Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mom Matters: Finding (And Keeping) a Great Babysitter

I have a great deal of experience with managing childcare.  I've gone the route of full time day care (didn't last long), paid preschools, enlisting family to help, Parent Day Out part time care, and the nanny/babysitter route along with hybrids of both.  For my current elementary aged kiddos, I only need childcare during the summer time.  Since we moved last year, I had to locate and hire a new summer babysitter for my crew.  I'm happy to say, we found a new sitter and a new family friend.

It can feel daunting, but you can set yourself up for the best results by sticking to the following steps:

1. Find referrals to locate a fabulous girl and be clear about what you need.

As you prepare to need a sitter or nanny, use your current contacts to ask about those who may be interested.  I have found the most reliable sitters through our church, but have also hired off Craigslist and the daughter of an acquaintance.  It makes all the difference in the world to have someone you trust give you the name of someone they trust, but still - do a background check.  I was able to get them for around $49 online.

Think about what you will need so that you can articulate to a potential sitter what you will expect.  For instance, can she provide transportation to classes or activities for all your children?  Is she willing to do work on learning skills?  Is she willing to prepare meals and help with cleanup?  How will she handle sick days?  Does she have any time scheduled to be away?

2. Establish a pay scale in your budget, then negotiate.

Do some research and find out what is reasonable pay for your area, determine if you can truly afford it.  Establish what you are willing to pay and then ask a candidate if she is willing to provide the needed duties for that compensation.

For example, my budget allows me to pay $75 per day (seven hour day).  My sitter needs to be able to transport three children to occasional activities, church functions or boredom-busting events like $1 movie morning.  The costs or fees are covered by us in addition to sitter compensation.

3. Set expectations and deliver what you promise

If promptness is important, make that clear, and be prompt about your return time.  If you come home a half hour early, compensation should not be adjusted.  In fact, if you suddenly don't need her for a day, she should not be penalized.  However, scheduled time "off" need not be compensated unless this is a full time position including paid vacations.

The way this works in real life may look like this: Sitter lets me know weeks in advance that she will be unavailable on dates x, y, z so she can attend a wedding.  I let her know at the beginning of the summer that we will be away for vacation for the week of ----.  These situations are planned ahead and noncompensatory.  However, if I find out that next week the children will be spending the night with Aunt Mindy and we don't need childcare, I let my sitter know, but do not dock her pay.  Another example may be that on Tuesday night I realize that I'll be staying home with a sick baby on Wednesday.  I'll call the sitter and she'll get the day off, but I will pay her for the time she was scheduled to come.

Communicating about these issues makes things so much easier for me and the my sitters have always appreciated it.  Loyalty is important when establishing a relationship with a sitter, so I have found that over-explaining is better than leaving questions out there.

On a final note, let her know clearly when you will pay her.  Will it be daily? weekly? monthly?  I need to track childcare costs for tax and support purposes and so I let her know up front that the income will be reported.

4. Endorse the sitters authority

My children know that when I'm gone, she is in charge.  She is aware of our family rules and schedule and I expect her to enforce them.  She children cannot try to side me against her, I will take her side and her word.

5. Begin and end each session with a realistic chat.  

In order to keep communication flowing, be sure to welcome the sitter with a plan and instructions for the day/time period.  For me, this included general schedule, menu, etc.  Upon returning, I go out of my way to ask if there were any troubles or discipline issues, then ask a few more probing questions: What can I do to make the time work best with the children and a sitter?  Especially in those first few weeks, I like to ask if there have been power struggles or sibling incidences. Are the children treating her respectfully?  Do they need more outdoor activities?  Are they cooperating with the menus and chores?  What does the sitter need from me?  Let her know you on her team for a good relationship with your children.

Ask about her life beyond your children.  Encourage her where you are pleased and be clear about areas you need her to step up.  It doesn't happen instantly, but the best sitters eventually become like extended family members. They add to the family support dynamic and provide you with the freedom to pursue things beyond your little ones.

