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65 Questions

by Jessica of "School of Smock"
Photo by: Shutterstock

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 ask about her childcare experience, discipline style and first aid training. I did my homework by checking references, but relied mostly on my ‘gut instinct’ as to whether this person seemed like a trustworthy caregiver following conversations with her and watching her brief interactions with my son.

It never occurred to me to ask potential caregivers about their prescription and illegal drug use, grooming habits or disciplinary records in middle school and high school. However, a questionnaire designed by a Queens couple that was posted online (since taken down) went much further than that. It asked potential caregivers 65 sometimes confusingly detailed questions 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 someone 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 intrusive questions at the beginning of a relationship with a caregiver can be good for the child.

This relationship should be based on trust and communication. And that involves risk for the parent. Yes, the whole process is uncertain and scary. You are taking a huge leap of faith 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. And there is no document that any babysitter can sign that will ensure your child will be happy and perfectly safe all the time.

To develop an authentic relationship with a caregiver, how do you deal with the tradeoff between ensuring your child’s safety and respecting their privacy? Do you rely on your “gut” or research them thoroughly? Both?

Jessica Smock is a doctoral candidate in education policy, and lives with her husband and toddler son in upstate New York. She discusses everything from pacifiers to gender politics on her blog, School of Smock.

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