Thursday 19 September 2019

So what does your childminder really think of you?

Brad and Angelina were left red-faced when a former nanny blasted their 'unconventional' parenting. What would your childminder reveal about you? Our reporter found out

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

Chrissie Russell

You trust them with your most treasured possession - your kids - but do you really know what they think of you?

Do they think you're a bad parent? Are you too strict or too lenient? Do they think they're better at handling your own kids than you are?

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were in for a shock when US celebrity magazine Star published a 'tell-all' from their former nannies who told the mag that the Jolie-Pitts were overly liberal in their parenting techniques.

One nanny told the magazine: "Brad and Angelina are very unconventional parents, to say the least. It is like they are living in a hippy commune most of the time because Angie doesn't believe in rules."

Ouch .... that can't have been nice to hear. But would the rest of us mere mortals fare any better? We asked Irish childminders - anonymously of course - what they really think of you. Brace yourselves, parents …

Your timekeeping sucks

Sarah has learned which parents will always be late. "I used to have the children ready in the hall with their hats and coats on," she says. "Now we do nothing until I hear the car at the gate. I put a late fee in my contract - €5 for every 15 minutes. I thought it would be a big deterrent but it doesn't bother them. They just throw the extra money in at the end of the week!"

You can be quite demanding

Sheila has some parents who like her to keep a book recording every time the child pees, poos and eats and mums who complain if their child isn't coming first in games. Mary's expected to do all the homework with all three of the children she looks after because mum and dad want their evenings to 'sit and chill'.

But according to Sarah, no matter how demanding childminding is, it doesn't come close to her old job as a live-in nanny.

"There was no end to my work load," she recalls. "From the moment I got up to the time I went to bed I was expected to work. Then on Thursday nights I was expected to have all the weekend's clothes and meals prepared - then disappear!"

Organisation isn't a strong point

"I've had kids arrive without even a jacket, or they'll get wet and there's no change of clothes in the bag," says Nell, who used to work in management before becoming a childminder when her own children were born. "If they've no snacks in their bag then I just use whatever I have at home and I keep a big bag of summer and winter hats."

You're sneaky about sickness

"Parents try and drop kids off with all sorts," reports Sheila. "They'll say 'the child was sick, but it was 48 hours ago,' then the next thing is I'll have my head over the toilet bowl!

"Or they'll say 'he has a rash' but they'll mumble the word 'rash' and almost be in the car by the time they've said it."

Even though she has signed forms permitting her to give children Calpol, she always phones parents first. "'Oh no, wait, I gave them that this morning already because they weren't well', they'll say. 'Didn't I mention that?'"

You could generally be a bit more firm

Many find that mums are taking a longer maternity break now and babies are usually a year before they come to a childminder.

"That can be challenging," says Mary, who has been childminding for over 10 years, looking after children aged from six months to first year at 'big' school.

"It can be very hard to get them settled into a routine when they're used to being with mummy and getting their own way at home. Particularly getting them used to doing stuff with other children - that can be challenging.

"I have kids coming in saying, 'I've not had breakfast, I just had a Freddo while mummy was getting ready for work.' They're coming through the door, their mouths dripping with chocolate or getting a packet of buttons to persuade them into the carseat at the end of the day - but I'm not allowed to give them chocolate!" laughs Sarah.

"I sometimes feel like I'm always the one saying 'no'."

It's not criticism - honest!

"I feel mean when parents ask 'was everyone good?' and I have to say if someone has been acting up," says Sarah. "I can see mums rolling their eyes and thinking 'why are you ruining my day?', but I have to say. It's not a personal criticism, I just want to make them aware. It's in the best interests of the child."

"If a child is biting or hitting then that needs to be addressed," agrees Mary. "It's me who has to deal with it when the school phones up."

We understand your life is hard

"Sometimes a child will run and give me a hug and I'll see mummy giving me a look and I know there's a bit of jealousy there, or sometimes children don't want to go home," says Mary. "It's hard. I'm seeing their child more than they are but they need to hold down a job." Sheila tried to be mindful of parents' Fear Of Missing Out. "If a child walks for the first time I don't mention it," she reveals. "That would be an awful thing, thinking you've missed your baby's first steps."

