A friend, who lives in a small city a few hours away, had just found "the perfect" woman to provide care for her child.
"She's close to my work, the other kids are happy, the playroom is gorgeous, she's close to a park, she's experienced, and she just seems so warm and reassuring." All good.
"Have you signed a contract yet?" I asked, thinking that if they hadn't, I might offer to look it over for her, if she wanted my input.
"Oh, we won't need a contract. She's such a very nice woman, and she has terrific references."
You know, I run into this a lot more than you might expect, and it never ceases to surprise me. If you put your child into a daycare centre, there'd be a contract. AND a lot of other paperwork, too, probably. If you had a qualified nanny through an agency, there'd be a contract.
Whereas parents accept the necessity of contracts in the context of an agency or a centre, contracts with a neighborhood caregiver are sometimes perceived as putting a cold and cynical distance between the parties. What it boils down to is perception. They don't like the idea that caring for their child could be a job. In their heart of hearts, these parents want to believe that this woman is doing this strictly for love, that she's just got so much motherlove in her it bursts out all over, seeking for children to nurture.
It's an emotion-based response, and one which does neither party any favours. Of course you need a contract. Contracts do not cause conflict, they minimize it. Contracts make expectations explicit. Assumptions are minimized. When there is a disagreement as to who's to do what, the contract is the starting-point for the discussion -- but with a contract, such disagreements are far less likely to occur.
So, when you meet with your lovely neighborhood daycare lady, expect to see a contract. If she doesn't have one, suggest she provide one. Deal professionally with your caregiver, expect professionalism back. Love your caregiver, love that contract!