I once wrote about how hard it can be for parents to choose an appropriate daycare that suits their needs and the needs of their child. On the flip side of that coin (my side) is how hard it can be for a child care provider to find suitable clients.
I’m actually pretty lucky- the part of the city I live in is filled with families and there’s generally a shortage of childcare. Usually I have full- or near-full enrollment and a waiting list. Last fall, however, there was a mass exodus of babies from my daycare and at the start of this year I had to build my clientele back up from nearly nothing. I had a lot of meetings with a lot of potential clients, some of whom I booked, some of whom I never heard from again and some of whom I WISHED I would never hear from again.
As I said in the aforementioned post, when I try to sell someone on chosing to enroll their child in my daycare, what I’m actually selling them on is me, and in a way this is also true for parents- THEY have to sell ME on the idea that they’ll be the sort of people I’ll want to deal with on a daily basis. I’ve often said that one of the most difficult parts of daycare is dealing with the parents, and the more a person comes across as crazy, annoying or demanding in our initial meetings, the less likely it is that I’m going to say “Yes, I TOTALLY have space for your child! Let’s get your paperwork started!”
I recently had a woman come by who was looking for daycare. She showed up unannounced, without calling first. In fact, we’d never even spoken before. She wasn’t sure when she wanted her daughter to start daycare, but she did want to begin with just eight hours a week. At one point she observed that it was quiet in my house, and when I told her it was nap time and all the kids were resting, she said “I don’t know how you’d get my daughter to get to take a nap, she still nurses for an hour before she’ll sleep!” Then she looked pointedly at my chest O__O
As far as selling me on the idea of having her as a client, she did almost everything wrong! Let’s look at her mistakes:
Mistake #1: SHOWING UP UNANNOUNCED
While I’m sure some child care providers don’t take issue with this, I find it intensely annoying. There are certain times of the day when I’m busy with the kids, or about to go out, or all the parents are picking up their kids and I need to talk to them, my current, paying clients, not some stranger who just showed up. Even during nap time I have stuff to do- maybe I’m cleaning the floors or the hamster cage, or maybe I just want to relax in my sweatpants eating Hickory Sticks and wasting time on the internet. When people call me for the first time I tell them they can come by whenever is convenient for them BUT they need to make arrangements with me first, even if it’s just giving me a couple of hours notice so I can make sure the house is reasonably clean, crate the dogs and psych myself up to meet someone new.
Mistake #2: WASTING MY TIME
This particular woman was looking for just eight hours a week. EIGHT HOURS. That’s what a babysitter is for, not a licensed child care provider. Maybe that’s all the child care she wants or needs or can afford, but for me, it is a colossal waste of time. That’s just one day a week. I would either have to squeeze the kid into my part-time space, or wait until a full-time space opened up, but booking a one-day-a-week kid into a five-days-a-week space makes literally no financial sense.
Additionally, the reason she wanted just eight hours is she wanted to ease her child into daycare, but doing it that way is like trying to pull a Band-Aid off slowly- it hurts more than just ripping it off in one fell swoop. K, one of my current part-timers, used to only come two half days a week, and he cried and was miserable every time he came here for a year. A YEAR OF MISERY FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED. It wasn’t until I stopped offering half-days and he started coming more regularly that he settled in.
Conversely, Baby M, who started four days a week in March, is now completely comfortable here, even with the setback of my going on vacation three weeks after she started. Now when I open the door she tries to leap out of her mother’s arms and as soon as she’s put down goes barreling into the living room to play, with nary a glance at her mother. She has to be tricked into coming back to the foyer for a goodbye hug! And this was a kid who, when she was first here, screamed hysterically for hours every day. If you want to get your child used to being in child care you have to just PUT THEM IN CHILD CARE, like hard-core. The more infrequent and sporadic their attendance, the more likely they are to have a terrible time.
Mistake #3: NOT REALIZING THAT SOME PARENTING CHOICES JUST DON’T TRANSLATE TO DAYCARE
Heaven forfend I should criticize another person’s parenting choice. If people want to cosleep or put their child in a crib, breastfeed for an extended period or bottlefeed, use cloth diapers or use disposable diapers, then they can go right ahead and do whatever! None of this affects me in any way- unless that child starts coming to my daycare.
Your child won’t sleep without nursing first? Then they are going to have a terrible time in daycare, because a child care provider is not a wet nurse. Some people carry their kids around to get them to sleep. With five other kids and a schedule to keep, I can’t do that. Some people lay down and nap with their kids. Again, I can’t do that. Some people let their child roam around the house with handfuls of Cheerios and some people put their child down for a nap with a bottle of juice. No and no!
When a parent makes the decision to put their child into daycare, then they need to make the effort to start changing things at home so the transition in to care isn’t completely traumatic. For example, before Baby M started her mom started adjusting what time she took her naps so that when she started here, having a shorter morning nap and a longer & earlier afternoon nap wasn’t a total shock to her system. Although her entry wasn’t totally smooth it was certainly easier than if her mom hadn’t done anything at all, which was good for me, the mom AND the baby.
There are some other things a potential client can do that make me run screaming in the opposite direction:
Potential Mistake #1: BEING CRAZY
One time I had a guy show up unannounced at the end of the day when the kids were being picked up. This was annoying enough, but he also parked his truck illegally, blocking the entire alley and several of my neighbors’ cars. When I realized this I said I would email him the information he wanted and made him leave, but I later found out that once he got out there one of my neighbors had words with him and the guy freaked out, started screaming and they got in a fist fight. WHAT. Then my neighbor complained to the management office and I got in trouble! Please remember I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE GUY, OR THAT HE WAS COMING. I ended up just emailing him that I would be unable to meet his child care needs but best of luck in his future endeavors, etc etc, because I didn’t even want to call such a whack job!
Potential Mistake #2: EXPECTING SPECIAL TREATMENT
In the years that I’ve been doing childcare, I’ve come to realize that the people who are most demanding are the people who, when you acquiesce, are the least appreciative. If you give them an inch with regards to scheduling or fees they will take ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND MILES.
One family said they desperately needed child care four days a week, but I only had three days available and they couldn’t afford the 4 day fee anyway. They begged and pestered and cajoled until I relented and gave them 4 days at the 3 day rate and waived the deposit. I helped them fill out all their subsidy paperwork and explained everything to them. After all that, they only brought their daughter five days in two months and then withdrew her with no notice. When the subsidy was finally approved (after they’d stopped coming) they expected me to claim it for the full 20 days each month so they could get all that money back, even though that would mean I was defrauding the government. I was like, “Let me get this straight: you dicked me around after I did you a favour, and now you want me to do you another favour? An illegal favour??? I don’t think so!“ I filed a claim for only the days their child had actually attended, and when they didn’t get back as much money as they’d wanted they kept calling and harassing me for months.
Another woman, fresh out of a bad relationship, gave me a big sob story and begged me to waive the deposit and accept only her portion of the fee until the subsidy was approved- the client is supposed to pay the full amount of the fee and I refund them the subsidy portion. I felt bad for her so I agreed, but when the subsidy WASN’T approved she just vanished, owing me $1,500. Ouch. OUCH!
A lot of people seem to think that because my job involves cute little babies, I’m doing it out of the goodness of my heart, but this is a business, not a charity. I’m doing this to make money so I can pay my bills and give my daughter piano lessons and buy fancy shoes if I want! I made some mistakes in the past by being too nice and too flexible, but now if someone wants more for less, I tell then that unfortunately, that isn’t possible, and if they are a crazy annoying freak I say “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything available at the moment, but if you’d like I can add you to my waiting list and call you if anything opens up.” But I never call them, and you know what? I’m okay with that.