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It’s a brave new world when it comes to hiring a caregiver for your child.
When I hired the first of a few part-time babysitters for my son during his first year, I asked all the questions I thought I was supposed to: about her childcare experiences, about her discipline style, about first aid training. It never occurred to me to ask about her prescription and illegal drug use, her grooming habits, or her disciplinary record in middle school and high school. I did my homework by checking references, but mostly I relied on my “gut” instinct after conversations with her and watching brief interactions with my son about whether this person seemed like a trustworthy caregiver.
But a new questionnaire — described in Lisa Belkin’s blog and reported on the website Gawker — designed by a Queens couple and posted online (and since been taken down) goes much further than I did. It asks potential caregivers 65 sometimes confusingly detailed questions (65!) about everything from their health, use of hand sanitizers, hangover frequency, and relationships with siblings.
Here is a sampling of the survey questions:
- How often do you bathe?
- Will you provide a letter from your primary care doctor listing all current prescription medications?
- How many smokes do you typically have during a social occasion?
- How many countries have you been to?
- What was your high school GPA?
Is this a perfectly understandable reaction to the dangers of hiring in an online world, and the logical belief that more information about anyone is better, or is this level of intrusiveness destined to scare away any normal, private person who enjoys the exhausting job of taking care of kids for low pay?
Choosing a caring, reliable, and knowledgeable caregiver has important consequences for a child’s development. It’s crucial that a child feel safe, listened to, cared for, and that his emotional and cognitive needs are met at each stage of development.
But I don’t see how introducing yourself as a parent who asks such intrusive questions and beginning your relationship with the caregiver in this way can be a good thing for a child. A relationship with a caregiver should be based on trust and communication. And that involves risk for a parent. Yes, the whole process is uncertain and scary. You are taking a huge leap of faith in your trusting another person to take care of your child. But I don’t see how you can start any productive, meaningful relationship — with a friend, teacher, caregiver — based on this sort of prying into every facet of his or her personal life.
In a hurried world, it’s difficult to accept that good relationships take time. There are no shortcuts. There is no document that any babysitter can sign that will ensure that your child will be happy and perfectly safe all the time.
How do you deal with the tradeoff between ensuring your child’s safety and respecting privacy and developing authentic relationships with caregivers? Do you rely on your “gut” or thorough research?