But some of you do need to slow down and enjoy time with your child

Some parents say they aren't 'home people' and that's fine. Others need a bit of alone time to get things done around the house and that's fine too - childminders know that. But some parents take the mickey.

"Sometimes I feel taken advantage of," says Mary. "I had a mum who I knew was finished up at 3pm on a Friday so I asked her just once if she could come early for her child, at 5pm instead of 6pm, so I could get some things done. But she was still late because she'd stopped at the shops and I know she went home first too.

"It's hard on the child that's asking 'why am I always last?' she adds. "I've had children who have done a picture and they've spent the last hour all excited to show mummy or daddy, but mummy or daddy is in such a rush to get them in the car and home, they barely look at it."

We know some pretty personal stuff

"I've had kids tell me that daddy gave out to mummy over the dinner, or that mummy is going to have a baby, only to say 'congratulations' to a mum and discover she isn't pregnant at all!" laughs Mary.

"Then I've had mums asking me to have a word with dads, I feel like the confessional or a counsellor some times."

You have no idea how hard our job is

"It can be brutal," says Sheila, who used to work in a male-dominated field of work before the recession.

"It's one of the most underrated jobs and can be really tough. I've never met anyone who's said to me 'I would love your job'."

Like many childminders, Sharon can have children in her care from 7am until 7pm and not get finished tidying up until 9pm.

"We're not just putting the kid in front of the telly," she adds. "We're leaf rubbing, making book marks, playing games, pretending to be animals. There's planning and cleaning up, parents don't see all the work behind the scenes or the courses we've done." You expect us to be available 24/7

Mum-of-two Sheila had lots of texts from parents congratulating her when she had her babies, but there was one less celebratory one. "It just said 'was it C section?'" laughs Sheila. "It was obvious she just wanted to know how fast I'd be back at work!"

Mary's clients know she has a qualification in paediatric first aid. "I get mums phoning asking what they should do if a child is sick, or even wanting to know how to settle them for bed! I feel like a hotline!" she laughs. Sometimes we know better

"Parents say they don't want the child napping in the afternoon but you know in your heart that won't work and the child will be overtired," explains Mary. "Sometimes I have to say 'sorry mammy, that's not going to work'."

We need support too

Several of the childminders spoke of how 'isolating' the job could be and the need to meet up with other childminders once a month. Others talked about the difficulty of seeing children coming in wet nappies or being parented in a way vastly different to how they would want to raise their own child.

"Dealing with bereavement can be difficult too," says Mary. "You have to be able to answer their questions and talk in a way they'll understand, you can't just fob them off."

We're a business - pay us!

"I sometimes think they want it for nothing," sighs Mary, who earns just €4.60 an hour, working five days a week, minding four children.

"They don't come and look at all the courses you've done or the quality of care you provide, the first thing anyone asks is 'how much to you charge?'

Most childminders we spoke to earned around €5 an hour. Parents often look for discounts for children who are in Montessori part of the day, or off sick.

"Some feel obliged to offer sibling discounts even though looking after two children is the same amount of work.

Mary says: "You'll be looking at them thinking 'you can pay to have your hair and nails done but you've a problem paying me extra when you're late to collect the thing that's most precious to you in the world?"

"People forget that a childminder is a business," says Sheila. "They see a childminder as a glorified babysitter but we provide so much more."

But it's not just about the money

Most of the childminders we spoke to mentioned the need to prioritise a good relationship and dynamic among the children in their care, rather than just taking as much work as possible.

"It's the child who is your client," explains Sheila. All ladies spoke of how they felt the children in their care were part of their extended family. "You have to be someone who loves kids," says Mary.

We feel guilty too

"I feel bad that my kids have to share me" was a frequent line among many childminders. "You have to retrain yourself to go to someone else's child rather than your own," says Sheila. "And that can be very hard."

"My kids play up with me," says Mary. "They'll eat or do homework for someone else but they know exactly which of my buttons to press. So I know how it feels when mums are saying to me 'he'll only do that with you'."

Some of you are great!

Okay, there were some horror stories, but all the childminders spoke warmly of parents they've a great bond with. Mums and dads who went out of their way to make payments on time and many parents who had become close friends. "An open, honest and upfront relationship is the key to making it work," explains Mary.

Irish Independent

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