If you find a sitter who loves your children, is reliable and communicate well - keep her around! Think of little ways to encourage her and communicate your respect:

  • Have the children do something fun for her birthday.
  • Provide a holiday bonus or gift card.
  • Keep her favorite snacks handy.
  • Provide great references, when she needs it.
  • Let her know your schedule well in advance.
  • Include her in family celebrations, if she lives far from home.

Do you employ a regular babysitter?  What do you do for occasional childcare needs?  Do you remember any fabulous sitters from your own childhood?

Friday, August 15, 2014

If Your Summer Hasn't Been Picture Perfect

School began for our family this week and I thought I wasn't quite ready for the transition back to schedules and homework, extra activities and calendar crunching.  I thought I wasn't ready, but it turns out, I was!  I enjoyed our summer and I'm listing the highlights for my own sake:
  • Our first blended family vacation
  • A week-long, cross-country trip to grandma's house including "Cousin Camp"
  • Several serious hikes and our usual trip to the mountains - this continuous to be a highlight for us
  • In introduction to the theatre by watching a children's performance of Disney's Alladin
  • Boy Scout and Kids Church Camp
  • Learning to bike ride without training wheels
  • First jobs and candy striper volunteering
  • Our anniversary!
  • College Girlfriend Reunion - our annual time together is a treasure
  • The boys quit sharing a bed and each have their own
These are all wonderful, treasured memories.  It's been a sweet season for me and I was sorry to see it end.  Still, the return to routine reminded me that not every memory was a favorite:

Tired, whiny and hot.
  • There was that evening at the restaurant on our vacation where my children acted so poorly, ate so rudely and I was thoroughly embarrassed in front of my in-laws.  I seriously wondered if my husband would decide we were just too much chaos and be done!
  • All three children were together so constantly every single day this summer that the squabbling and competition have been at record levels for the past month.  This drives mom to insane levels of irritation!
  • The brain work and educational material I planned remained on the shelf all summer long.  We did lots of reading, but never turned in our time to the library for the reading club prizes.  Mommy failure.
  • All that hiking and I've twisted my second (good) ankle.  And I am nursing plantar fasciitis.  And I can't wear heels right now which makes me feel frumpy.  Way frumpy.
  • Our summer babysitter was fabulous, but our savings is depleted from the new line-item in the budget. I'm so glad all three of mine are back in school with no tuition or childcare costs.  How bad is it that I don't want to pay others to care for my kiddos?
  • High schoolers have summer homework - hard stuff like writing essays and math!
  • That new bike rider, wiped out hard on a couple of occasions.
This was taken at that very same dinner where I thought, "Surely, only blood-family could deal with our mess."
There are even more highs and lows than I have mentioned.  We were eager and ready when students began lining up for classes this Monday.  There were no tears at drop-off this year and each child happily greeted friends.  I waved at fellow moms as we sent our children into classrooms to do their thing independently.  I'm proud of them.  I'm happy for them.  I love them and know them more than ever.  It was a good summer, but I'm thankful for the routine and diversity of our school year.  

Do you have ones going back to school?  Do you see the treasures and the disasters of your own summer break?  How are you feeling about the changing seasons of parenting and of life?

Ooops, mommy tried to save money
and make the hand-me-downs work!

Monday, August 11, 2014

My Easy Life

Every so often, I get the urge to complain about the fact that dishes need to be done and there is another load of laundry to fold.  I feel a little put out that our grass is too high and there is no one else to go the grocery store.  Sometimes I get annoyed that my children want me to fill out school papers, read another book or play another game.

Then I hear about the Christians who are being persecuted for their faith in a hostile land.  I remember that every day there are those who face dire difficulties and count their belief in Christ more valuable than the ease of life.  These are heroes.  These are the ones who have counted the cost and chosen the jewels of eternity above the trinkets of this world.

I feel helpless to offer encouragement or aid to brothers and sisters in Christ, but they have my prayers.  I pray they have courage and strength.  I pray I could hold the same banner of faith that they do if I was faced with the charge to convert or die.  Convert, or my child will die.  I believe I would chose Christ.  I even have tiny desire to have the privilege of taking such a bold stand in His name, to have the honor and fellowship of His suffering.

