As the shelter-in-place lifts, parents are curious how they can prepare for the next few weeks. Select childcare centers may reopen, but others may shutter their doors. As a result, many childcare plans have turned upside down. To help parents navigate this stressful time, we asked childcare experts to layout a roadmap.
With the likelihood many childcare centers and family daycares will close, what can we expect the nanny market will look like this summer or Fall?
“Preschool teachers are entering into the market” says Alyce Desrosiers, a clinical social worker and founder of The Institute for Families and Nannies (TIFFAN). Many preschool teachers who have been working in childcare centers are unsure whether they are going to have their jobs when shelter-in-place opens up again. As a result, preschool teachers are coming into the workforce now and as well as a lot of nannies who have lost their job and again are looking for work.
“It's a great time to find college students who have decided to take a year off of going back to school” says Lynn Perkins, founder of Urbansitter. So, the candidates that are available are incredibly strong and it is just finding the right fit for your family. Ms. Perkins is also seeing a movement toward home-based care. Parents have started forming small share-care groups with a big focus on geolocation. In the past you might have seen posts like, ‘I'm looking for a family in one of six neighborhoods’ but now it is really getting very tight on geography. We are entering into a world where people are both feeling insecure about large settings. With the high probability of a recession, share-care makes a lot of sense. But share-care arrangements are complicated to put together. Parents are going to need some kind of framework about how to go through a process and make decisions in ways that really set a unified direction for whoever is caring for children about how that care will happen.
Do you have any tips for nannies and parents going through a hiring process now given the uncertainties?
- Written agreement: Signing a contract with your care provider is always good but even particularly at this point of time. Ms. Desrosiers suggests putting in anticipation or expectations that are based on a certain timeline. For example, a nanny's schedule will be 'x' number of hours per week with some flexibility for change. For families with more than one child, adding that the responsibilities may shift as the children go back to school -- so initially a nanny may be caring for two, maybe three children, for a particular period of time and then it will begin to look different. And of course, adding the terms of compensation and benefits and even those could be tied in to the changing responsibilities that nannies have.
Dr. Noelle Cochran, a clinical psychologist and cofounder of Symbio, concurs, “having a contract is helpful because it makes things explicit. If you tend to avoid conflicts, having a contract is very useful, it makes you spell out things. Anything that's amorphous in a relationship like a nanny-parent relationship, a lot of things go sour because things aren't explicit and people aren't proactively checking in to see how things are going on both sides”. It also puts more stress on care providers when parents are unclear about things. A well laid out framework up front, makes difficult conversations much easier to have.
- Health and safety: “While figuring out schedules”, Ms. Perkins says, “it is also important to establish a routine to include a clear health care component”. For example, when a sitter gets to her client’s house, she will probably leave her jacket at the front door, remove her shoes, and go through a hand-washing routine. Parents may also want to ask questions to understand if a care provider has a roommate and if so, get to know what that person is like and what their job is like to minimize their family’s exposure to the Coronavirus.
In the past transportation might not have been something parents discussed in the early stages of interviewing a care provider but now they may want to take that into consideration -- whether that is offering private transportation for the person or understanding that it is going to take them an extra 10 minutes to walk. It is important to make sure that parents and nannies both have a real clear understanding of how the logistics are going to work. Care providers may also want to consider similar questions as they look for openings -- if a family is following the health and safety guidelines, if they have a family member who is sick, and so forth.
- Communication: Ms. Desrosiers advises parents to think about what they need in the long term and what they need now, and then have an open, transparent communication with their nannies. And this applies to nannies as well. Nannies need to let parents know if they are looking for something long term or whether they are unsure if the preschool where they teach at is going to reopen. It is best for everyone to consider all different options now and go through a process to know what it is that you want in the ideal world and in the long term way and what is realistic for now and being transparent about it with the other party.
Ms. Perkins agrees with the importance of up front communication and being incredibly transparent with each other. She recommends families to have open conversations with their sitters about if their child will be in preschool in August or if their summer camp is going to be cancelled and agreeing on a minimum number of hours that they can commit to the sitter so that the sitter would be willing to work for just their family. Another important consideration is if one or both parents are going to work from home. It is very different for care providers when parents are there. Parents may have had a nanny or a part-time babysitter in the past but chances are parents weren't likely home then and now there is going to be a situation where care providers and parents both could be home. Though these things sound very basic, parents and nannies need to think about how they are going to navigate such situations.
- Clear boundaries: Dr. Cochran stresses the importance of setting and holding clear boundaries and making sure that everybody is on the same page. For example, if parents are working from home, having a discussion together about what to do if their children want to see them, do they have any specific times blocked for uninterrupted work and so forth. Discussing these arrangements together and putting them in contract is always helpful because it does set some clear expectations on both sides.
