Have you had “the talk?”
Summer is coming!
There’s still snow on the ground in many parts of New York, but families here are already getting a head start on one very important part of their summer plans: childcare.
When I ask Lee, a mother of two school-age kids who works full time and employs a nanny for ten hours a week to help with the after-school hours, when parents need to bring up summer plans with their childcare providers, she says, “Now! Yesterday, actually!”
“Kathy, the woman we’ve employed for years, is so organized, she brought it up to me first,” Lee says. “She works in a school and is figuring out her own summer plans. So we sit down with a chart and go week by week. We already know when we’re taking time off. She knows some times she’s going away. It’s perfect when our vacations overlap, but sometimes it doesn’t work.”
What happens then? “We employ her for ten hours a week all summer, just like the rest of the year. She gets to take two weeks off when she wants, and if we are taking the kids out of town other times, she gets extra paid time off during those weeks. A lot of summer she may only actually work four weeks.”
It might sound surprising, but it works to both Lee and Kathy’s advantage: Lee’s family’s costs are fixed and predictable, and so is Kathy’s income from this job. “Imagine if your boss says they’re cutting your hours and your pay for the summer!”
What if we can’t afford to hire the nanny all summer?
If, say, you didn’t think to budget for the nanny’s salary during the summer or absolutely can’t make it work, you face a choice: “I either have to pay them or give them time to find somewhere else to work for the summer, with no expectation they’ll come back in the fall.”
Even though Lee has budgeted and employed Kathy every summer, all summer, for many years, there have been exceptions. Sometimes a summer comes around that’s just too complicated or expensive. “One year, she needed more time off in the early summer, but we were taking a special, really long family trip at a totally different time.”
So what happened then? Well, they started the conversation early and revisited it often. Ultimately they agreed that Lee would not employ Kathy during the summer, but guaranteed that Kathy’s job would continue once school started. And Kathy had ample time to look for extra summer work if she wanted to.
Do this before the kids go to camp
Lee says that many families do need extra help in the summer — plenty of kids aren’t going to camp and many families will be staying in town. The biggest thing is to give everyone time to make their plans, so nobody ends up losing their income or their childcare. “You just need to be really clear.”
Schools can surprise you with all kinds of early-dismissal days and holidays you forgot were on the calendar, but summer camps can be even worse. In Lee’s family, “the two kids are going to different camps, each has its own schedule. So Kid A needs to be picked up at 1pm for two weeks, but Kid B gets picked up at 2 for the first week and at 1 for the second week. The catch? The second camp is an hour away from where we live.”
How did that work out, I wondered. Was it okay to ask the nanny to suddenly do a 1-pm pickup from camp in another county? In that case, Lee picked up her kid from a rural performing arts camp, sometimes carpooling with other families, and Kathy picked up the closer-by kid.
“The key is, if you couldn’t manage the arrangements you’re making yourself, don’t expect her to be able to do it!”
Summer planning starts early
If you’re like Lee’s family, you’ve been planning your summer since January, since trying to coordinate visits with cousins, grandparents, bosses, and schools can be some advanced-level logistical work. “I’m working on it still!” she says.
At this point, she’s confirmed some arrangements with Kathy even before finalizing the kids’ schedules. That, at least, is one thing she can cross off her to-do list.
How to prepare for your own kids’ summer
If you haven’t begun “the summer talk” with the nanny or childcare provider you employ, now’s the time! Before you sit down with them, think through a few questions:
- What agreement do you have in place around paid time off? (If you don’t have one, this is a good chance to bring it up.)
- What are your confirmed summer travel plans? What’s still in the works?
- If you’re home all summer, will your and your kids’ schedules be the same as the rest of the year?
- Do you need help throughout the summer? What kind of help will you need in the fall, and when does the fall schedule begin for your family?
Then, be sure to ask:
- Have you talked to your nanny or child care provider about their own vacation plans?
- What might change for the childcare provider during the summer? Perhaps her own family’s schedule is changing too.