The basic duties of a domestic helper are to clean, to cook, and to help care for children. While this may sound blissful, for many divorced parents who work outside the home, or for those who simply need an extra pair of hands at their disposal, employing domestic help may not be so much of a luxury as an actual necessity. When faced with delegating childcare responsibility to someone else, however, we as single parents can quickly find ourselves standing on a slippery slope.
Finding, hiring and keeping the right person is no easy undertaking. As I employed nannies during different periods over the years, I discovered time and time again, and much to my disappointment, that tasks ranging from the menial to the important were not being performed as I would have liked and, more importantly, specifically instructed. When these tasks involve housework, indiscretions are easier to overlook. When the supervision of my children is involved, I cannot and will not be so complacent.
Of course, we always have the option to hire someone else if we are not satisfied. And, in the extreme case, this is an obvious solution. But, at some point, it becomes necessary to make an investment of time in the person that we have chosen to employ — the person who likewise has chosen to be employed by us. This is a difficult process and involves the right balance of patience, sternness, and decisiveness. After all, what is at stake is important — the safety and happiness of our children.
This highlights the question of when it is the right time to entrust our children to a domestic helper’s care without feeling compelled to look over her shoulder every moment throughout the day. Unfortunately, there is no formula for answering this question. Judgment cannot be taught; it is intuitive. We can teach our domestic helpers how we want our homes cleaned and our laundry sorted, but when it comes to how we want our children cared for there is simply no perfect substitute for hands-on parenting.
Determining the best time to leave our children in a domestic helper’s care depends upon when we feel comfortable enough with her ability to follow directions and to appreciate the seriousness of her job, as well as to the degree to which our children respect her as an authority figure in our absence. Achieving this relationship with a domestic helper is a milestone. It means being able to work outside the home, go out on a date, or enjoy a personal hobby without a child clinging to our side. Yet it is when we finally develop such a sense of security that we are faced with our next formidable challenge. We must now ask ourselves exactly how much influence we want that person to exert on our children’s development and how much of an integral part of our children’s lives we will ultimately allow them to become.
My first nanny, a warm and reliable caregiver became a good friend to my children — almost too good a friend. When I gave birth to my second daughter, my nanny played with my older child, read to her, and even woke her in the morning. What I never counted on was that my daughter would go through a stage where she actually preferred my nanny to take her from her crib. At the time, I remember feeling hurt that my daughter looked to someone other than me in the morning. I now take responsibility for the brief period of favoritism my daughter showed my first nanny by recognizing there are certain moments throughout the day I deem crucial to maintaining the sanctity of the bond I have with my children. For this reason, I began to carefully delineate the responsibilities my domestic helper performed throughout the day.
Making the decision to introduce a domestic helper into my family does not mean I am ready to abdicate any part of my role as a parent. Rather, I merely acknowledge my willingness to accept a competent but subordinate helping hand. When we entrust our children to another’s care we are forced to make a leap of faith that that person will act in our stead as we would. We want our childcare provider to be competent and endearing, yet we still want to make sure she does not usurp, whether purposefully or inadvertently, the fleeting moments we treasure most as parents. Finding just the right person to help strike this careful balance may be an unrealistic expectation. But as I prepare to work outside my home in the future, this time as a single parent, the search must continue for now.