There is no doubt that childcare (and the price of it) in this country has become a hot button topic. Working parents spend months researching the best daycare providers, nannies and babysitters that will watch their children full time. But what about those times when you need someone to watch the kids while you work in the house, or do chores, or run quick errands? Enter the mother's helper.
I don’t know that I used the term mother's helper before 6 years ago, but as I look back, that is exactly what I was as a young teen. I had several “clients” that paid me to entertain their children while they did chores, cooked, cleaned, and worked out. At the time, being completely naïve about what went into raising children, I thought “Geez. This mom can’t get this stuff done without paying me to watch her kids?” Young Kendra deserves a good smacking.
The misconceptions that moms should be able to do it all, and work, or do it all while they stay home with their children, still run deep in our society. I see and hear it every day with my 1-1 clients and followers. Honestly, the misconceptions make me gag. As a business owner, I am encouraged and even expected to hire help. It is seen as unprofessional to try to accomplish all tasks by yourself. You are encouraged to leverage your time and your skills, hiring others to take the smaller tasks off your plate. Yet somehow, raising kids is the kind of job you are expected to do with little or no outside help. Making and managing a home, not to mention that gazillion (a rough estimate) other things that go into raising kids, are supposed to be done effortlessly each day by mom and mom alone. Well, maybe some help from dad. Sometimes.
I call foul and instead proclaim “All hail the mommy’s helper!”
So what exactly is a mother's helper?
This gal (or guy) is slightly different than a babysitter or a nanny as they assist the family while one or both parents are still home. While most helpers assist with entertaining the kids, they may also help with household chores, like laundry, cooking or cleaning. Basically, they are another set of hands, giving relief to mama.
Did the thought of that kind of help get you all giddy with excitement? Did you immediately think “Uh, but where do I find someone. How do I hire them? What should I have them do?” All common questions.
The best way to find a mother's helper is from referrals. Ask your friends, neighbors, colleagues and family if they have any young girls that are interested in making money as a helper. Do you have friends or neighbors with teenage daughters that are looking to babysit? Reach out and ask. Unlike a traditional babysitter, a helper can be much younger, sometimes as young as 11-12 as you won’t be leaving the house. At 12, I was plenty mature enough to watch after my younger siblings and do household work.
The other benefit of having someone younger is that they are eager to learn and gain experience which will help them get babysitting jobs in the future. While I don’t agree with stiffing anyone, helpers are often much less expensive than a babysitter, again because the amount of responsibility they have is far less.
Is it absolutely necessary to hire someone in their teens or preteens? No, ma’m. Many women of all ages make excellent mother’s helpers, but I have found that younger girls are more flexible with their schedules (they are too young to have jobs or boyfriends…hopefully) and are eager to learn and help.
The interview process
A question I am asked quite a bit when I bring up this topic is how to interview a potential candidate, how much to pay them and how to act as a “boss.” These are all pretty important questions.
How much should I pay her?
How much you choose to pay your mother’s helper varies about as much as the amount of times your kid changes his mind about what he wants to breakfast. There are a lot of variables, such as location, age and experience of the helper, duties you expect to be performed, amount of time needed, etc. My best advice is to ask around and do your research. If you have gotten a referral, ask what price they pay their helper. If all else fails, go to the source. I remember being asked as a 15 year old girl what I “charged” for babysitting. Flabbergasted, I said “Uh, whatever you want to pay.” That was the wrong answer and the person hiring me gave me the best “lecture” I have ever received. She let me know that I should have a price in mind of what I thought my skills were worth and never to let my clients set the price. Wise, sage advice. While a 12 year old may not have a solid answer, or may come back at you with anywhere from $1-$50, it is a great learning experience to ask them what they have received in the past and if that is what they charge. For older teens and adults, ask them their price straight-up. Money is a touchy subject that we could all get past if we just talked about it more.
What should I do during an interview?
During an interview, or meeting, be sure to have the potential helper interact with the kids, especially if that will be their prime focus. Are they kind, fun, playful, interactive? Do your kids seems to jive with them or do they have a look on their face that screams, “Get her out of here!” Use that mommy intuition you know you have and go with the candidate that seems to gel with your kids and home easily.
What else should I know?
Always go in to any working relationship with clear, unflappable expectations of the relationship. The worst thing you can do (and I speak from experience, believe me) is to hire a mother’s helper, give her vague instructions and then become resentful that she isn’t performing the duties that you didn’t tell her she was supposed to perform. Do you expect the toys to be cleaned up before she leaves? Would you like her to be off her phone for the majority of their work? Are you paying her to entertain the kids and make snacks? Be clear about your needs from the get-go. Remember, you are doing this to remove stress from your life, not add to it. I remember hiring a babysitter once and coming home to find that every single toy, and I mean every single toy in the house was scattered across the carpet. I hadn’t been clear that part of the job was to make sure I didn’t have a mental breakdown upon returning home or emerging from my home office.
Set boundaries, for her and for you. Are you totally okay with your helper entering any room of the house or is the master bedroom off limits? Do you have specific food that the kids are allowed to eat or do you have a “just eat whatever” philosophy. There is no right or wrong answer, there are only boundaries. Set them early and stick to them. Physical and emotional boundaries are so important when you have someone working in your home and with your children, even if the person working with them IS a child. I know that as a babysitter in my teens and then as the owner of a cleaning company, I loved boundaries. They made me feel secure that what I was doing was the right thing, all the time. When people know what to expect, they can do what is expected of them.
The most important tip I can give you, from the bottom of my heart is to let go of perfection. Will a 12 year old girl do things the way you would? No, no she will not. Will you have moments when you want to step in and do it all yourself? Yes, yes you will. But resist the urge if you can. A mommy’s helper can give you an abundance of freedom that you normally wouldn’t have, to get done the things that you otherwise wouldn’t have the time for. Whether you plan to spend that time cleaning out closets, or catching up on laundry, or watching your favorite TV show, or working on your newly formed part-time business, give yourself the time and let someone else entertain the little ones.
Now go enjoy that morsel of time, mama. It's worth every penny.
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