7 Strategies For Managing Parental Anxiety About People Caring For Your Children

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Being a parent is fraught with anxiety. The things available to worry about range from the downright scary to the manageably nerve-wracking… but for every parent nothing aggravates parental anxiety more than other caregivers who take care of, and influence, your kids. People you entrust, but can’t control.

Caregivers become incredibly important to your kid’s lives. Consider the nanny who drives your kids to and from school, the coach or tutor who helps your kid learn a new skill, the baby sitter who watches your kids so you get a precious night off, or even the family member who takes your kid on a long weekend or vacation as a treat for everyone.

Every one of these people play a vital role in how your life is managed. Modern life requires we outsource some of our many responsibilities to others in order to be able to manage other ones. Without a village of helpers, the laundry list of sacrifices we have to make grows. And yet leaning on others for help always comes at a price.

Hiring someone to care for your kids is one of the most critical decisions you’ll make in your life. When you do it right, you find a trusted confidant who looks after your kids almost as well as you do. But when it goes wrong, the list of concerns including the terrifying worry of, “what is going on when I’m not watching” can become overwhelming.

There’s no way to escape this kind of parental anxiety.  You are entrusting control to someone else. All you can do is work hard to make the smartest decisions you can to put the best people in your children’s lives. This is how you maintain control, and channel your understandable anxiety.

Of course, this requires being brave, conscientious and curious about who the caregiver is and how s/he lives their life.

It’s important when you start looking for someone to care for your kids (from infancy to college) that you put in the effort to think through the solutions that will best work for you and your family. Of course, this isn’t always possible, but giving yourself time to research your needs and available caregivers will best allow for your questions to be answered.

Here are 7 key steps to hiring caregivers that reduce your parental anxiety instead of add to it: 

  1. Know what you need.

As you start your search, the best advice to reduce your parental anxiety is to “know thyself”. Take a look inside and ask yourself what you most require from someone to learn to trust them? What do you genuinely need to feel safe leaving your most precious possession in the hands of another?

Start with easy questions like: “what would someone have to do for you to trust them with your computer, or cell phone? What about the keys to your house or your purse/wallet… or even your car?”  Digging deeper, “what about with your credit card? Or your bank account?”

Could you give someone your credit card if they gave you an accounting of everything they spent? Or if they were forthcoming about any issues so you didn’t have to “find out later”? Of course, trusting a stranger with your purse is a total leap of faith, but the exercise is really about what’s required for you to feel safe trusting a person you don’t really know all that well?

When you know the answer to these questions, you can begin taking responsibility for getting the kind of communication you need from someone watching your kids. This could include requiring your caregiver report back to you about what happened when they were together, or for an infant or an elderly person, could also include a list of what they ate, when they slept or used the bathroom.

Again, this list is what YOU need. It should be reasonable for the child’s age, and provide you with the necessary communication so you feel as safe as possible in this new situation.

In the event that someone fails to meet your needs, the signs may indicate that you need to find a more communicative person. Either way, before you leave your children with a person you barely know, you want to have a plan in place for what’s required to reduce your predictable parental anxiety before it gets the best of you.

  1. Research your options.

There are many caregiver options ranging from permanent to temporary help. Who do you know with children roughly the same age, or even a little older, that you can talk to and ask for a referral? Most parents you know are in some version of the same boat you’re in. Talking to other Moms and Dads can give you a name or two of people they trusted and that kind of connection can go a long way towards easing your mind.

Additionally, services like care.com and sittercity.com can help with local recommendations and background checks. If you know parental anxiety is something that affects you, spend the few extra dollars on the background check. The ease of mind it will afford you is invaluable.

  1. Ask questions (even the hard ones).

When you finally get your choices narrowed down to a few options, make a detailed list of interview questions so you have a sense of who the person really is you’re interviewing. Ask obvious questions like: “How long have you done this kind of work?”, “Do you have references I can call?” “Have you been CPR certified recently?” and “Are you open to doing a background check?”

But also, go deeper with questions like: “How do you handle (insert your predictable situations like noisy kids, sibling rivalry or time outs)?”, “What would have to happen for you to call us?”, and “Is there anything you feel unqualified to manage?”

