Unfortunately, most parents will have to prepare for an overnight sitter at some point. Whether it’s work or vacation, we parents can’t help being called away from our mommy and daddy duties every now and then. Some more often than others, and some for longer periods of time than others. I will never forget my first trip away from Skye, our first child. I surprised my husband with a short two-night getaway for his birthday, and while it was only a 40 minute flight away, it was still a big deal because I was leaving Skye overnight for the first time. My mother-in-law was watching Skye and would be giving her her first bottle. It was scary, but it turned out great, both for us and Skye.
It’s NO easy task leaving your kiddos, either emotionally or physically. The prep work and schedule making is a job in and of itself. But the MOST important part of the whole equation is finding the right person to watch your kids. You need to feel comfortable with them, they need to feel comfortable with the “job”, and expectations need to be laid out completely before they agree. Personally, I believe there is no better person for the job than family. When someone in your family watches your kid, it simply takes a huge weight off your shoulders because you know your kids are loved and safe and everything is familiar. So for me, family is always my first choice. (And when I say “family” I mean grandma, grandpa, aunt and/or uncle.) My second option is a close friend, someone who is around your children regularly that you can share a co-op weekend with. That way, you can return the favor and watch their kids just like they’re helping out by watching yours. The other option is a trusted sitter/child care provider that someone in your family or one of your close friends have used, so you trust their reference.
I just went through an entire month around the Olympic Games where both my husband and I were out of the country for work, and it tore at my heart. Options one and two were challenging since we were going to be away for so long, so we went with option three. It took a ton of energy to get everything coordinated, but because I did (and thanks to Facetime chats), it was a huge success. I’m bringing this subject up now because summer is fast approaching, and it often comes with a lot of travel. So as you prepare for upcoming events in your life, I wanted to share my tips to help make the process easy and successful for you.
- Make a binder. You need a place to organize all the info that your child sitter might need for taking care of your kids, your household, and your life while you are gone.
- Write out a day-by-day detailed schedule. It’s important to provide as much detail as possible for your sitter. Even if several parts are the same. A detailed schedule allows your sitter to just flip the page to see what is in store for the new day.
- Think contingencies. Be sure you spend time thinking of everything that could/might happen while you’re away. As parents (or shall I say moms), “what if’s”, even though they scare us, are always in our minds. But that may not be the case for your sitter. So be prepared for anything. Leave a few backup plans in the binder as well as all the necessary numbers and copies of necessary paperwork. Include things like your AAA card for the car, insurance card for the Doctor’s office, a notarized letter signed by both mom and dad that says the person in charge can make medical decisions for the kids.
- Notify your village. Let your friends know you are leaving and give them your sitter’s number so they can help out. My wonderful friends brought over meals and offered up play dates. It was amazing.
- Leave something for your kids from you. Depending on how long you are going to be away, leave something behind for your kids just from you. Have your sitter put it out or leave it behind in their special place. For example, write your kids notes so they can feel you there even when you are far away. I did this for Sochi, and while it was probably more for me than for them, they read my little note every morning.
- Get your FaceTime organized ahead of time. Download whatever program you are going to use to connect with your kids in advance, and test it with your sitter before you leave. Skype and Facetime both make great options. Try to establish a time to talk and stick to it. It can be such a bummer when you are counting on connecting and make time, but you miss each other, and that’s your only window for the day. The fact that I could walk around the offices in Sochi and FaceTime with my kids was priceless.
- Outline food options. My kids are pretty good eaters, but they are used to “the way mom does it.” Make it easier for your sitter by giving them a few recipes and tricks on how you prepare your food. For instance, I steam broccoli almost every night. I don’t overcook it, and I only use olive oil and a little kosher salt. So if someone comes in and drenches it with butter or over cooks it, they are gonna think it tastes funky. No need for food drama. And provide a list of favorites, regulars, and restaurants with normal orders so there are options. Kids will also use the opportunity to eat the things you don’t allow if they aren’t outlined.
- Make sure you are VERY clear with expectations. When I left for Sochi, I knew that the person who was watching the kids knew exactly how much work it was going to be. I made sure I told her everything…all the activities, meals, pickups and bus stop times. The list was endless. I also said to her, “If you can’t get somewhere on time or you’re feeling overloaded, don’t stress, just miss the activity.” My priority was that my kids felt happy, secure in their routine, and loved. And that is what happened.
The person who watched our kids was a grandma herself. She was close friends with my mother-in-law. She nicknamed herself Granny Nanny. In fact, the kids would call her Granny all the time and she loved it. She was amazing. It wasn’t an easy task, watching them for three weeks while mom and dad were a 12-hour time change away. But with the help of my in-laws, friends and my little binder, we pulled it off. Sure I had some mom guilt being gone, but I was comfortable with their circumstances while I was away and that made a huge difference. The kids even grew up a little bit in our absence.