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    Opinion: Facing Burnout as a Weekend Mary Poppins?

    WebMD Feature

    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.

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    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 best.

    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.

    1. 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 drugstore.
    2. 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 your nanny.
    3. 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.
    4. Do your homework and legwork. Contact organizations like the Alzheimer's Association (1-800-272-3900,, the American Cancer Society (1-800-ACS-2345,, 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.
    5. 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?
    6. 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 one.
    7. 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.
    8. 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 selected.
    9. Trust your judgment. If someone does not seem right for your loved one and for you, keep looking.
    10. 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.

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