regularly. Some families I know have developed great long and short-term relationships with caregivers and their children.

Nevertheless, I believe children (like adults) should get to choose their friends or playmates as often as possible (especially if there is a child who comes for a “play date” regularly). Because of economic pressures and the difficulties of finding good childcare this is not always feasible but putting those important issues aside, parents sometimes make the mistake of assuming that just because two children are close to the same age that they will make good ongoing friends. As some children do well together and others don’t, it is often a good idea for parents to see if a caregiver’s child is a good personality match for their little one,

Depending on the details of any particular family there are many factors to think about when making this decision. For example, some children are only children and have been away from other young people most of their lives. In such a case it might be great to have a little “ready-made play group” with a caregiver so that the child gets some exposure to children. It is important for parents in this situation to make sure the caregiver is happy and skilled around two children and that they are happy with the way this caregiver would handle the inevitable squabbles that will consistently pop up.

In another family a child may be a youngest sibling or enrolled in day care or group setting on a regular basis. In this case parents usually are looking for one on one attention for their child, something that is very important to most little ones. If children don’t get enough loving one on one attention each day, they often “melt down” more easily.

Of course as with many parental decisions this one might not be set in stone. A regular playtime with another child might make sense for a while and then not work out as well. In this case arrangements would need to be changed.

Even when the lines of communication have been less than ideal I have known many parents who have taken steps to begin talking through and working out “sticky” situations with caregivers. Good luck as you begin the process.