Most South Africans know that it takes a village to raise a child. In South Africa, we take it a step further and enlist help from a proverbial “village.” Having a granny nearby is the ultimate God-sent gift to have when your little one makes his or her debut. I remember attempting the first few days solo, but conceded that I needed my mom more than ever after realizing that it’s hard to shower and maintain any sense of decorum when you’re surviving on 2-hour bouts of sleep at a time at night. Then, in Mzansi, we’re rather spoilt when it comes to help. I have just heard of a young professional couple in the UK (both South African born), who are moving back home to raise a child – at least for the first 5 years. Yes, it’s idyllic to earn pounds and try to save for that dream home back in SA, but you need to be rather economically gifted to have someone help you with domestic chores on those shores. And, in the end, when the cards are on the table, most people would choose family and sanity over career and paranoia about daycare and insufficient attention to one’s most precious gift. The aim is to get a good balance and to have some sort of peace of mind about baby’s welfare.
After 6 weeks of sleep-deprived nights, I enlisted the help of a night nurse a few times per week. I had realized that my sense of humour was fast depleting and that my energy reserves had been sapped. I had repetitive strain injuries in both hands (my baby is rather well fed and of above average weight and height) and had to attempt lifting our son from his Moses basket without using my then defunct thumbs. My mom (or my son’s “Glam-Ma”, “Grandma” is so last season!) would visit 3 times a week and give me a chance to have lunch with a girlfriend or just catch up on some admin. Nothing can ever prepare you for that guilt all moms feel when they leave their babies with someone else for the first time. But, in the end, you realize that what’s best for your baby is to have a happy, healthy mom who has a reasonable level of sanity 😉
Yes, night nurses don’t come cheap and I’m often grateful for the fact that I’ve waited a while to have babies so that we’re in a position to spoil ourselves with sleep on occasion (I still wake every 3-4 hours at night to breastfeed), but the night nurse burps baba and changes the nappy if needed and then puts him to sleep.
Finding the right help is another question that causes sleepless nights and as the parents of a newborn, you don’t need to add to your reasons for insomnia. I found a night nurse agency works well – you would pay around R350-R400 per night to the night nurse and then VAT and commission to the agency. Thus, it is a luxury, but I’d rather give up eating out twice a week and have a relatively decent night’s sleep. If you’re in Cape Town, the agency most moms I know use Thula Baby (http://thulababy.co.za/night-nursing/). You can also book a night nurse directly (I went on other moms’ recommendations) and then if you use one a number of times per month, you might want to negotiate a favourable rate in lieu of guaranteed work nights and pay per month. Most people prefer using a night nurse until the baby sleeps through. Night nurses work 12-hour shifts generally and do bathtime with baby at the beginning of the shift and keep the baby room clean.
A domestic nanny is someone who would look after your baby and help with housework. It is imperative that you find the right person as they become part of the family. I have noticed that some moms wrestle with the idea of having a nanny as the children become so attached and we become jealous creatures as moms 😉 I’ve learnt a lot from our nanny and our night nurse. My best is how to carry our baby in a towel or a blanket on my back. We have a number of slings, which I also enjoy using, but it makes me feel very African to do things the way she taught me.
When interviewing, try to avoid questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer. A good list of questions when interviewing (from www.supernannies.co.za – a domestic nanny agency):
- Why do you want this job?
- What was your last job and why did you leave it?
- What do you think a baby my child’s age needs most?
- How do you see yourself spending the day with a baby this age?
- When my baby starts getting more active and into mischief, how will you handle it?
- How do you discipline young children?
- How will you get to work on a daily basis? In bad weather?
- How long do you envision staying in this job?
- Do you have children of your own?
- Do you have any health issues?
Points to consider during your nanny interview and trial period and to check with previous employer?
- Did the candidate arrive for the interview well groomed and neatly dressed?
- Does she have a sense of orderliness that is compatible with your own?
- Does she seem reliable and on time?
- Is she physically capable of handing a job?
- Does she seem good with the children?
- Does she seem intelligent?
- Are you comfortable with her?
- Check all references
When your child is older, an au pair might be the way to go. Many au pairs have their drivers’ licenses and might be able to drive your child to play dates, the doctor, etc. www.aupairsa.co.za is a web service where you can be put in contact with a wide range of au pairs and find your match. Prices range from R30-R120 per hour depending on experience, skills, etc.
In the end, the most important part about enlisting help is that you’re doing it in the best interest of your baby. When your baby is a bit older, he or she will let you know how they feel about their caregiver simply by their reaction when they see the person. Be reasonable about this though – if the caregiver arrives during the notorious “suicide hour” (approximately 17:00-19:00), they’d be unlikely to get a smile, even if your baby loves them 😉 Trust your instinct and remember that a mother’s instinct is your most valuable asset.