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Girl Talk: Finding (and Trusting) a Good Sitter

Q: I need to go back to work, but I hate the idea of a stranger watching my son. How do I find a good sitter? And learn to trust her?

A: We all have trust issues when it comes to our kids. The only way to get past them -- or at least dull the pangs -- is to do all you can to hire the best person.

How? Finding the perfect nanny is kinda-sorta like finding the perfect contractor. (I know; just stay with me...) The first thing to do is make a list of each applicant's references, price, experience, and attitude. And if you live near the nanny's previous employer, ask that boss's neighbors if they remember anything about this sitter. You may be surprised what they saw in passing. After conducting this due diligence, there's only one final box to check off: the one that reads "leap of faith." I wish I could tell you that detective work will guarantee you Mary Poppins. It won't. This is why I made that "perfect contractor" comparison. As anyone who has had work done in her house will tell you, even highly recommended contractors may prove unreliable, while those with little experience might bring a job in on time. You can be certain, however, that any person you hire is guaranteed to tick you off at some point, whether contractor or nanny.

Case in point: When hiring a sitter for my firstborn, my husband and I conducted interviews, interrogated references, and even did background checks. When I finally hired someone, her first month was probationary. I stuck to her like a magnet. When she offered to take my son outside for some fresh air (and, no doubt, to get away from me), I agreed...and then spent the next hour watching from my window. All I caught her doing was feeding my son a bottle and singing to him.

Was I wrong? Nope. I was being a mom. I know, because the next sitter (we moved) was also rigorously checked out. A small voice in my head said that she wasn't the best person, but I figured I was just being "overprotective" again. Guess what? After a week at work, my older son mentioned that she took them to her boyfriend's (whom I didn't know) 30 miles away (without telling me) without car seats. She was fired. I was shaken (still am).

As we all find out, motherhood involves a ton of vigilance topped with a generous dollop of blind faith. The only guarantee I can offer you is that your instincts are on target. With research and a little luck, you'll find someone you can trust.

Kitty O'Callaghan is a mom of three living in White Plains, New York.