mothers helpers

A mother’s helper is basically a nanny who only works when you’re also there.  Ze generally also does light cleaning.

With infant childcare there are several options.  You can go the nanny route, and work at the office while the nanny stays home with the baby.  You can do in-home childcare, which is similar except the care provider is in hir home rather than yours.  You can do center daycare, which is regulated by the state and includes many people taking care of many children.

We decided to go the mother’s helpers route for several reasons.  First, it was suggested to me by a famous woman in my field who had done the daycare route and was constantly sick (and the baby was constantly sick) and she wishes she’d done the mother’s helper route instead.  Oddly, when she had a second child she went the daycare route again and completely disremembers having any such conversation with me.  (She’s not the first famous person in my field to pour hir heart out to me and then forget I exist…)  Second, with our first baby, I was terrified of having a nanny looking after the baby unsupervised.  What if ze left the baby to cry all day?  What if ze shook the baby?  The fact that I didn’t trust myself alone with the baby added to that paranoia.  Third, the daycare centers didn’t have an opening for an infant until 8 months *anyway*.

Enter college students.

We always had at least two mother’s helpers at a time. When one was out sick with the plague it meant we didn’t lose an entire week.  (And presumably if one had to leave the job we would have been left partially in the lurch.)

With our first child we had some stunningly great mother’s helpers, and DC got very different things out of each (for example, that first semester, H was super active, M was basically a pillow for DC to recuperate from hir wild days with H).

With our second child we’ve had more scheduling difficulties, and we did have one quit before midterm to take a daycare job, despite having assured us when we hired her that she would stick out the semester.  So it’s been a bit stressful from that aspect.  However, I’m not sure that alternatives would have been any less stressful.  Fortunately this semester I have leave from teaching which I did not my first year, and DH is a lame duck with his job, so it’s been easier to weather these interruptions.

The mother’s helpers job is basically to entertain the baby when ze is awake and to either hold the baby when ze’s asleep or keep an ear out if ze is sleeping in the bassinet or pack-n-play or on the floor.  When I’m gone, they bottle feed the baby.  When I’m there they bring hir to me when ze is hungry and do light housework, starting with the kitchen.  When the baby is upset, ze goes to DH or me and we comfort.

As good as the childcare my kid is getting, I have to say my favorite part is having a clean kitchen at the end of the day.

What childcare arrangements have you or your kids done?  How did those work out?

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19 Responses to “mothers helpers”

  1. bogart Says:

    In my neck of the woods, in-home childcare can be as you describe, or can be certified and regulated by the state. If it lasts more than 4 hours/day it must be the latter. We used both. Our systems have been:
    *2 months — 3.5 years, in-home childcare near our home (SO nice to be able to drop the kid off and grocery shop before work, or even just home to shower), certified (5 stars, the most you get around here), one principal caregiver aided by her DH (until his second-shift job started) and teenage daughter (after school) caring for up to 5 kids between the ages of 0 and 3 years (we got an “extension” to stay there which in retrospect probably wasn’t ideal, but was easy). That was 2 8-hour days/week plus we had (usually) 2 days of grandma care/week plus year 1 I cut back to 30 hours/week and was out of the workforce the first 2 months plus we have flexible schedules;
    *3.5 years — 4.5 years, in-home preschool, not certified, up to 5 kids ages 3-5, one caregiver, 4 hours/day for 4 days/week, two afternoons of grandma care, DH out of the workforce at this point, so picked up the slack;
    *4.5 — 5.5 years, as above (same place) but only 2 days/week, plus 2 days/week of a full-day “institutional” preschool which we saw (correctly I believe) as a good warm up for kindergarten. The full-day was 20 4-5 year-old kids with 2 teachers and was part of a larger setting that did 1-5 year care all in classes arranged by year;
    *now in public K and not otherwise partaking of extra-family care, except for the occasional parent’s night out or whatever. We are going to have to figure out what to do for next summer, though with DH retired, nothing is an option (but probably a boring and unsatisfying one if applied exclusively).