Again, in the spirit of “knowing thyself”, your interview should arm you with the best information you can gain before deciding to move ahead. If you do this right, you won’t know everything but you’ll have a stronger sense of how the caregiver handles pressure and what’s necessary for them to reach out to you in a time of need. Then you can supplement their list with your own requirements so you have an agreement about communication that mutually meets both of your needs.

  1. Have a backup.

When hiring for such a critical role, it’s best to not put all of your hopes on one person until you’re sure they are qualified to be “the person” caring for your kids. And in this scenario, time really does make all the difference. You have to see a person under stress to know truthfully how they manage it. Kids have an uncanny way of stressing people out as only kids can. Temper tantrums, defiance, sensitivity, refusing to listen… sooner or later your kids will test their caregivers.

Seeing how your caregiver manages the stress of these challenges can give you the best sense of how s/he handles stress. Open communication is the key to managing tough times and as Mom or Dad, your role is to be the leader and confidant for everyone.

At the same time, if stress brings out the worst in your nanny or babysitter, having a backup will empower you to make the best decision for your family. In truth, when you feel backed into a corner or as if you have no other choices, compromises are often made. Considering the seriousness of this role, setting yourself up for success by having other options will ensure that you don’t sacrifice your values because you feel that you have no other choices.

  1. You do get what you pay for.

Caregivers are all too often underpaid and overworked. As they say in the military, “this is the hardest job you’ll ever love.” Great caregivers can demand a higher wage because they deserve it. Their experience, mindset, intuition and patience are incredibly helpful in caring for your kids in the way that you most desire.

Be aware of financial compromises you make that are requested simply because of a belief that “it shouldn’t cost so much.” Truth is, it does. According to a 2012 survey, the average short term nanny is paid $16 per hour and a full time non-live-in nanny’s gross pay was $705 per week or approximately $36K per year plus benefits.

As you explore options (daycare, nanny, au pair, baby sitter etc.) not all caregivers are created equal. Knowing what you need and what you’re willing to pay will help you with you set reasonable expectations so you’re fair to yourself and your caregivers.

  1. Educate your kids

Your kids are your greatest line of communication, and this is especially true as your kids get older. By sharing with your children your values about how your kids are treated and what you see as “acceptable” and “unacceptable” behavior, you empower your kids to share anything out of order with you.

That said, you do want to be careful that you don’t set up a situation where your kids are “telling” on their caregiver. Be sure that your kids see you modeling open communication with their nanny/babysitter so you’re setting the stage for how problems/challenges are discussed and how they are managed go-forward.

Kids benefit from seeing you handle conflict in a loving way and allowing their caregiver to make reasonable mistakes and repair those mistakes with your support. This kind of lesson goes a long way towards teaching your kids what’s right and wrong and how to manage imperfect moments.

  1. Finally, remember that it takes time to really feel safe and secure.

Nothing but time can prove to you that your kids are truly safe and OK with their new nanny or babysitter. Sometimes, when dealing with anxiety it’s good to simply admit that it’s here and a part of your life for now. Knowing that it’s a normal part of the experience as a parent doesn’t remove it, but it may make you feel less troubled that “you’re the only one”.

You’re not.

Every parent reading this has their own version of worry or anxious feelings about their kid’s safety. Anxiety simply goes with the territory of being a parent, and isn’t necessarily unhealthy. The idea that someone could harm your child is enough to keep any parent awake at night.

The good news for most of us is that the worries are more in our heads than a reality. By doing your work and investigating your caregivers (all of them) to the best of your ability, with time, you will learn who is safe to trust.

In the end, managing parental anxiety around caregivers is a hard experience for just about every parent. There’s nothing that can truly remove this from your heart, it’s simply part of our modern life, and worrying means you care. As more parents work outside of the home, we become more reliant than ever on people we have never met before to care for the most precious people in our lives.

Hopefully these 7 tips will help you manage your parental anxiety more confidently. But if you find that your anxiety isn’t managed by strong communication and sharing your values with the people watching your children, you may need some additional support. If you’re in the Washington DC metro, please reach out for a consultation to see if I can help or check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety:Making Anxiety Work for You In Life, Love, and All That You Do (debuted as #1 Amazon New Release). My anxiety and parenting blogs may also be helpful.

Alicia H. Clark, PsyD