Opinion: Facing Burnout as a Weekend Mary Poppins?
Feb. 7, 2001 -- You are a saint. To help a loved one, you would
carry a sumo wrestler on your back across the desert. You would do whatever it
takes to care for a family member, whether he is eight weeks, eight years, or
80 years old. Caring for a family member can be one of the most fulfilling
experiences of a lifetime.
Where to Begin?
It's time to start thinking of yourself as a caregiver when the following types of events occur:
A major health problem, or a collection of smaller ones, is starting to cramp your mother's style.
Financial problems (overdrawn checks, unpaid bills, huge credit balances) start cropping up.
Grandpa doesn't get out as much as he used to and seems less interested in what's going on around him.
Home maintenance is slipping: things that break around your parent's house...
But it can also be one of the most draining experiences in
terms of professional, personal, and physical costs to you.
So before committing to caregiving in your remaining
"free" time, think about what you can add to your already full plate.
Instead of going it alone, consider instead forming a team of people to
ensure that your loved one is in good hands, even when you need to take time
off for work in or outside the home, to look after another family member, or to
tend to your own needs. In the long run, that approach may serve your family
The bottom line is that looking for someone to provide
home-based care can be difficult. So here are 10 tips to help you find a nanny,
nurse's aide, or other caregiver who can work well within your family.
First, accept that you will need help. Like most of us caring
for a child or a parent or both, you may feel some guilt about looking for
another caregiver to assist you. You must get over that feeling. No one
is going to fill your shoes, but there are others who can help you.
There are many ways in which to contribute to the welfare of another: Call a
family meeting, well in advance of providing care if possible, to discuss if
and how each family member will contribute. Develop an overall plan of what is
needed and what each person can realistically contribute in terms of time,
money, skills, or connections. For example, your sister may help by finding
information on the Internet or by dealing with dad's insurance provider, or
your nephew might be able to play cards with grandpa and/or run errands to the
Get ready to look now, and keep on looking. Accept that this may be
a long-term process and that finding adequate care will need to be revisited as
needs change. Likewise accept that nannies, nurses, and other professional
caregivers have lives and that, even after years of being like a member of the
family, they may move on to other jobs. With that in mind, develop a network so
that you are not caught without help when you receive that two-week notice from
Set realistic goals. If you are looking for a nanny, for example,
accept that there is no Mary Poppins out there waiting for you. I was
very optimistic when I was ready to return to work after my maternity leave. I
had moved to a large university town in the Midwest, assuming that I could find
nannies from a local program, or perhaps the spouse of a student, to care for
my infant. What a shock it was to discover that many of the best and brightest
young women were recruited away by families in the Northeast and that the wives
of the graduate students move on when their husbands finish school!
If you are fortunate to find someone, as I eventually was, understand that you
will need to give on-the-job coaching to her and to all of her replacements. Do
not expect her to take care of the baby, the house, and your errands. On
the other hand, if you hire someone primarily to do housework, don't expect her
to help your children with their homework.
Visit your local library or bookstore and pick up a book to find out what tasks
are typically done (and not done) by nannies, nurses' aides, or whatever type
of caregiver you are seeking. Develop a job description, weighing the value of
each task on it, and then be ready to negotiate the tasks with each individual
you consider for the job. Also be flexible in your expectations, and be willing
to consider someone with a different set of skills or background if she brings
something special to your family. Do be firm, though, on your need for someone
at least trained in CPR, and possibly first aid, if you have a young child or
an ailing spouse or parent.
Do your homework and legwork. Contact organizations like the
Alzheimer's Association (1-800-272-3900, www.alz.org), the
American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345, www.cancer.org), or a
local hospital or clinic to get information about national and local resources
and to request booklets and brochures on caregiving.
Find out what your community or insurance company or employer offers in terms
of free services, financial aid, or time off to care for family. Ask healthcare
providers about local organizations and agencies for skilled nursing care. Talk
to friends and read newspapers and magazines to find agencies that provide
nannies, nurses, and other workers for private homes. Chat with people who have
successfully provided in-home care about how they found help and how they
handle the challenges of developing a smooth relationship with someone who is
caring for a family member. Don't forget to contact local clergy to spread the
word that you are looking for a teen, adult, or senior citizen who might be
interested in working for you. Put up a sign at the local high school and
college child development department. Advertise, advertise, advertise.
Start the interviews. Interview in person when possible. You can do
screening by phone, but you will want to meet that person in advance of the
start date. You should ask questions that are general and specific to
the type of work they will be doing for you. Keep your questions open-ended,
and you will be amazed at some of the replies.
Here is a list of sample questions:
Why do you want to be a nanny/nurse's aide/au pair?
What are your goals for the next five years?
How do you think children should be disciplined?
How is your relationship with your parents?
How do you feel about TV?
What kinds of activities would you do during the day?
What is your idea of a nutritious lunch?
Do you have a reliable car and insurance?
What did you do the last time you got locked out of your car or house?
Meet the candidates in settings as close to the real ones as
possible. Everyone looks good at a nice restaurant or on the college
campus. You need to see how they act in the home setting. So invite them to
spend some time with you and observe, for example, if they wash their hands
before helping fix a meal or before eating; if they are can handle taking phone
calls while holding a baby; if they sneeze around your pooch (meaning they may
be allergic); or if they are comfortable being with you, not just your loved
Invite the final candidate to spend time with the family member. You
should remain nearby, but let them be alone for awhile to see if they 'click.'
Pay for the candidate's time.
Check all references. Ask for a list of character and job
references, and then call each of the individuals. Request a resume to see if
there are any holes in the candidate's employment history. Find out if the
agency runs background checks and how candidates are screened and
Trust your judgment. If someone does not seem right for your loved
one and for you, keep looking.
Talk about duties and compensation in detail. Talk with an expert or
read up on contracts, if appropriate. Write out duties and responsibilities
plus tentative schedules, realizing that the relationship is a work in
progress. Remember that no one (not even your mother) will think the same as
you do about what is important, so decide what parts of the job and what
standards are acceptable and communicate that information to your helper. Also
remember that people work at different speeds, so you just might have to give
up the thought of having a happy baby and a clean house.