Tuesday 25 September 2018

What Katie Did Next: In which I make the mother of all faux pas

Katie Byrne
Katie Byrne

It's hard not to look smug when you know you've done good. This was my concern when I steered my friend's five-month-old baby towards a developmental milestone during babysitting duty last week.

Actually, 'duty' might be too strong a word. My friend had popped out to the shops, so her infant was in my care for 10 minutes.

Needless to say, the baby began to cry as soon as she heard the door close behind her mother. I gently swayed her from side to side but the crying, which was louder now, continued. I placed the soother in her mouth but she rejected it in favour of a blood-curdling shriek.

The child wanted to be fed but I didn't know where her bottle was. And even if I did, how much formula did I add? One scoop? Two scoops? Three?

Luckily, what I was lacking in necessary accoutrements, I quickly made up for in initiative. The 500ml bottle of Evian water in my handbag would have to do.

The baby was a touch perplexed at first but she soon got her little head around the concept and, before long, she was even holding the bottle by herself. I must say, she looked terribly sophisticated...

"Welcome to the Big Girls' Club," I said to her. "Wait 'til your mother gets a load of this."

I did my best to effect an air of humility when her mother returned home. I was proud of my progress but I didn't want to seem self-satisfied.

"She's just drinking some water," I said in as casual a tone as I could muster. My friend looked at the baby and then back at me. I saw shock, fear and then a flash of anger. This wasn't the reaction I had anticipated.

"She doesn't drink water yet," she said flatly. "That's not until next month."

"Did you boil it?" she asked.

"No - it's Evian."

"Did you sterilise the lid?"

"No - but she's a hardy baby. And it was a really hot day," I continued. "Look! She loves it."

Well, she did... Unfortunately the baby had lost her grip on the super-sized bottle and it was now pressed uncomfortably against her little face.

My friend didn't say anything else on the matter, but her initial reaction made it clear that I was never to do anything like this again.

Childminding is an enormous responsibility, even more so in an era where we have to consider the sugar content of foods, the gender-neutrality of toys and the role model credentials of Peppa Pig.

Then there's the small matter of making sure they don't choke, suffocate or get their fingers stuck in a door while on your watch.

I'm just happy that the child is still breathing by the time the parents arrive home. Anything else is a bonus. I remember babysitting a newborn while his parents went for dinner. The baby slept the entire time but it was still the longest two hours of my life.

Why wasn't he stirring? He was so still. Too still?! I spent those two hours standing directly over the wicker basket, gently placing my hand across his mouth every few minutes so that I could feel his breath.

I have a friend who's even more fastidious about safety when she's minding her nephews. They're not allowed to eat popcorn (choking hazard), visit shopping centres (stranger danger) or pet dogs (rabies).

I once joked that she should get them to wear safety helmets while indoors. She didn't see the funny side. In fact, she thought it was a marvellous idea.

She also closely monitors the sugar content of their foods, which I understand is becoming the rule rather than the exception when minding other people's children.

Another pal was sternly reprimanded by a group of uber-mums when she gave one of their children a fun-sized Mars bar at a christening. Apparently it was likened to giving him heroin...

I'm also lax on the sugar monitoring when I mind children (and not averse to using a Happy Meal as a bartering tool) but I'm learning that you have to ask parents first (and judge them later).

By the same token, you can't go too far in the other direction either. Serving a child toasted gluten-free rye bread with organic peanut butter and banana could be considered overbearing by some parents.

Your childminding style has to be free of influence and agenda - cultural, religious, moral or otherwise. This is another one I learnt the hard way.

My four-year-old nephew recently prohibited his mother and father from using fly spray. "NO!" he shouted. "Katie said we can't kill the flies because they're all God's living cweatures." They now have to rid their house of winged things when he's out of viewing distance.

"Thanks for that," said my brother.

"Yeah, nice one," added his wife.

Now, I may or may not have sort of, kind of, alluded to the concept of reincarnation when my nephew asked me why we couldn't swat the flies...

However, I've since learnt that big concepts and questions are not part of the childminder's remit. Life and death. Good and evil. Truth and lies. Not your place.


My uncle's four-year-old recently insisted that my dog had punched him in the face, but I knew only his parents (who were in fits of laughter) could reproach him for his dishonesty.

Manners are another minefield. Do parents take umbrage when you tell their child to say 'please' and 'thank you'? Does it suggest that they are neglecting their parental duties? I don't have children, but something tells me that it could be inappropriate so I just give them a hard slap instead - joking.

This brings us to the hottest potato of all: discipline. If someone else's child is unruly or disobedient in your care, can you reprimand them? The answer is one thing for a parent, quite another for the childminder whose wall has just been given a fresh coating of Crayola...

These days childminding requires much more than the ability to put Frozen into the DVD player. You need the nutritional knowledge of a dietician, the risk-assessment savvy of an insurance broker and the diplomacy of a politician.

Child's play it is not.

'My pal was reprimanded by a group of uber-mums when she gave one of their children a fun-sized Mars bar'

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