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Thinking Of The Children: A Look At Caregiver Versus Parental Expectations

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As more and more mothers enter the workforce, children that have not yet entered schoolÐ'--and sometimes even those that have entered schoolÐ'--need someone to care for them. While relatives remain the favored caregiver (Jacobson, 2001), licensed caregivers watch over two million children and "uncounted millions of children" receive care from unlicensed caregivers, including nannies, relatives, and those who care for children in their home (Santrock, 2001). Although the tradition of the nanny dates back at least as far as Victorian England (Drummond, 1978) and home care by relatives probably goes back to the dawn of humanity, the research is spare. Nannies and babysitters are still something of an underground industry.

Intuition says one caregiver watching a few kids at home is probably better for the children, if only because of the personal care and attention this person is presumably able to lavish on a few children. However, a NIHCD study from 2001 (as reported by the University of California at Irvine) reports that "children who spent more time in child-care centers (in comparison with home care, nannies and other day care arrangements) displayed better language skills and short-term memory". Children in preschool may also be more civically aware than those cared for in day care or at home (Austin, Braeger, Schvaneveldt, Lindauer, et. al., 2001). Infants in a high-quality group day care differ little from children who are raised at home, in terms of development (Doyle, 1975). On the other hand, children cared for at home may be more inclined to explore and less distressed during parental separation than day care children (Roopnarine & Lamb, 1978). The issue is far from being resolved and parents are unlikely to give up in-home caregivers, whether the reason is cost or just because one personÐ'--rather than a staffÐ'--makes them feel better.

Existing studies have focused primarily on the parental point of view, with one notable exception being a 2001 study by Eva Beth Harkness, a professional nanny working as a researcher. Harkness looked at the personal values of a nanny versus the values of the parents and found that the job satisfaction of a professional nanny is tied closely with the match between that nanny's values and those of the parents (Harkness, 2001). Paid individual caregivers like nannies and the catchall "babysitters" occupy a unique niche in the childcare world. They must balance the needs of the children, the needs and wants of the parents, their own personal values, and employment concerns. They are both "mommy" and "the help" and have to weave between roles on a daily basis. In addition, they have to work with children both as a caring human being and as an employee. It is hypothesized that a working nanny will have different expectations of the children they care for and will have to take into account employment considerations in addition to regular parenting considerations.

Method

The two participants were e-mailed a questionnaire with several open-ended questions, one tailored for "mommies" and the other tailored for "nannies," and given four days to complete it and return it. This could be termed the essay question approach versus the multiple-choice approach most questionnaires take. It was hoped that these open-ended questions would draw detailed, in-depth answers from both participants, more of a "case study" approach than a pure experimental design. Email was chosen as a delivery mechanism because it allowed the participants time to think over their answersÐ'--indeed, they were instructed to take some time to think about their answersÐ'--and eliminated the "on the spot" nature of an in-person or over-the-phone interview.

The two participants were selected for their qualifications and experience, one as a mother, and the other as a nanny, lifeguard, and other child-related professions. Representing mothers is "Rita" a married mother of one nineteen month old, with another on the way. She was chosen because she has one child already under the care of a paid caregiver and another child on the way, so she will be using day care and paid caregivers for the foreseeable future. Representing nannies is "Amber," who served as a lifeguard for six months at a summer camp with children ranging in age from five to ten and she also worked as a live-in nanny for a year. Amber cared for one child, 5 years of age, and sometimes babysat for two other children, who were 6 and 9 years of age. She was chosen for the combination of roles; the relatively "hands-off" lifeguard, the traditional babysitter, and the deeply involved nanny.

Results

Both parent and caregiver have high ideals. Each one talked about keeping the child happy and safe. Our parent's (R=1) priority was intellectually stimulating and socializing the child, saying, "it is my responsibility to ensure that my child learns how to interact socially. This means, in the adult world, having to submerge your own desires with those around you (some of the time)." Her parenting style can best be described as authoritative, she feels that the rules need to be set and explained to the child. In her own words, "if you are just saying no as a punishment, that needs to be explained. If you're saying no because it's past the baby's bedtime, that should be explained." She also emphasizes that the parents have to serve as examples and is well aware that she has to model what she sees as good behavior.

While Rita and her husband feel that rules are important and that they are the parents, they also realize that age has to account for something. They do not expect a miniature adult; they know they have "a wiggly little girl who needs to be engaged." They know that an eighteen-month-old will test limits and they need to respond to that testing with rules, but also with explanations. Even though their child is young, they still feel the need to try to explain on her level, "so that she knows [the rules] are not arbitrary." To summarize, they feel they need to teach the child the ins and outs of being an adult while maintaining a realistic assessment of that child's abilities and skills.

Amber described herself as "very free and

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