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Finding Childcare When You're Working Away

By: Sarah Knowles BA, MA - Updated: 28 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Finding high quality, affordable childcare is difficult for any working mum. But even if you do get a nanny who is happy to work the hours you need until you get home in the evenings, finding someone who can take over when you're away for work can be a nightmare.

You might think you have all your childcare needs sorted. But what happens when your boss asks you attend an important week-long conference abroad? Having someone on hand to step in and fill the gap, especially at short notice, can make or break your trip - and keep your employer happy.

The problem can be compounded if you rely on a childminder, after-school club or friends and relatives to look after your children. Childminders have other charges to look after, and you may be reluctant to ask relatives or friends to put in the extra hours. So how can you get the help you need if you're suddenly called out-of-town?

Have a System in Place

You may know weeks in advance that you will have to attend a weekend seminar in Spain. Then again, your boss may ask you at the last minute to fly to Brussels for three days, or accompany her on a training seminar to Milton Keynes. For many working mums, saying no isn't really an option. So how do you get childcare at the drop of a hat?

The best way is to have a system already in place. Have a list of reliable childcare providers who may be able to step in – not one, but several. Talk to them beforehand about what would be required should the need arise, and make sure they are aware of what they would need to do. Having a set wage structure is also a good idea.

Another option is to find a dependable agency that you trust. Speak to the agency in advance and let them know what you would be needing. If possible, use their babysitters on a one-off basis so if you need them, your children will already be familiar with who they are. Agencies are expensive but they're always there when you need them!

Finally, if working out-of-town becomes a regular occurrence, you might want to look into the possibility of hiring an au pair. Au pairs live with you and work part-time, but if you pay them extra they can fill in when you are away. Most au pairs should not be entrusted to have full-time care of very small children, however, so keep this in mind if your kids are very young.

The Likely Suspects

Many mums have a list of people who they can rely on in a childcare emergency. However, each one has its own pros and cons. They include:

  • Friends: Asking a friend can be great – and cheap. But always make sure you are suitably appreciative, and that you regularly offer to return the favour. Friends start to resent being made to feel that they are being taken advantage of.
  • Relatives: Your mum, dad and siblings may have a great relationship with your children already. But if they work full-time or aren't in the best of health, asking them to step in can cause an undue strain on family relationships. Don't take advantage of the situation - and show your gratitude.
  • Known Babysitters/Nannies/Childminders: If you have regular childcare, this can be a fantastic option. But many childcare providers have families of their own, and some don't want to work the extra hours. Everyone needs time off now and then!
  • Teachers/Teaching Assistants: Sometimes it can be possible to ask a teacher or teaching assistant to step in. The advantages are that they already know both your child and your child's schedule. But some schools frown on this practice, saying it encourages favouritism and can seriously backfire if something goes wrong.
  • Night Nanny: Night nannies or maternity nurses specialise in taking care of babies. But when they are in between jobs they often are looking for work. The good thing about them is that they are used to living in someone else's house – and working around the clock. They also know what to do in an emergency. Look online to see what maternity nurses are available, and interview them in advance to find someone you like.

Don't Leave it to Chance

The most important thing when getting good childcare is not to leave it to the last minute. If, for any reason, you are unable to come up with a working solution, the best thing is decline your business trip – however difficult that sounds.

Employers should understand that finding childcare should be your first priority, and that it will be difficult for you to concentrate on the task at hand if you're worrying constantly about the kids back at home. Their safety should always come first.

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