There has been on thing I have never quite understood when it comes to how people treat childminders/au pairs. This blog was prompted from an Irish Times article I read this beautiful Sunday morning but also from my own experiences. My mother is a child minder and has been since I was small. These children were minded in our own house from dawn until dusk, when their parents, from a day’s work, came to greet them and whisk them home. These children became practically part of our family as we had them from when they were just babies. They were played with, minded and fed in our home. They learned our names, they came to love us as we came to love them and their quirkiness, how no two children were every alike but they were loved for the things that set them apart. Growing up in a house with so many children on a daily basis you learned to get use to the constant noise and you learned (maybe not completely), just how hard raising children actually was.
My mum became their minder but also their teacher, their cook and their nurse. She took on a myriad of roles that was demanded of her when it came to minding others children. It was hard work and the parents for whom she minded did not always show adequate appreciation. As I grew older I became more and more aware of this and more and more annoyed. She was paid for the day, a set amount that was honestly no where near what she should have gotten for the work she put in. It’d be impossible however to demand payment by the hour – it would mean a ridiculous amount, even if it might have made them more conscious of not using her constantly, which often happened.
I often think of when I babysat at night myself and how the minimum I was ever given was 10 euro an hour, so much more than my mother ever received for so much more work. The pay issue wasn’t the only issue in my mind, they tended (some parents she babysat for NOT ALL) to take her for granted. They’d drop the children off an half an hour early – sometimes she would be meant to start at 7:30 and they would drop the child/children at the house at 7. My mother was always up and ready thankfully having washed the floors and cleaned the house every morning, but I got the impression they knew this and took advantage of her reliability. But what if she hadn’t? And why should she have been? 8 o’clock was the agreed time unless notice was given, which they rarely ever did. They just expected it.
Other times, the kids would not be collected until an half an hour or an hour after they were supposed to be, sometimes with zero notice, sometimes with notice 15 minutes after she was meant to be finished. As I grew older it made me angry. My mother would have started work at 8 o’clock that day and might be working until 7 o’clock at night. Now, I understand that might be a work day for some people but very few, and anyway, given the work she did which was exhausting and tough, the agreed hours should have been stuck too. It would be fine in another job where overtime was given, but not in my mother’s case. I couldn’t help thinking the parents who did this would not tolerate the smae being done to them in their work. She was paid by the day so essentially for the parents it made little difference what time they dropped her off or picked them up – they were not required to pay her more.
As I have said, as got older and I became more aware of this it made me angry. Payment wasn’t always received on the day it should’ve been, with one family it was often a week late. This family was well able to afford it, but they still almost were reluctant to give it to my mother despite the work she did. She loved those children too, completely and utterly despite the way she was treated by their parents. The parents could be kind too – but it bothered me that at times they could be so flippant with important matters concerning my mother. Parents felt put out if my mother had to take a day off – the same parents who would drop and pick up their child/children well before/past they were supposed to. My mother wasn’t taking off these days for fun, she was taking these days off because she had too. She was never paid for sick days either – though she took one off a year I’d say and only when she absolutely had too.
Sometimes, the children would arrive unwell with their parents fully aware of it. Their parents didn’t want to take the day off so they would drop their children off at my mother’s house. Now, my mother would take them if they had a cold but strictly not if they were vomiting. Creches here would do exactly the same and probably tell you to pick up your child for less. They’re practical reasons for this – firstly there were often children from different families and it was just unfair to let the other children fall sick. Secondly, if they mother caught a stomach bug she would have to take time off, inconveniencing the parents and inconveniencing herself – she wasn’t getting paid for that. Still, parents would bring children to her, not tell her they had been sick the night before or that morning and leave them with her, completely naive to the fact that they had a stomach bug. When they vomited on her floor, only then was she made aware they were sick and called their parents who reluctantly picked them up. Yet it would be more inconvenient to them for her to take time off then for them if she got sick, with the amount of rearranging they would have to do. Children like to be at home with their parents when they are unwell, it’s just common sense.
We also had instances where the parents overnight said my mother would no longer have them because they couldn’t afford it or there was an even cheaper option (au pair, free school creche). Overnight. My mother was heartbroken because she raised those children and loved them a great deal as did the children who were upset themselves. She was paid nothing in advance or after for this. Again, another job would demand this. At one point both my parents lost their jobs within days of each other, (my father being a labourer often had sporadic work here after the recession), my father lost work a couple days before and it was quite concerning. Thankfully, new work was found but still, no consideration was given as to how we would fair out in a very uncertain time.
Now, reader you may think “Oh when you’re mother got babysitters for you she did the same” but she didn’t. She paid the childminders who had us for sick days and holidays and generally gave them good pay. Because she respected them but also because they are the people minding your children day in and day out, how could you not treat them well?
This is really what I have trouble grasping when the media talks about how au pairs and others who mind children are treated.
Why would you treat a person who minds and cares for the most precious thing in our entire life, badly? I suppose some expect that the love of the children will surpass that and it does, but still. You would not underpay any other person in a job and yet still expect them to do it to perfection or even well every time, would you? The whole point of decent wages is to maintain employee work productivity. These people are responsible for your children, YOUR CHILDREN. Why would you treat them so flippantly?
This story is not all gloomy. We did have very good parents though who really did appreciate my mother and treat her well, very well. They didn’t use her or expect things they hadn’t agreed on – they saw how she looked after their children day in and day out with the same love she’d give her own children and they respected that and treated her accordingly.
My parents are extremely hard workers and both of them often work in extremely hard, sometimes unsafe (in my father’s case) working conditions for less than stellar pay. The above experience has made me more aware of the work these jobs entail and extremely respectful. Please don’t use people who form a large part of your child’s life and whom your child/children will inevitably become very attached to, essentially they are a stand in for you while you are gone, so why treat them like their job isn’t one of the most important jobs that they could serve in your life?
Essentially in the words of Mr.T (with a bit of tweaking): Treat your childminder right!