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"Never share a sitter." My mom offered this advice when I was a brand new mom a few years ago. "You're ridiculous," I told her. I chalked my mom's comment up to some antiquated, pre-feminism philosophy that involved not being able to fully trust other women (how stupid).
Cut to just recently: I started thinking that maybe mother knew best after all?
A while ago, I had to cut my sitter/nanny/help back from two days per week to one, thanks to a severe shift in my employment situation. (For some reason I have trouble using the word 'nanny,' but that's for another blog post). I panicked. I still needed her help, but she still needed a certain amount of working hours. I couldn't pay her what she needed.
Aha! My friend might want some help. She can offer my gal more hours for the day I can no longer guarantee! What a perfect fit. Mothers helping mothers. Everybody wins. I'm so fabulous. I'm a genius.
Until I wasn't so fabulous and totally not a genius.
Sharing a sitter unexpectedly created a speed bump with a friend. She got mad at me. I got mad at her. She was right. I was right. We were both right. We were both wrong.
So, if you're thinking of sharing a sitter, you might want to mind these rules for the peace of everyone involved:
1. Be clear about your needs and possible schedule changes from the get-go.
If you think your childcare needs might suddenly change in the future (you'll need more hours or less hours due to work, family matters, etc), MENTION IT. In fact, PUT IT IN WRITING. Securing childcare can be serious, desperate (at times) and wacked-out stressful when your childcare needs are not productively met. It's very easy for necessary scheduling guidelines to get lost between the "Wanna meet at the park today" texts between friends.
2. Never put the nanny in the middle.
Things can get tricky depending on the urgency of childcare needs, sensitivity of emotions and fragility of egos involved.
At first glance, it seems convenient that everyone knows each other. But it does have potential for causing trouble. Request to your sitter that she treat the two of you as though you are strangers when it comes to scheduling between your children. For instance: If you request childcare for a given time, but your sitter is already booked with your friend, please ask that your sitter NOT tell you that she's already said yes to your friend. Otherwise, you might be tempted to call your friend and say, "Hey, do you have any other options?" And then things can get tricky depending on the urgency of childcare needs, sensitivity of emotions and fragility of egos involved (C'mon, we ALL have egos and you know it. I know I do).
3. Treat your friend like a stranger when it comes to changing schedules.
Even the most long-term and best friendships can get complicated. You know each other's ticks, M.O., peeves, best and worst traits. Because of this, you might (unconsciously) shortcut certain considerations you'd normally extend to strangers when it comes to communicating.
If you need to change schedules, times or preferences of days, consider sending an email first—just as you'd send a stranger or acquaintance—thoroughly explaining your current situation and respectfully asking if it's possible to change (rather than calling your friend and saying, "Hey I'm going to use more hours now because now I have so much more on my plate than I did last month…"). You wouldn't blindside a stranger, so try not to blindside a friend. You might think you know what they have going on regarding their needs, but in reality you might not have a clue.
Childcare is one of the most personal things in the world, but making a mutual, conscious effort to handle it in the most professional way might mean the difference between keeping a friend, losing a friend or just plain being in a gray area with a friend. At the end of the day, your sitter is happier when everyone gets along. Aren't we all?