Tuesday, February 25, 2014

How (and why) to Catch a Mother's Helper

So leave it to the old mommy blogger identity to make my recent post about getting a MH one of my most read to date in 2014 (like thousands of page views, go figure).

Apparently you guys want to know more. Well let me be the one to bring you into the happy, light-filled place where well-rested and highly satisfied mothers dwell: the land of helpful teenagers.

Now, I've heard you can get your own helpful teenagers with approximately a dozen investment years of blood, sweat, and tears, but I don't have the luxury of a decade + of mothering under my belt yet, so I had to outsource.

I had several well-respected moms of many extol to me, via email or the combox, how very useful one of these mythical creatures could be, and, even more helpfully, advise me on how best to lure and capture one. So allow to me share the recipe.

First, know what your needs are. Maybe you're the kind of mom who loves to read books, play imaginary games, build endless railroad tracks, and sing lots of kid's songs out loud. But maybe you'd gladly pay someone to fold your underwear and mop your kitchen floor. So tailor your search accordingly. I, however, am very much not that kind of mom.

The tremendous amount of energy it requires for me to engage my introverted momself with my kids all day long is actually weirdly rejuvenated by vacuuming, uninterrupted laundry folding, and even the occasional toilet scrubbing. Plus, I am a bit of a perfectionist in the housekeeping department. Don't get me wrong, my house is not extraordinarily clean, but it for sure is cleaned to my standards and my standards alone, by me. I love my kids, and I also love someone else entertaining them while I take an hour of uninterrupted time to clean. I know many moms who would rather have the cleaning help, and that is fine too. Just be clear in what you're looking for.

Secondly, have a realistic budget in mind. Take a gander at your local Craigslist or Care.com ads for childcare help, cleaning, etc. and get an idea for what the going rate is in your area. Think of what you'd pay a babysitter. Ask your friends what they pay theirs. Heck, ask your friends if they employ mother's helpers of their own. I was shocked at how many of my girlfriends had recommendations for me. And all this time I thought they'd all been Super-moming it on their own…

If you're willing to hire a younger teen, you can definitely save some money. Be prepared to have to be more flexible in terms of availability, however, as they might be younger than driving age and might not be able to handle more than 1 or 2 kids on their own if you decide to leave the house.

Third, know where to look. First, ask your local mom friends. Call around to local churches and inquire with their youth ministers or youth pastors, (think outside the Catholic ghetto - good opportunity for evangelization, too!) ask the barista at your regular coffee spot, or ask your friends who teach or coach at area high schools. If your city has a homeschooling community or email list, this is a great resource, especially since homeschoolers have much more flexible schedules.

Finally, don't feel the need to explain yourself or hover around your fabulous employee once they're on site. I mean obviously you'll want to observe them with your kids, have a character reference or two, and be confident that they're responsible and friendly, but then… back off.

My biggest concern when I was considering making this move was that I'd feel awkward having somebody in my house while I'm there, and that I'd have to justify why I was essentially paying someone to hang out with my children while I took a nap, did some writing, ran errands, went to the gym or just sat on my bed, nursing and reading a novel. Stop it. You don't have to explain to anybody. Even moms deserve the chance to shower without spectators, and I know my husband would rather come home to a smiling wife who might have even cooked dinner than to a frantic shrew who tosses him a screaming baby as she runs past him into the night for an hour of escape. (Don't I paint a rosy picture of family life? Whatever, postpartum mothering is hard.
Hard, but cute.
Mothering in this culture is hard, period. For starters, those of us who don't commute to an office have to answer the idiotic inquiry do you work? at least on a weekly. Coupled with that is the reality that modern America is not exactly family friendly. Sure, there are kids play places and programs at the library for little people, but hardly anybody lives nearby enough to their extended family to get any real help, and childcare is so expensive that it necessitates (and also creates the need for, by the way) a second income. Plus, nobody is home during the day on most weekdays, so if you're staying at home, you're going it super alone. It ain't natural, I'm telling you. And it isn't the way mothers the world over are doing it.

There's a reason so many of us are burnt out, lonely, and wonder on the regular whether our work means anything at all. In the eyes of our culture, the answer is too often a big, fat no. But the eyes of the heart reveal a different answer. What we do is infinitely and eternally important…but we were never meant to do it completely alone. Ladies, don't be afraid to add a co-worker to the corporate payroll when you've found yourself with a broader job description. There ain't no shame in upping your game, even if that means expanding the roster to include some new talent.

I hope this helps you struggling and lonely mamas out there see the idea in a different light. And if the cost is intimidating to you, perhaps there is a solution that doesn't cost a thing. Maybe there's another mom in your same situation who would be willing to swap kids one day a week, and the two of you can take turns relieving each other. Maybe your mother-in-law is local and is dying to be invited to help you with the kids on a regular basis. Maybe there's a teen in your community who just loves little ones, and who would want to come play with your kids for no cost at all. You never know until you ask.

For our own situation, our MH is  15-year old homeschooled high school student whose parents were willing to drive her both ways (this was hugely important to me) two days a week. She comes Monday and Friday afternoons from 1:30 - 5 pm, and I usually entrust her with my 3.5 year old and my 22 month old for the entire time. I will also leave her with the 9-week-old, as long as one of the three kids are asleep. (She doesn't have any qualms about taking care of them all, but I feel like 3 little kids is a lot to ask of a 15 year old.) When I do leave the house, it's usually for an hour or so while I shop or work out. I won't put her specific salary, but the going rate for babysitting in our area is 8-12 per hour, and I stay within that range.

Hope this was helpful and not sleep inducing. (And thanks for a second day of motivation, Jen.)


  1. Once we get settled in Michigan I'm really hoping to find a mom to swap childcare with. We can pretend it's because I want time to clean and go to the gym, but let's be honest, I just want to go to a coffee shop and read a good book :)

  2. Oh, my goodness, that baby girl is adorable! Thanks for such an encouraging post, Jenny...it was just what I needed to read tonight!

  3. This is good motivation for me. I have a dear friend whose granddaughter is almost 14 and loves babies. She would be a great mother's helper, and I've contemplated it, but shied away for the exact reason you mentioned: feeling awkward. But I have a grad thesis I'd love to submit for publication, and that's probably not going to happen unless I let someone help. Thanks for the words of encouragement!

  4. Great post. I'll have to think hard on this one. And maybe print it out and slide it across the table towards my hubby. ;)

  5. When I read your first post about this, I told Alex you got a mother's helper and he thought 'it' was like a Baby Bjorn or something. He did, however, think it was a great idea once he knew I was talking about an actual helpful *person*. :)

  6. So glad you found someone! We used to belong to a babysitting co-op when my kids were little and I regularly swapped with other parents. We also had a teenager that babysat regularly for us and became like part of the family.

  7. As a HS YM I cringe every time someone say to ask a youth minister for babysitter recommendations. I would love to help (and know that our teens LOVE to babysit) however, the diocese doesn't allow us to recommend anyone due to youth protection rules. Its a hard thing to explain to parents looking for help. I know every diocese is different, but this has been the rule in the two I have worked in.

  8. This is my goal for this year. Thanks for spelling it out.

  9. Thanks for all the details on this - sounds like something that would be extremely helpful! We live in such a tiny town that I never thought I could find someone, but I didn't think of the homeschooled teens - thanks!


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