It’s important to eliminate guesswork when parenting with your helper
Please welcome domestic employment expert Mel from Helpwise with some really, well, helpful advice. She covers everything from communicating preferences to your helper, to addressing some of those tricky subjects such as responsibilities and disciplining. Whether you have a helper or know someone who does, we think you’ll find some useful nuggets to use (or share!).
Parenting your children and managing your domestic helper are two topics that require the utmost sensitivity and understanding when discussed individually, and all the more when spoken of together. And so I write this with respect for each parent and employer who is doing his or her best to juggle both roles. I recognise that each of us has different at-home management styles, household dynamics, and parenting preferences; so, I invite you to take whatever advice is relevant to you (and leave behind some that was meant for others).
Consider Your Helper’s Role in Your Child’s Life
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the least and 10 being the most, how much involvement would you like your helper to have in your children’s lives?
Perhaps you’ve selected 1 to 3 if you’re available to do most of the childcare and your helper only changes the occasional diaper or does the laundry for your teens. You might be in the 4 to7 range if you and your helper are splitting the kid duties or trading off depending on your schedule. And finally, you’re probably looking for an 8 to 10 level of involvement if you need your helper to embody a more hands-on, nanny-like role in your children’s lives.
Where it can get confusing
As employers, we usually know what type of role we want our helper to take, but for a variety of reasons our helper might not be on the same page. Take, for example, these common real-life dilemmas that many employers have encountered:
I just had a new baby and I thought my helper would provide me with a lot of assistance, but she seems to enjoy cooking and cleaning more than caring for the baby, and she’s never around when I need a hand. I’m worried that she won’t really play with my baby when it’s time for me to go back to work.
I’m a new mom who will need to go back to work in a few weeks and I want to spend as much time with my baby as possible, but my helper wants to hold the baby all the time and now I’m worried that my baby may start to think my helper is her mother once I return to work.
I really want my pre-teen to start taking on more responsibilities for themselves, but I don’t know how that’s going to happen since my helper still carries their backpack and cleans their room for them. I’m worried that my child will grow up feeling spoiled or entitled.
I’m worried because my helper doesn’t seem to show enough initiative when it comes to the children. When I’m traveling, I assume she’s helping them with their homework or scheduling playdates, but sometimes I come home to realize that she just did the bare minimum.
Even if we think that we’ve made our expectations clear to our helper by giving them instructions such as: “We’ll be splitting the childcare duties this week,” our helper could be envisioning that mid-range involvement level to be at a 4, but maybe we were envisioning her involvement to be closer to a 7. Sometimes our own patterns and expressions can confuse a helper who is trying to guess and anticipate their employer’s childcare preferences. The helper may think: Yesterday, my employer seemed upset at me for doing the bedtime routine with the toddler, but today she seemed disappointed when I didn’t offer to help her with the child’s bath. I can’t figure out how or when I’m supposed to help with the kids and when I’m supposed to let her do it.
The good news
In many cases, the childcare involvement level is a misunderstanding that can be resolved with intentional discussion and clarity. The majority of helpers want to please their employers (and keep their jobs), so it’s often a relief when an employer takes the time to teach them about their parenting preferences and styles more explicitly. Otherwise, it’s natural for them to default to whatever childcare style they’ve been exposed to throughout their own upbringing, or through their previous’ employer’s preferences, or through advice they’ve been given from well-intentioned friends.
Sometimes it takes a while for employer and helper to realize that they are operating under different assumptions. But the good news is that those realisations can lead to remedies!
Set “default preferences”
Although we can’t prepare our helpers for every single child-related scenario, we can help eliminate a lot of guesswork by setting “default preferences” and then communicating those to her. In other words, what would you like her to do on most days, unless you tell her otherwise?
- Take a few minutes to figure out what level of involvement you would like your helper to have. If you needed to pick a childcare involvement number, what would it be? Consider asking your parenting partner or spouse too, so that you can get on the same page before telling your helper.
- Jot down a few key “default settings” that your helper can abide by. For instance, you could say “Unless I tell you otherwise, I would like you to … (plan the playdates, feed the baby her breakfast, allow me to do the bedtime routines with the kids, leave the homework-checking for me, etc.)”
- Set a time where you can sit down with your helper to share your preferences with her. Start by thanking her for the areas that she’s doing well, and then share your childcare preferences with her, so that she doesn’t have to do as much guessing day-to-day. In addition to sharing verbally, you may want to put it in writing to aid her in remembering the new “defaults”.
I’ve had the privilege of witnessing many employer/helper relationships improve once these types of childcare expectations and preferences have been communicated clearly and graciously. Of course, there are cases of helpers who struggle with neglectful or aggressive tendencies and those should be addressed in different ways; but, for many well-intentioned employers and helpers, they are often relieved to learn that they were closer to a solution than they may have realised.