| On Topic |

Your Child’s Keeper

Whether you’re farming out your little ones to siblings kind neighbors or even paid babysitters you need a plan to make sure they’re comfortable and have what they need — and won’t drive their caretakers crazy

 mishpacha image

M azel tov! It’s a new baby — and now big brother and sister need a place to stay while you’re recuperating. Or maybe you need to go out of town for a simchah or family emergency or — lucky you — a vacation. Who takes care of the kids?

Whether you’re farming out your little ones to siblings kind neighbors or even paid babysitters you need a plan to make sure they’re comfortable and have what they need — and won’t drive their caretakers crazy.

Who Will Take Them?

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a bubby in the neighborhood to sleep at when Mommy and Tatty aren’t around. And sometimes Bubby isn’t even the best option for long-term sleepovers. When you’re trying to decide whom to ask to take care of the kids think about both where your child will be most comfortable and who will be comfortable taking him in. A family with a child around his age is often your best bet. Then he’ll have a playmate who will probably be on a similar schedule.

Sara from Brooklyn 40 remembers hosting a preteen family member when she was the parent of two young children. “Since he started school way before my kids I had to wake up quite early to get him ready for school ” she recalls. “When he got home from school it was almost my kids’ bedtime. He kept complaining that he was bored.”

Other scheduling conflicts can complicate the stay as well. For instance a host who works afternoons when your kids get off might need to arrange a babysitter or leave work early. Or perhaps her kids go to school on Sundays while yours do not. Try to find a host family whose children have a schedule similar to your child’s so that you don’t impose.

If there is no choice at least mitigate the difficulties by making alternate arrangements for schedule conflicts. For example you may offer to pay a babysitter or arrange a playdate with a different friend when the host has to work.

Ahead of the Pack
Even if the host’s child is the same age and has the same schedule as your child don’t assume they’ll have everything your child will need. Go over his entire day and night when you’re packing up and create a list of everything he uses. As you pack check things off so you don’t miss anything.

Chaya Rivky a popular babysitter who often has children staying at her home for up to two weeks has the process down to a science. “I’ve had parents who forgot to send diapers or Shabbos clothing!” Chaya Rivky says. “If you have an organized list to check off as you pack hopefully this won’t happen.”

Exactly how much clothing should you send? It depends on whether the host wants to do your child’s laundry. Racheli a bubby many times over who hosts her grandchildren of all ages says “I tell my kids to send no more than three changes of clothing. The more they send the more potential there is for clothing to get ruined and lost. I don’t want that. I’m forever doing laundry so I just throw their things into the washing machine each evening after they go to bed.”

Other hosts would prefer you send enough clothing for the duration of the stay. Dena went one step further when her sister Gitty watched her daughter; she packed her child’s clothing in individual bags — including an outfit socks and accessories for each day. This kept the morning rush to a minimum and eliminated the guesswork: “Which skirt goes with these socks?”

However much clothing you send, label everything beforehand.

“I usually have kids close in age and size to my own children,” Sara says. “It’s easy to mix up socks, underwear, uniform sweaters, navy pants, and such.” Therefore, she keeps guests’ dirty laundry in a separate bag and takes a close look through it before it goes in the machine with her kids’ clothing.

Many hosts will at the very least wash the children’s clothing before they get picked up. “Whether Mommy was on vacation, or just gave birth, she has enough to do without running to the laundry room to throw in another load,” Racheli says.

More Like Home

Just like you appreciate a touch of home when you’re away, your child will feel more comfortable if you include his favorite toy, blankie, or sippy cup. Now is not the time to decide you’re weaning him off his pacifier or toilet-training him — save that for when you’re around, and pack the pacifier or diapers.

Think about the smaller aspects of your child’s day that would make him feel more at home and share them with the host. “If a kid is used to taking along a penny to school for tzedakah or a mitzvah note, I’ll make sure to send those along,” Chaya Rivky says. “It’s just a small thing, but it helps them feel secure in the routine and cared for. Not to mention that mitzvah notes are a fantastic incentive during bath time, cleanup, supper, and bedtime.”

Food is another way to your child’s heart. While you can inform the host of your child’s food preferences, you’ll make her job much easier by sending along several food items he’ll definitely eat — especially if he’s a picky eater or on a special diet.

“If a kid is going on a school or camp trip, I find it very helpful if the parents do the trip shopping so I don’t have to make a special visit to the grocery,” says Miriam, a mother of five who has children sleeping over nearly as often as she doesn’t. “Usually parents have advance notice about field trips, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t be prepared.”

On the flip side, if you’re the host, the parents will appreciate honesty — be specific about what you can or can’t do, rather than just doing it with resentment.

For instance, Gitty often sends her kids to her sister when she goes away or gives birth. “She’ll warn me beforehand that since laundry is an overwhelming task for her, she’ll be sending home my kids with dirty laundry,” Gitty shares.

Sharing is Caring

From the minute they enter her home, Chaya Rivky wants her guests to know they’ll be safe and well cared for.

“Many of the kids don’t know me, so I try to portray myself as friendly and my house as a fun place,” she says. “I prepare a ton of toys, and sit and play with them as soon as they come in. Then I tell them about how much fun we’re going to have together while Mommy is away. At the same time, I keep reiterating that I’m only going to be watching them until Mommy gets back home.”

Although most of the little kids cry in the beginning, they’re very resilient, Chaya Rivky says, and before long, they get lost in the excitement of staying with friends.

No matter how close the friendship, however, it’s hard on the hostess’s children to share their home, mother, and toys around the clock. Sara recalls a homesick youngster who stayed at her home and insisted on sitting next to her during mealtimes. Though Sara’s own child the same age wasn’t ever inclined to do that, now he decided he also needed that spot.

