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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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Growing Concerns (03/21/2004)
By Dr. Martha Erickson

A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: How should a mother decide whether to stay home and care for her children rather than work outside the home? Money is not an issue as my salary adds little to our household income, and daycare costs cut into my income significantly. How does one decide?

Answer: You are fortunate to have the luxury of choosing, but that doesn't necessarily make the choice easy. You don't say if you already have children or if you're just anticipating becoming a parent. Either way, you need to think carefully about what kind of parent you want to be and the conditions under which you are most likely to be that kind of parent. For example, some mothers find that caring for their children is all the job they need, particularly when their children are very young. In the early months and years of life, a child is learning to count on the love and availability of parents. That sense of security becomes the foundation upon which all other aspects of your child's development will build. For a parent, those first months are meant to be a time of falling in love with the baby, watching in amazement each new sign of growth and development. Many moms (and dads, for that matter) relish the opportunity to give themselves fully to building that close relationship with their child. With a supportive spouse, a good network of friends, and opportunities to take occasional breaks for outside activities, being a full-time parent can be the most rewarding job in the world.

Some parents, however, are overwhelmed with caring for children full-time. They may feel cut off from their career, longing for other meaningful activities and more contact with adults. They may become irritable or depressed, which in turn undermines the care they give their children. They may determine that they can be much more engaged and emotionally available to their children if they balance their care giving time with a job outside the home. Then the challenge is to select a childcare setting that will ensure sensitive nurturing and appropriate stimulation--to complement the good care the parents provide during their time with the children.

Whatever your feelings, keep in mind that the decision you make doesn't need to be all or nothing--nor do you need to make one decision and stick to it forever. Since money is not the issue, you may decide to stay home for a year or two, then return to work on a part-time, flexible schedule as your children get older. Or you might decide to work a couple of days a week while your children are young, but return to full-time employment when they enter school. Pay attention to your own feelings and to the conditions that enable you to give your children the kind of top-notch care they deserve. And if you do decide to leave your out-of-home job and stay home with your children, don't think for a minute that you're settling for being "just a mom." There is no job more important.

A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: A 12-year-old neighbor has expressed interest in babysitting our two young children, and she strikes me as someone who would do a great job. But my husband says a 12-year-old is too young. What are your thoughts?

Answer: There's no magic age at which a person is mature enough to baby-sit; some 12-year-olds are up to the task and others are not. (The best baby-sitter we ever had for our children was 12 when she began, and over the years she became like a big sister or favorite aunt for our children.) You obviously are seeing qualities in this girl that lead you to think she would care for your children well, and you may well be right. But so you and your husband will both feel comfortable with this decision, I suggest you both look thoroughly into her skills and experience--something parents should do when choosing a baby-sitter of any age.

Start by arranging an interview with the girl and, if possible, one of her parents. Here are some questions to ask:

* What experience has she had caring for children? Has she cared for younger brothers and sisters, children in her church nursery, other neighbors' children? If so, would she mind if you called for a reference?

* Has she taken any classes that would help prepare her to baby-sit? For example, many communities offer baby-sitting classes, first aid for children or other relevant courses.

* What does she know about how children behave at different ages, basic childcare approaches and appropriate discipline strategies? (You could test her knowledge by describing some typical challenging situations with your children and asking her how she would respond.)

* How does she handle responsibilities at home, such as taking telephone messages or carrying out simple food preparation?

* Is she able to find resources when she needs them--for example, looking up phone numbers and making businesslike calls, finding information in a reference book, reading and following directions on a prescription label?

* How would she deal with an emergency situation? (I'd suggest you pose several hypothetical situations and ask her what she would do.)

If, after the interview, you think the girl has potential as a baby-sitter, you might want to ask her to take care of your children once or twice while you do other work in the house or the yard. This will give her and your children a chance to get comfortable with each other and will allow you to help her learn more about how you prefer things to be handled in your home. Then, if all goes well, she'll probably be ready for a "solo flight." When that time comes, be sure to make your expectations clear and be sure she has the number of a nearby adult who will be available in an emergency. 


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