    We’ve been lucky (touch wood) on the whole illness thing … certainly the occasional random cold and I think 2 ear infections to date. Ironically, the sickest DS has been was this summer when he was *only* at the “institutional” place *only* 2 days/week and when there was *only* with about 10 other kids (they had a special “transitioning to K group”) and he caught 2 separate stomach bugs and was sick probably a total of 12 days (across both incidents), which is, like (again, touch wood!) unheard of. Perhaps not coincidentally, that happened during what is without question the longest interval of time his local grandma has been out of town (and thus unavailable to help), sigh. Of course DH *was* available, but all day with a sick kid day after day … not fun. Especially (ironically) as the sick kid starts to get better and bounce off the walls … of course, with just one kid the whole illness thing is typically easier, since we don’t have two co-transmitting petri dishes, er, kids.

    • bogart Says:

      Oh … all of the above worked well for us, not that any was perfect (but plenty were close). Care close to home was great, and I am *so* glad I did not pick care near my workplace, which would have made me the (only or at least primary) parent responsible for managing dropoff/pickup. The 4 hours/day thing sounded great (and probably was for our kid), but was a real nuisance from the parents’ perspective as 4 hours is disturbingly close to zero (especially after dropoff/pickup) when it comes to “kid-free time to get stuff done (or recuperate, or whatever).

  2. Cloud Says:

    We went the day care center route. It is true that we got sick a lot- but we loved how they did enrichment activities with the kids, and we like the fact that it gives them experience dealing with other kids before they start school. I think I would have preferred a nanny when they were babies, but my husband has a real problem with hiring help directly (don’t get me started on how long it took to get him agree to the cleaning service!) and neither of us has the sort of job where we could work from home and us a mother’s helper. Also, my oldest child was the sort of baby that would demand to be with me if I was anywhere near- and we lived in a small apartment when she was a baby. So for us, the day care center has been great.

    A lot of people think that having a kid go through day care means he or she gets sick less once school starts. Certainly, my older daughter is almost never sick these days, but I don’t know if that is because of day care or just how she is. It makes sense that having exposure to a lot of different diseases would give her some immunity to protect against things she might be exposed to now- but then, things like colds mutate so much that we don’t really get immunity, so day care can’t be the magic some people say it is.

    • Cloud Says:

      I should add- if I’d gone the nanny and then transition to a center/preschool route, knowing what I know now, I’d transition either before 9 months or after about 14 months, so that I wasn’t trying to get a kid settled into a new day care environment in the midst of the ginormous separation anxiety phase.

      Of course, I wouldn’t have known that when my first was little, and probably would have ended up trying to do the transition at 1 year old, which would have been tough.

      As it was, we started day care at 5 months old, and she was settled in before separation anxiety hit. It was still a hard phase, but at least she knew her caregivers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Our separation anxiety phases hit with scooting/crawling/walking stages, so they weren’t necessarily at a specific age, but a specific developmental stage. DC1 started center care between scooting and crawling. (Ze probably would have skipped crawling were it not for daycare showing hir that hey, you can use your arms!)

      • bogart Says:

        Oh, yes — me too, and I felt very clever (truly) for having started DS with caregivers at 0 and 2 months (grandma and paid, respectively), so that by the time separation anxiety rolled around, these people were far from strangers. Not that there weren’t still issues, but … right. I was very happy that we managed to steer clear of transitions around that phase.

  3. mom2boy Says:

    Day care, full days, almost exclusively.
    Pro: consistent availability, cost compared to in-home care.
    Con: lots of colds but he might have just been prone – ended up with ear tubes bc of chronic infections and he still has seasonal allergies.

    His current school/day care is amazing. I’m trying to come back as a kid sent there during the day.

  4. rented life Says:

    I don’t remember if I went to day care, I know if I did it was only half-day. I know my brother went half day, and sometimes my mom (who is a nurse) would be asked to show up to check on a kid when she came to pick him up. (Once she had to explain what chicken pox was so that they would send kids home! Other times, lice. ew.) I might have enjoyed day care–I’m naturally more social than my brother, and I hated playing alone. But from a financial standpoint, I completely understand my parents decision to have one parent work at night, one during the day, so that regular daycare wasn’t absolutely necessary.