Most of all, I feel small for my petty complaints.  I am reminded that while there are annoyances that I must deal with day to day, most of my issues are not eternal in nature.  I am praying for my fellow Christ followers and I'm asking the Lord if there is any more He would ask me to do.  What are you doing?

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. - Hebrews 11 36-38

Monday, July 21, 2014

The First Year

Tonight I will celebrate one year of marriage with Mr. Wonderful.
It feels like our lives have been intertwined for so much longer,
and I cannot overstate the benefits of marrying my very best friend.
He is the one I want to turn to when life gets a good or a bad way.  He reminds me of God's goodness and faithfulness and creates a deep security in me.  He loves me well and provides the support and freedom to be my best self.  He is more than I dared to hope for in a lifelong companion.

We are young, as far as relationships go.  Yet one of the best part of dating in mid-life is that you really know yourself.  You know what you like, what you do and don't care about and you know what you need.  I think we both did the work to learn what was right and what went wrong in our first marriages to make the best choice this time.  And so, while our relationship is young, we benefit from years of maturity as individuals that make our relationship so rich.

This has been a year of learning to cook enough at mealtimes to feed seven people.  We have tried to balance speaking up to help each other and stepping back to allow freedom for trial and error.  We have both had vehicle blunders, and our schedules have been stretched to the max.  As a big blended family we have visited the pumpkin patch, hung our stockings together, hiked and gone to the beach.  We have celebrated birthdays and first dates.  Our washing machine has held on through hundreds of cycles.

Sometimes we divide and spend time in our original nuclear forms. We honor the people and paths that brought us to where we are today.  Not one person in our home would have, or could have, imagined what this family would like like five years ago.  I'm so thankful that God had this in store and that we each trusted Him in our own journey to this day.

We can only credit Him with crazy-romantic-unpredictable-wonderful story that is our family!  If you can't imagine a life better than where you are today, I would encourage you that is okay.  What God plans is so much more - He is with you!

"Not For a Moment"

You were reaching through the storm 
Walking on the water 
Even when I could not see 
In the middle of it all 
When I thought You were a thousand miles away 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 

After all You are constant 
After all You are only good 
After all You are sovereign 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 

You were singing in the dark 
Whispering Your promise 
Even when I could not hear 
I was held in Your arms 
Carried for a thousand miles to show 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 

And every step every breath you are there 
Every tear every cry every prayer 
In my hurt at my worst 
When my world falls down 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Even in the dark 
Even when it's hard 
You will never leave me 
After all 

Not for a moment will You forsake me.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Who Is My Neighbor?

Last year I moved from the cookie-cutter suburb to the city (Granted, Knoxville isn't the same kind of city as NYC).  I have three elementary aged children and I very much miss my community in the burb!  My ten year old could ride his bike anywhere in the neighborhood and be secure, I could tell him what time to be home and not worry (too much). My six and eight year old children could practice their newer bike independence on our cul-de-sac in complete safety. Most of all, I miss the ever-present neighbors who were also school mates and moms and friends. I was a single mother, in those days, and I never once mowed my own grass! We car pooled to school, we shared sugar and sorrows, and we lifted each other in difficult days.

This week marks one year since my move. I have not found that kind of community here in the city. I moved because I got married, which is a wonderful joy and we needed this time to acclimate as a new blended family. However, even though I may not have been able to fully engage, I haven't even witnessed the kind of support network we left behind - at church, on our street, or anywhere! It makes me very sad.

When we try to connect with school mates, schedules and logistics make it tough. When I try to connect at church, the moms are more concerned with their gluten-free diets and home schooling agendas. It is my prayer that the Lord leads us to others who are seeking community as we are.
I miss the suburbs.  This year, I'm going to be intentional about getting to know my physical neighbors and establish a connection of neighborly community with others.  I haven't gone the extra mile to reach out, so now it is time!  What can we do to connect with those in our circles?  Do you find it challenging to find connection?  Is this a city vs. suburb thing?

