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"Getting a Backbone"
My Personal Story
by Tammy Gregory
I celebrated 20 years as a home-based childcare provider this past August. I've struggled over the years trying to be a businesswoman while managing my clients and their children. While I may not be sitting in an office at a large company, I am running a business and have had to learn over the years that I need to protect my relationship with my client families by following and enforcing my policies. I am not only a daycare provider for children but I also need to run an efficient business. Having a backbone in these matters can make or break a profitable business and help to create a productive environment.

In the beginning I started out with a short parent handbook and over the years it has evolved as I have. For the first few years I tried revising it for big holidays. I would close for a holiday like Thanksgiving but reopened the day after. I also didn't charge for my sick days or vacation. My closing time was set at 5:30 p.m. and I had in my handbook a $1 per minute late fee thereafter. When a parent was late, I never charged them and I basically barely mumbled a response if the parent apologized for arriving "a few minutes late". I felt it was the friendly thing to do. In actuality it was was bad for my business and relationship with the parents in the long run.

After a few years I caught on to the fact that it was basically standard to be closed the DAY AFTER a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. After 8 years I finally added "sick/emergency closure" days to the list of paid days. It wasn't until beginning of 2010 that I finally added "Paid Vacation"! I stated in my handbook that I would close for two weeks out of the year. In 2010 I closed for one full Monday through Friday week. In 2011 I only closed Thursday and Friday for a long weekend trip. In 2012 I only closed Thursday and Friday of one week… and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of another week. This ended up being the only vacation I took those years. I have in my handbook that I will take 2 full weeks, all with a minimum of 4-6 months advance written notice and lots of reminders. This year, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the day after Christmas are all listed in my parent handbook as closed. New Year's Eve, New Year's Day are also all listed as closed. I took December 27th and 28th as vacation days. I Will be closed 11 days including the weekend. I'm over the moon excited about taking the extended time off. It will be the longest stretch off days since I took six weeks maternity leave for the birth of my youngest child 18 years ago!

I believe the two biggest issues with most home providers needing a backbone are payment and late pick up.

A few years after opening I got my belly full of people crowding my closing time or just arriving PAST closing time. I started being VERY FIRM at enrollment. When I say very firm perhaps what I actually feel is rude, but I needed to get beyond that feeling and realize I needed to let the parents know of what was expected in MY house and business. My policies and rules are there for a reason and I must enforce them or there would be chaos.

I would CLEARLY tell all clients my closing time IS NOT NEGOTIABLE, period. If you think there is a chance that you cannot arrive before my closing time then I suggest you continue seeking other child care. I do NOT want your dollar per minute late fee. I want your child picked up and GONE by my closing time. That does not mean arrive at 5:29 and a half and then still need to gather your items...and talk.. and slowly means that as soon as 5 'o'clock arrives. I will be watching for your arrival at 5:25 or I will begin to assume you will be late that day. At 5:30, well you don't want to arrive past 5:30. You are then intruding in my home and my unwinding time to recharge.

I'm aware that there are extreme situations that are beyond a person's control like ice or snow on the roads, causing slow travel time, a wreck on the road, car trouble, flat tires, etc. I am only a phone call away so please do not wait until closing time to contact me. Let me know what's up As soon as possible. It is a common courtesy, otherwise, make sure you or another authorized person picks up your child by my closing time. (There, I got that off my chest.)

These are a couple of stories about my growing ability to HAVE A BACKBONE and stand up for myself. They've been on my mind since 2 of them have taken place just in the last few weeks.

1) I have a mom that has been with me for almost 2 full years. Her older child was 14 months when she enrolled him in my daycare. I love her little boy. I met the mother at the beauty shop through our mutual hairdresser and she immediately started asking questions about my daycare. Apparently she had heard about me and was nervous but interested. Her child was in a church facility daycare, however she was very unhappy there. I gave her my business card and over the course of several weeks this mother asked me everything under the sun; my policies, fees, what about his paci, what foods do you serve, what if this happens, what if that happens?

She finally enrolled and has been a great daycare parent and we've become friends. She has since had another child so the kids are now 3 and 15 months.

First incident:
Earlier this year she sent me an email with the subject "Need Your Help". I think hmm... what's this going to be about. I start reading and I started to get MAD. She writes how she is unhappy with her weight and has the opportunity to start working out with a trainer a few nights per week She would begin promptly at 5 p.m. since her office has a gym and the trainer would be working with her there. She wonders if I would be willing to keep her children a few times per week past closing time (for a fee of course) probably till 6 p.m. or shortly after. If I didn't want to do it, she would understand but did I know anyone that would?

I swear, I sat there staring at my computer screen reading that email and I could feel my BLOOD BOIL! I thought "WOW, are YOU KIDDING ME??" First of all, I was clear to her how I feel about my closing time. During all the weeks of emailing and pre-enrollment of her original child. Beyond that, we had really hit it off personality so we had various talks at pick up time about how exhausting my job was, how many years I've been doing this job, how active my job is, how stressful it can be if there are any unhappy babies. etc. All of those talks included her saying she completely understood and why I am so firm with her on my closing time. She knew by the end of the day that I would be exhausted!

Why on earth would this same person find it reasonable to email me and ask if I would consider keeping her children SEVERAL days per week, 30 to 45 minutes past closing time? Honestly, I had to pace myself on typing the reply. I had to be careful not to say something UGLY. I just calmly told her that I would not be interested in doing it and that I didn't know anyone that could. She said she understood and she'd probably be asking her parents to help her in conjunction with her spouse.

