Can This Childcare Situation Be Saved?
I would love some objective advice about a family situation. A few months ago, a family member of my husband’s (someone I know, but not well) moved to our town. We’ve never really had family around so this was exciting for us. He is a single dad with a six year old daughter. They moved into our neighborhood, and she is going to the same school as my three kids of similar ages. He has a full-time job and didn’t know anyone in town except us, so I started watching the daughter. She comes to our house before school (really early!) and comes with us after school every day for several hours. I was more than happy to do this, they are family, and that is important to me.
But! Now that several months have gone by, the situation is difficult. The daughter has had a hard life in many ways. She doesn’t have a mom here, they don’t have a ton of money, lots of back drama, etc. She is not a bad kid, but she is really difficult for me to handle. Very emotional, lots of tantrums and crying, lots of fighting with my kids. My kids are not saints by any means, and they definitely share some of the blame for fighting, but I feel like every morning we get off to a bad start and almost every afternoon ends up with me yelling. Sigh. I have no patience with any of the kids anymore. I don’t really feel like it’s good for my kids or their cousin to have me always on edge. My kids get frustrated and say hurtful things to her sometimes too, and I’ve talked to them about it a lot, about being kind, but they are young and can’t always have sympathy. I worry that she feels like the outsider, and that’s making it worse.
I feel horrible being so frustrated with this little girl. She really needs love and acceptance, and I so want to help her, and I’m trying, but I feel like our lives are one constant battle these days. I’m in nursing school all day while the kids are gone myself and don’t have unlimited time or patience. I’m not getting paid for watching her, which I totally don’t want, but it is a lot of hours. I’m honestly not sure what her dad will do if I can’t babysit anymore.
I guess I’m just looking for an outside opinion. Do I suck it up and do the right thing? Do I quit on this girl who probably needs me? I’m really torn, but I also miss my peaceful house. I’m struggling and I just don’t know what the right thing is for everyone. Thanks for listening.
When you first volunteered for this arrangement, was there any promise/indication that it would be an indefinite, forever thing? Or was it a “just until you get settled and can figure something else out” sort of suggestion? Did they make the initial move to your town based on the fact that they’d get free childcare from you, or were you just a happy surprise when you offered to help out?
Not that either scenario bars you from changing your mind and admitting that it’s turning out to be too much. I’m just jumping ahead to how the conversation should go when you tell the father that sorry, it’s turning out to be too much. Because that’s what you’re going to tell him. Because this doesn’t sound like “the right thing” anymore, for any of you. And that’s okay.
Obviously, it’s possible that her current behavior is temporary — an understandable side effect of the move and other upheaval in her life. But you’re like what, an aunt by marriage who this child barely knew before a few months ago? You’re not a therapist or child psychologist. (Neither of which, I assume, she’s getting regular meetings with.) You’re also not a superhero. I think you need to be honest with her dad that his child is really struggling. You’ll do her no favors to hide the fact that she’s acting out emotionally and not getting along with other children.
Does your school have a guidance counselor you (or her father) can reach out to? Can you talk to the dad and say something like, “I’ve really grown to care about Sally, but I’m honestly concerned that she’s struggling in a way I’m not equipped to deal with. I think she might benefit from talking to someone. I’d be happy to research some local family or child counselors — I’m sure we can find a low-cost option or someone that works with your insurance.” I imagine he isn’t completely oblivious to the fact that the lack/loss of a mom and lots of “back drama” can deeply affect a child, and lots of families end up seeking a third-party to help.
Beyond concern for getting her some big picture intervention, it is 100% okay and understandable that you need to pump the brakes on all these free babysitting hours. I mean, just pick a reason. She doesn’t get along with your kids, she needs more structure, you’re going to school all day and this is disrupting your studies, your course work is taking up more time than before, you’ve decided to sign your kids up for some afterschool activities and don’t want her to feel left out, etc. (Note that this hedge should NOT come at the expense of honestly discussing her behavior/emotional issues with her dad — that’s priority one.)
Is there any before or aftercare at the school she could attend? A local daycare that transports to and from your school? Typically the hourly costs for an older, school-aged child at before/aftercare programs aren’t very high or prohibitive, and the programs are usually pretty flexible for part-time use. (Not to mention actually staffed by experienced childcare providers, and more of neutral territory for her.) Barring that, do you know anyone else who uses a babysitter or nanny before or after school who might be willing to share a few of the hours?
If this was a “you should move to our town; I promise you’ll never have to worry about childcare again,” sort of thing, then yeah. That’s a tough conversation that 1) requires a much longer “notice period” that things need to change, 2) should probably focus more on how the arrangement isn’t meeting HER needs, and 3) a super honest confession that you bit off more than you can chew, and you’re really sorry about that. But it is what it is, and you’re not a terrible person for being honest and admitting that this isn’t working out as well as everyone hoped.
But if you volunteered to solve a problem that appeared after the dad already decided to move and accept his current job, then it’s a bit easier, because he was going to have to figure SOMETHING out. He’s a grown-up who hopefully knows how life works, and life does not entitle anyone to free childcare forever, even from family. Tell him you need to start dropping down to two/three days a week at first, or can do mornings but not afternoons, or vice versa. See if maybe you can handle things better on a part-time basis, with the possibility of continuing to help out AS LONG as he gets her emotional needs addressed by a professional.
You want to love and help this little girl, which is admirable. Part of that means it’s probably time to tell her father that while this arrangement certainly helps HIM, it’s not helping her, at least not in the right way, for now. Maybe with some time and counseling/therapy (and a father who is really fully aware of how she’s been impacted by everything in her life), she’ll be easier to handle. But again, this isn’t your problem to solve and handle singlehandedly, all through the mighty power of Free Babysitting. Give yourself permission to make some changes, for everyone’s sake and sanity.
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