Dr. Cochran further adds that it is one thing to put these details in a contract but parents need to follow through as well. It is unrealistic especially with young kids if you tell the nanny that, 'when my office door is shut, that means I'm working' and yet when the nanny isn't there and you are working with the door shut, you let the child come in and out freely. Parents are looking for their nanny to support them but parents also need to support their nanny by being consistent.
As the shelter in place orders start to lift, how can parents prepare themselves and their children for the transition?
"It really depends on the child’s age" says Dr. Cochran. She advises parents to prepare kids not only for the concrete reality like when their nanny is coming back or when they need to go back to work but also for the emotional reality, what it is going to feel like. Children need more help processing their emotions and helping them process things using emotional language really helps. For example, ‘your nanny was here but then she was gone and you didn't get to see her for a long time and you really missed her’.
It is really important for parents and caretakers to plan for the reconnection. Some kids, especially kids who are slower to warm, can have a hard time bridging this person who has been an attachment figure, who suddenly disappeared. There can be a lot of push-pull around ‘I'm mad at you’ or ‘I'm so excited to see you’. As things start to move back to normal or when nannies come back, kids would have some separation anxiety. As parents bring nannies back, they really want to let kids take it at a pace that feels right to them and give kids a real sense of control. And nannies need to give children an invitation to come to them but not be intrusive with kids coming to them, give them time to adjust. It is also a good idea to keep in touch with nannies, grandparents or other childcare providers and make plans down to things like what nannies are going to say when they walk in the door after a long time.
This also applies to parents who are transitioning back to work. Parents need to tell their kids that now they have to go back to the office and they are going to miss each other. If parents are going to be working from home and going to hire a sitter to help caring for their kids, Dr. Cochran advises parents to make changes in smaller increments. If the children have been around their parents for the last three months, parents need to give their young kids time to adjust because it's a big shock for kids who haven't seen somebody else in a while or had that kind of structure to go back to it. Parents may say something like, “You're gonna go do bubbles with nanny Sarah and I'll be out by the time you're done with bubbles”.
How can couples, families, and nannies manage difficult conversations and conflicts during this already stressful time?
“When it comes to conflict, it's such a sticky subject for everyone because everybody copes with it differently,” says Dr. Juli Fraga, a clinical psychologist who specializes in maternal mental health and co-lead of the new mothers support group at UCSF. She says, “The main thing with conflict is how comfortable are we with these unsettling emotions, how do we process them, do we tell ourselves it's not okay to have these emotions, do we tell ourselves, 'oh, we're making a big deal out of something'?” Dr. Fraga believes that the most important thing is to be aware of what you are feeling and then to be able to communicate it in a safe way. Whether the conflicts are with a nanny, your partner or your child, conditions of safety must be maintained. If people aren't feeling safe in the situation, then it is gonna make it trickier to resolve the conflict.
It can be useful especially during a really stressful time, to focus on the conflict at hand and trying to resolve it. We all can get into a tug-of-war of wanting the other person to be a different way. But we need to collaborate and see what the problem is and how to resolve it. Let's say you know you will need child care at a certain point for a full day but the nanny is only available for four hours. That is the problem that needs to be solved. Fighting about whose job is more important is not going to help. The main thing is being in touch with what you are feeling and knowing that it is okay to feel that, and then maintaining conditions of safety, so people can feel comfortable enough to talk about it.
Dr. Cochran adds that knowing your communication style and pattern is often helpful. For example, do you step in right away or you wait till things escalate to the point where they are going to blow up? Dr. Cochran sees a lot of miscommunication issues with nannies and parents because many parents don't talk proactively. She often tells parents to check-in regularly with their nannies or partners and not wait until something is going wrong. That is kind of a kicking the can down the road and then usually resentment starts to build. Dr. Cochran really encourages parents and nannies to have regular check-ins and recommends parents to take a lead on these check-ins and set the stage early for open communication.
Self-care seems essential for parent's well-being, but with homeschooling, shared spaces, lack of child care, and working from home, how can parents incorporate this into their schedules?
“Self-care is so important and I think it's also so hard to fit in at this time because there is added burden and yet it's so important to tend to ourselves” says Dr. Fraga. She recommends parents finding some time, even five minutes, for doing a joyful activity. It could be reading, watching a show, listening to a song, doing a little bit of exercise. For couples or families, it could be starting a gratitude practice and doing a kind thing for each other. Even if it's something small, just taking a few minutes once a day and making it as much of a priority as it is to take care of kids is essential. For Dr. Fraga, self care is like the oxygen mask on the airplane -- you have to put your own mask on first. And not selfish, it's really for the whole family's well-being.
“I've been telling parents”, adds Dr. Cochran, “don't think about feeling good, it's like if you're feeling at a 3, how do we get to a 4. We're not looking at a 9 or a 10 right now, we're looking for just slight improvement. So don't be shooting for the stars right now!”
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