My dad has a joke sign up in the house from when we were kids, ‘Hire a teenager now! While they still know everything.’. He now has teenage grandkids, so the joke is coming into its own again. However, in exchange for some pocket money or treats, I have sort of ‘hired’ my niece to help out around the house, especially now we have two kids.
It started as a bit of a joke when I was pregnant with my eldest. We calculated that when my niece becomes 16, she would be able to do some childcare in the holidays. We were teasing her, of course but it backfired as we didn’t know how brilliant she was going to be with my daughter and how much she enjoyed looking after young children. In many ways, my niece is a typical teenager, obsessed with her social life, image and gadgets but when it comes to my daughter she’s never bored and always knows how to amuse her. Little L adores her, so much so, we dubbed my niece ‘her real mum’ as she drops me and daddy in an instant when she’s around.
When I was pregnant with our second daughter, my niece suggested she could help out. She didn’t talk money but I thought it was only fair to reward the chores with some clothes or even pocket money. At 14 years of age, she’s too young to supervise my toddler alone but she keeps her amused with projects and games, while I occupy myself with feeding my newborn. When we’re out, I’m fully in charge but I have an extra pair of hands to help with putting on coats, wiping messy mouths or fetching drinks from the cafe counter. I have even asked her and friend to organise entertainment at Little L’s birthday party.
While I pat myself on the back for coming up with the idea, I have to accept we are extremely lucky that my niece has the relationship she does with my daughter, plus has a mature attitude toward supporting me and caring for her. But it’s not such a bad idea if you have a family friend, cousin or niece/ nephew you can trust in such a way to help out. I cannot stress more that you need to establish the boundaries of care, you need to know the teenager well enough and have observed them with your child for a period of time before giving them more responsibilities. Even though my niece being there allows me to organise the baby, knowing that toddler is occupied with another set of eyes on her, I’m always in earshot and when we’re out I insist they stay where I can see them. What is does mean is that if Little L needs the toilet or a drink, there is someone on hand to fetch it. With my husband back at work and on shifts, I need all the help I can get.
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