Helping hands for mothers

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 May, 2010, 12:00am

The majority of new mothers anticipate sleepless nights, breastfeeding difficulties and crying fits of a newborn, but many are unprepared for the challenges of hiring and managing a helper to care for their baby.

'I get many calls from women who are distraught and in tears because they feel anxious about leaving their baby with the helper and aren't sure whether she is doing things properly,' says Yvonne Heavyside, who runs The Family Zone, a provider of maternity care services including helper training and assessment.

While mothers all have different ideas of what makes a good carer, those who have made it work have a number of things in common: they are clear about the type of person they want, the helper is involved from the beginning and there is a commitment to building trust.

Public relations consultant Amber Lewis made a point of including her helper immediately after giving birth by inviting her to meet the baby in hospital and getting her to participate in the early childcare.

'It all depends on how much you are prepared to let go. Because I always had at the back of my mind that I would go back to work full-time, I wanted to include her as early as possible. We learned and did things together and came up with a routine for the baby over time,' she says.

Part of the problem, Heavyside says, lies in the fact that women want to look after their babies themselves, up to the point of going back to work, so there is little opportunity for helpers to practise or bond with the child, and the mother is consequently left worried and anxious. 'You must be prepared to set aside time to train your helper from the start and it should be done gradually over a period of a few months before you return to work,' she says.

That was exactly what Shevaun Leach, regional communications director for luxury concierge service Quintessentially, did before returning to part-time work when her daughter Clara was five months old. By working in a team with her helper, following through on a routine, leaving the baby in her care for short stints and gradually building up that time over a period of two months, Leach ensured Clara was in safe and capable hands by the time she returned to the office.

'You need to have done that before going back to work. I did feel uneasy the first few times I left her, but that was my own separation anxiety and nothing to do with the helper. You have to make the decision to trust the helper from the beginning, otherwise there is no point,' she says.

Though the traits of a good helper are often open to debate, nothing beats instinct. 'Gut feeling is very important; it is that experience that embodies something that feels right, in the same way that it is hard to quantify what makes a good parent,' says Andreas Rosboch, author of Hiring and Managing Domestic Help. 'You need someone who can share your ideals.'

Employers need to prioritise on the most important responsibilities of a helper, Heavyside says. You need to be as explicit in your instructions as possible. Be clear, write things down, devise a daily schedule, make no assumptions, and encourage, praise and motivate.

Leach believes good helpers can help institute any type of parenting you want if given the right tools. 'It is all within your control. It's how you communicate and whether you trust the person,' she says.

In her course, Heavyside explains the importance of striking a balance between being a helper and a mum, highlighting the difference between assertion and aggression and the need to be sensitive and helpful.

'For some people, it might take three to four attempts before they find the right person. You just have to keep trying and waiting for it to click,' she says.