    As we begin to talk about kids, I do wonder about the colds. I’ve had enough health problems that I don’t need to invite colds. And as my job situation has changed, full time child care wouldn’t make much sense, but a part time helper (baby-sitter if I’m stll teaching classes) makes sense. I like the idea of a helper because I do my writing at home, and that would allow me to continue that. Husband works 50 hour weeks with varying schedules so we can’t rely on a consistent schedule on his end. I’m not sure what we’ll end up with but I like hearing about options beyond daycare, which is what everyone we know does.

    • Perpetua Says:

      My employer had a “back up care” benefit for caregivers (not just parents). It was called Bright Horizons. Maybe your company has similar? It wasn’t well-advertised at my place; we found it almost by accident. Some vetted person comes to the house for a reasonable co pay and watches the child so you can go to work, whole or half day.

      The colds are just the start. Little kids get viruses of such an astonishing variety that you won’t believe it until you too become ill with each and every one of them. It’s only October and we’ve already had a nasty ear infection and a couple rounds of croup (one for each kid). Giving babies breastmilk really does help (every time I left my son for a couple of days, he would get sick. LIke clockwork) though it is not of course magical.

  5. femmefrugality Says:

    Someone in our library group is going to go this route when her next child arrives. We don’t have anything right now except alternating schedules between his work and my school…so someone’s always home. But I’d be lying if I said the housework couldn’t use a mommy’s helper. Or that it wouldn’t be nice to take a ten minute breather once in a while. Or even a date night sometime before I graduate. I’m with you on the not trusting a nanny thing. No matter how great they are, the element of peer supervision that you get at a daycare seems so much more assuring to me. Maybe we’ll have to look into mommy’s helpers. Or even just a baby-sitter every once in a while. We’re doing too much and it’s starting to show evidence.

  6. Calee Says:

    We have a part time nanny for #2 who watched both kids during the summer. She comes 2 days a week now and goes the other days to a friend’s home. Grandmas and a husband with an alternating schedule pick up the rest of the time. I work from home so I feel confident in her care and really, the kid spends 2-3 hours at the park everyday. He is not complaining one bit :) I weighed sending #2 to the center where we sent #1 for preschool but I got used to the clean house over the summer. It’s fantastic and the same price as similar hours at the center and cleaning 2x per month instead of 2 x per week.

  7. Perpetua Says:

    We only had in-home care until our oldest was almost three, though for part of that time (most of that time), Christopher Robin was in a nanny share (actually he was in a small in home for about four months as well, but only like three kids). He was easily over stimulated as a baby/toddler so this was definitely the right choice for him. And when he was a baby, well we wanted one on one attention for him, yes we were that precious about it. I always had college girl sitters for them when they were small babies and I needed to work, but it was 10-15 hrs a week, and the rest of the time I was home with them. I had long maternity leaves (by US standards). I agree with @Cloud about socialization (I have to say, the preschoolers that are home all the time only with mom are the ones that have the most trouble with other kids, at playdates and such). OTOH, I always wanted my small babies at home, in a calm quiet environment with a lot of responsive attention. I’d visit those large daycares with those big rooms full of cribs with crying babies and I’d just freak out about it. (We toured one place for our older son, and my husband was like DON’T GO IN THE INFANT ROOM and I went anyway.) I know obviously that it’s totally fine, I just couldn’t do it. It was irrational. We loved our nanny and she’s a good friend now. I had zero concerns leaving the kids with her. (My husband worked from home sometimes and generally monitored the situation, but really you have to trust the nanny’s judgment.) But of course even sharing the nanny with another family or two, it was very $$$.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Our preschool didn’t have lots of crying babies– up to six babies and two teachers (and the lead teacher is a baby whisperer). But, that’s why we couldn’t get in until DC1 was 8 mo. The tiny baby slots first went to children of teachers, then younger siblings of current students.