Friday, July 11, 2014

Road Trip Survival with Multiple Children

Taken on a seven hour road trip this May - we're all smiling!
So far this year, we have made three road trip of 7 + way.  That's a lot of car time for active children, ages 10 and under.  It's a lot of togetherness, sitting still and waiting.  I must say that it has gotten easier as they get older and can understand this necessary part of arriving at our destination, but it is still a daunting challenge to face.  Here are some tricks that work for us:

  • Frame the Road trip.  I start talking about our "Big Adventure" and the "Long Journey" in a positive light, weeks before we depart. A good attitude (mine included) is essential.  I let them know I need their help to make the trip a pleasant one.
  • Each child packs their own bag of activities.  My children are age six, eight and ten, but we've been doing this for several years.  Every little one has their own treasures and they like to choose what gets to go with them on their adventure.  Nevertheless, I have one who would pack the whole room!  So each child has a tote bag and can only bring what fits in the tote, including their lovey/stuffed animal.
  • Provide some surprises.  I have my own tote of treasures which I can pass out at opportune times.  These include snacks/treats, crafts, books, arts supplies and sometimes a movie.
  • Make use of media.  When I was a little girl, a movie in the car was impossible, but today it's almost standard.  We have an in-vehicle DVD system that easily turns the back seat into a theatre.  In addition, tablet devices like our Kindle Fire, iPad or even a laptop allow for individual viewing.  If you choose these, be sure to have charging devices on hand.  We borrow so that each child has their own Nintendo DS for trips and can share games.  It helps that I don't normally allow screens in the car, so this creates a bit of novelty for our long trips.
  • Snack with discernment.  I learned the hard way that all snacks are not equal.  Crackers and cookies crumble and leave us with a mess to endure the rest of the trip.  As a general rule, we don't eat in our vehicle, but for long road trips I will offer Tic-Tacs (my children like orange), Twizzlers or M & M's.  These are don't easily melt and are a special treat that each child can then treasure in the famous tote!  We like to keep water bottles available, but limit the sipping.
  • Be willing to make pit stops.  Road warriors don't get any trophies and can make the trip miserable for the travelers.  When someone needs to go, just take a break.  Have everyone take a break.  Encourage all the riders to exit the vehicle and walk around for a bit.  Notice the strange items available at the gas station or break for a quick meal.  I like to find a restaurant with a playground or a gas station with some grassy space for running.  Use the stop as a time to get some movement and exercise - this helps for the driver, too!
  • Declare some quiet time.  It's easy to get overstimulated, I sure do.  I like to declare quiet time and turn off (or down) the music, require no talking and just let the silence allow some restful space in my brain.  It may only last ten minutes (can I get twenty?), but it helps reset the tone, calm all riders and break up the cacophony of noise.  
  • Stage the arrival.  I never let them know that we are getting closer until we are within a half hour of arrival.  When the inevitable question comes, "How much longer?"  I always answer, "We still have a long way to go," or "Still hours away."  Then suddenly the answer shifts to, "It's time to get excited, we will be there soon."  My riders then get engaged in noticing that we have made progress and the last half hour quickly zooms to arrival.  
Long car rides are not my favorite thing.  Sometimes, I think I get more fussy than the children!  But when family lives far and summer provides vacation times, they are a necessary part of our lives.  After many years, these are little things that make things go more smoothly for us.  What tricks work for you?  Do you have any road trips this summer?  What makes a long trip for you?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Summer Rhythm

We just rounded the curve of our summer halfway point: Six weeks past and five weeks left.  I purchased the first of our "Back to School" supply list in order to break up the expense of preparing five children for the accoutrements of their next year.  Our summer began with our first ever blended family vacation.  The next two weeks we had lots of little people at home along with a new-to-us babysitter while Mr. Wonderful worked from his home office.  The older girls began summer jobs and volunteering and their own set of social activities.  There was quite a bit of adjusting to do by all of us.

Thankfully, our summer sitter has learned our weird ways and we are all enjoying lingering evenings and later mornings.  We've accomplished a few hikes, installed a garden, visited with both sets of grandparents, frequented the pool and the park, watched lots of movies and are filling out our summer reading lists.  It's a nice pace for me.  I know when the time comes, I will appreciate the routine of school, but I'm loving this summer rhythm.  It is a more relaxed pace than I have enjoyed recently.