Fast forward to last week. Same client sends me a text message that her dad will be picking her children up while she works out and, if it's ok, could her dad just "hang out" awhile and let the kids play on the playground 15 or 20 minutes, then he could pack up and she should be done with workout. I texted back and asked if she meant while other kids were still here or past 5:30? She replied, Past 5:30, I just hate for him to have to drive around town with kids in car seat, no place to go. The little one hates car seat and will cry."

Is she KIDDING ME? I replied back no, it wasn't ok. If they were here playing on my playground, past my closing time, then that opens up the possibility of needing to come inside, more water, use the potty, scraped knee needs a band aid, etc. IF I had errands past 5:30 I was also not comfortable with people being on my property with me not home. She replied back that she completely understood and no biggie. Whoa.. wow.. why would you even ask? Some people just amaze me.

2) This week at 4:30pm, one of my newer clients calls. She is semi frantic saying she has to drive home, do "horse" chores and if she is running late to pick up, she just wants me to know she will get here as soon as possible. She's Really Sorry if she's late. I asked, "do you mean you will be later than usual (she is normally here by 5) or do you mean that you think you will be PAST 5:30pm?" She replies "well, I will TRY to be there by 5:30 but if I'm 15 or 20 minutes past that I'm REALLY SORRY." I said, "you know what, it's 4:30pm now. I have someplace to go this evening. I will be waiting for the last child to be picked up so that I can shower and get ready to leave. If you can't make it back by 5:30 maybe you'd better pick her up now." she kind of stammered and said "Ugh, ok I'll hurry, I'll be there as soon as possible."

Moments later she sends a text that saying sorry she was so stressed. She skipped cleaning out the stalls and was on her way now, which was 5pm. I sent her a text back and said that it was fine by 5:30 today. When she arrived she said "I'm so sorry, I was stressed and rushed for time but I know your rules and I'm sorry. I won't pick up past 5:30. I do know your rules" and I said, "ok sounds great."

3) A few days ago I was contacted by a friend that also has a home child care business. She'd had a client send a text at 10:40am stating that they were on their way over. She responded back to this parent that this was a huge disruption to her schedule. The parent was disgruntled and ended up not replying to texts or calls from the provider.

This provider's question to me, "Do I allow parents to drop children off anytime of day?" My response, "Absolutely not, I did that for many years and the disruptions are too much."

4) The final straw for me was about 5 years ago. I had a parent/mother of a 12 month old child. Her husband was in some type of office equipment sales. He worked from home setting up appointments then would go out on these appointments. She had a regular 8-5 job. Some days she would bring the child in first thing in the morning ready for breakfast and ready for a full day. Other days, she would leave the child home with dad, afternoon would arrive, NAPTIME specifically, and all of a sudden my door would open and there she would be with this little child that had been home with dad all day. She'd rush in and say, "my husband had to go to an appointment. Here's little Johnny he's all ready for nap." I would jump up, grab a nap blanket and make up his cot. She would proceed to attempt to sooth this screaming boy right in the middle of my daycare room, right in the middle of all the other napping children! THIS DROVE ME INSANE, but at the time, I still had the mentality that IF she was paying me a full time childcare fee for his care, then she had the right to arrive at any time she wanted.

I CHANGED MY MIND ON THAT THOUGHT PROCESS! I gave written notification to all clients that there would be some revisions to the PARENT HANDBOOK. It was near the end of the year, perfect time to say, this is the NEW handbook for the NEW YEAR.

My New Policy...
If your child has not arrived by 9:30 a.m. they cannot attend childcare that day.

We are at the end of this year. If you are a provider that is struggling with your backbone, struggling with issues regarding your childcare business? I would encourage you to focus on REVISING your PARENT HANDBOOK. Read as many handbooks as you can. Contact as many child care providers as possible and read everything they have. Sometimes a particular person has policies that don't apply to you or your business. I encourage you to Improve Your Child Care Business. Improve Your Level Of Professionalism.

Many parents will not "give" you anything. They will not give you the respect you deserve. They will not pay you more than you ask for. They will not arrive on time or follow other basic policies UNLESS you first set them forth in a well written parent handbook and then enforce it.

Don't end up being one of those push over babysitters. If you are in the home child care business, clients WILL run over you. Will take advantage at EVERY opportunity. The more strict policies you implement and enforce, the less stress you will have in your business. Learn-Evolve-Improve.

Your future clients will appreciate the level of professionalism you display in how you market yourself and your child care business. If you do not charge for National Holidays, if you do not at least afford yourself a few paid sick/personal days per year, you are running your business as a glorified babysitter. I know you don't want to be thought of that way. I encourage you to change that policy for the upcoming year. NOW is the time to make changes to improve your business environment.

Send out a notification to all clients now or ASAP letting them know that you are in the process of REVISING your PARENT HANDBOOK for the upcoming year. If they ask questions on what kind of changes to expect, Let them know that you are working on revising and still working out the details while researching. Tell them you will have a copy for them to review as soon as it is completed.

Spend the next several weeks reading, making notes, typing up a draft. Pay attention to detail, spelling, grammar, etc. The more professional, the better. Near the end of November try to have it completed. Give a copy to each of your clients with a new agreement form stating that all new policies will take effect January 1, of next year. Let them know that you have spent a lot of time and consideration on your new handbook and that any policy changes are an effort to improve your childcare business therefore improving the level of quality care you will be providing for their child. Encourage them to read it in full and sign the new agreement. Give them a two week deadline. Let them know that if they choose not to sign they are welcome to submit notice of withdrawal of their child.

Do Not continue to let the fear of loosing a current client prevent you from IMPROVING your child care business. No one can do this for you. This is YOUR BUSINESS. Take control and help it grow.

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