  8. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    We did daycare at four months with my oldest, because I worked at home in a small apartment. Also, it was cheaper than hiring a full-time nanny (at a living wage and on the books — non-negotiable for us). The problem was that yes, he got sick all the time. I missed many, many weeks of work which not only stressed me out, it caused a lot of marital tension, as my husband assumed, since I was working at home, that covering sick time was my job. By 18 months, we’d found a lot of backup sitters. And when we had the second kid, we hired a full time nanny (we were in a slightly bigger apartment then). We kept first kid in daycare for fewer hours for preschool aspects. Because it really was good for that! He made tons of friends, and they basically taught him to write his letters at age 3. He was pretty much reading at 4 there, too. He had state certified teachers. I know it was a great center, but I think people who are not prepared get wigged out by baby rooms in daycares. Or it just taps into some deep issues. I recommended our center to multiple people, and I had one woman come back to me and inform me that the staff looked “tired” (you try caring for a baby all day and see how you look!) and she couldn’t imagine leaving her child there. Yes. I am a terrible mother, and that’s why I could.
    Anyway, by kid 3, we’d moved to the ‘burbs and hired a new and wonderful nanny. Oldest two went to preschool part time (5 mornings for one, 2 mornings for other). We had a baby nurse for the first two months to handle the newborn.
    I think daycare has a lot going for it socially and academically, it’s just hard on the parents to get kids packed up and there. We know people who’ve hired sitters to come from 7-9 a.m. to get kids ready and to daycare. This seems slightly inefficient to me — like why don’t you just have that person stay? But the daycare positives outweighed the downsides.

  9. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I so want a mother’s helper. Or like three. That’d be awesome.

  10. hush Says:

    In the last 5 years, we’ve used nearly every child care arrangement under the sun: postpartum doula (aka baby nurse, or night nurse), daycare center in a large city, emergency back-up childcare paid for by my former employer, evening (high school/college age) sitters, daytime mother’s helpers, regular babysitter (aka nanny… where I’m from the term “nanny” is reserved for women who live in their employers’ homes and/or folks for whom “nanny” is their preferred job title), preschool, and full-day childcare swaps with another family.

    In a perfect world (which by the way, I’ve never lived in), I would prefer postpartum doulas and mother’s helpers from birth to 6-months-ish, a nanny when the child is 6-9-months-ish to 2.5 years, then daycare/preschool from 2.5 years on. Actually, “in a perfect world” we’d live near family and they’d be super helpful, but I digress.

    We’ve found Bright Horizons daycare centers in large cities to be excellent, but often oversubscribed for regular use – great if you can be flexible as to the days. Like someone else here said, BH was also my former company’s back-up childcare provider.

    Now we live in a small town, and we appreciate the convenience of having the same loving, trusted, wonderful babysitter/nanny come to our home 3 days a week for the last 2+ years, sometimes with her daughter when she’s not in school. She taught the kids Spanish, keeps the house tidy, and is a great resource person to have in the event of an emergency, as we live 2 time zones away from our nearest family.

    Re: how do I trust a nanny? See “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. Intuition + references + hard-hitting interview questions + coming home early unannounced + time = trust. In our experience, the best nannies are women over 30 who have raised children of their own, and who want to be paid legitimately (and really, you’d be out of your mind not to follow the letter of the law on this issue).

    As for evening sitters (for date night), we’ve generally found that childless women between the ages of 15 and 25 are a real mixed bag – not always the most reliable, punctual, detail-oriented sitters, to say the least. We have had a lot of flaky, “I forgot I had prom” crap, and people who don’t want to do things our way, etc. But ever since we’ve learned to give a lot of instructions, repeatedly, and write everything down for them – even the painfully obvious things (to us), and oh, this is a big one – pay them in cash so they don’t lose our check and require us to close our bank account and go through all the hassles that entails, and text and double text them to make sure they’re actually coming on time… yes, it’s a chore. At the moment, we have an awesome regular date night sitter (age 18) who has been with us for awhile, and we are paying her handsomely and worshipping the ground she walks on.

  11. Interview questions for potential mother’s helpers | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] the questions we used 5-odd years ago and had to recreate a list.  (I should probably finish the unfinished post in drafts about how we came around to having mother’s helpers rather than a nanny or daycare and how […]


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