“It was very hard,” Sara admits. “I wanted the experience to be positive for both my child and the guest. I have to be extra careful with the guest because he’s homesick, but I also have to be sensitive to my own children’s needs. After all, I’m the mother — and if my child can’t rely on me to take his side, he feels betrayed.”

A similar dilemma arises when there’s only one bike or other toy that both children want. “It’s a balancing act,” Sara says.

Prepping your kids before the guests arrive can ease the transition. Before a guest stays at Miriam’s home, she opens a discussion with her own children about everything they like about their home, and how’d they feel about staying at another person’s home. When her kids realize the guest will be missing the comforts of his own home, it’s easier for them to empathize and share.

“Even young kids understand this,” Miriam says. “Every child knows good and well that it’s hard to be away from Mommy for an extended period of time. When you remind children of this, it creates that mindset of being extra nice to the guest.”

That prep speech doesn’t always result in foolproof sharing and understanding. But it offsets resentment, especially around a guest “getting away” with breaking certain house rules — like brushing teeth or finishing homework.

To lend positivity to the entire stay — and show appreciation — many parents send along a gift when their child is a guest. As a bonus, the child also feels special about bringing something everyone wants. Miriam will often request from the parents to get something special for her own child closest in age to the guest.

At Racheli’s house, her teenagers don’t argue with their nieces and nephews over toys, but there’s still a lot of friction when the little ones stay over. “My teens aren’t used to dealing with the messes little kids make,” says Racheli. “I try very hard to achieve that balance between protective boundaries for my teenagers and grandchildren — and my husband too, who no longer has stamina for little ones.”

A firm rule in Racheli’s home? The kids may not enter her teenagers’ rooms. To avoid resentment, Racheli also won’t ask her teens for help with the grandkids. When they do help, she’ll often excuse them from their regular household chores to show her appreciation.

Who’s in Charge?

When someone else’s son or daughter is staying in your home, you’re still calling the shots… aren’t you?

It didn’t seem like it to Sara, whose ten-year-old niece informed her that she was going to her grandparents for the Shabbos meals. Not only was Sara annoyed that she had prepared for a guest who wouldn’t be there, she was also concerned about her niece’s safety. She didn’t know whether her parents had sanctioned the plans, whether the grandparents knew about it, or if it was just her niece’s whim.

It wasn’t the first time that happened to Sara. “A mother once told me that her kids were going straight home from school on a specific day,” she recalls. “Yet her kids showed up at my house that day, and I couldn’t reach her. It normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but I had already made plans that were difficult to keep with another two kids in the house.

“Let your hostess know exactly what the plans are,” Sara advises. The host is doing you a favor by watching your child; be considerate of her.

In the same vein, don’t leave your child in someone else’s care for too long. While most children will be well behaved for a week or so, after that they begin feeling antsy or become comfortable enough to start acting up. You know your child best and whether that is likely to happen sooner.

Handle with Care

Ita wanted to stay over at her friend Tova because her parents were going to be out late at a wedding. Chaya, Tova’s mom, readily agreed; the two girls played together so well, and though Ita had asthma and food allergies, Chaya didn’t think it was a big deal.

Until Ita’s father showed up, nebulizer in hand “just in case,” and showed Chaya how to use the EPI pen.

“I knew we probably wouldn’t have to use either one,” Chaya recalls. “But because I was never exposed to any of this before, I was frightened. However, I’m glad I didn’t turn her away. Since the night passed uneventfully, I feel a lot more comfortable taking on similar situations.”

Though your child’s condition may seem simple to you, his host may not be comfortable taking responsibility for it, since she doesn’t deal with it on a daily basis. Be sure to go over exactly what caring for him entails before leaving him with someone else. Make sure the host is completely comfortable and knows how to reach you as well. If the condition is health-related, leave all pertinent doctor and prescription information with the host.

Another “special condition”? Bedwetting. Sara had to farm out one of her children who struggled with this at age six or seven — too young to be independent, yet old enough to be ashamed. Sara hid pull-ups in his suitcase, so none of the other kids would find out. She did, however, tell the woman of the house, so that she’d know to be discreet and not mistakenly reveal his secret.

No Calling Zone

Though you might miss those little voices, keeping in touch by phone isn’t always ideal.

“Most kids become very homesick after speaking to their parents,” explains Chaya Rivky. “I can’t really tell a parent no when she requests to speak to her kids, but it usually doesn’t go over well. The child may be having a grand time, but when he hears Mommy’s voice, it hits him. It often takes a long time for a child to stop crying after speaking to a parent. Of course the parents want to know how their child is doing, so I’ll gladly fill them in.”

The same applies for children calling their parents. Once a child stayed with Sara when his parents attended an overseas simchah. “The mother gave her son a calling card for him to call without racking up a huge bill on international calls. But I didn’t appreciate it. I felt like the kid was so obsessed with calling that he couldn’t even think about playing with my kids or enjoying his stay. He kept finding a reason to call.”

But take away the phone and how can you help your child feel secure without speaking to him? Miriam came up with a creative solution. She created a small pad with a specific number of sticky notes — exactly how long she’d be away. She wrote a cute message on each note and instructed her kids to read one message each day and then remove the note. When they reached the last note, they’d know that she was due home that day!

Before You Go

For a stress-free stay, don’t forget any of these before leaving your child with another family:

  • Supply your own and other emergency contact numbers including your pediatrician. Copies of insurance cards may also be helpful in case of emergency.
  • Inform your child’s host of any condition that requires special attention and/or sensitivity.
  • Notify your child’s school about your plans, including the host family’s contact information for emergencies. If applicable, request a bus stop change.
  • Arrange as many carpools as possible to school and other classes or events to make it easier on the host.

(Originally featured in Family First Issue 551)

Oops! We could not locate your form.