Teach Your Babysitter About Vegan Life
When a vegan family invites someone into their home to care for their children, they may experience some of the same concerns as families who use daycare. They will have to consider the cost, how their children will adjust, whether the caregiver is trained to handle emergencies, and yes, the issue of food; it doesn’t go away simply because you’re on your turf. But unlike daycare, you control the environment – and the hiring.
My husband was stationed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia two years ago. When we first moved here, we heard how Mongolians subsist mainly on meat and dairy products with only the occasional carrot or potato. The thought of finding a caregiver for our daughter who would understand – let alone honor – our eating choices seemed daunting. I resigned myself to finding an experienced babysitter and teaching her about our ways as a vegan family.
Doogee came to us from our upstairs neighbor with high recommendations. She had also worked for six years with another American family. We’d totally lucked out! But I still faced the task of explaining our lifestyle and hoping she would get it. I spelled it out as simply as I could, at first leaving out the theory, and just setting the rules.
I told her that in addition to eschewing meat in our diet, we also did not eat dairy products or eggs. I told her that anything she found in our kitchen for our daughter to eat would be totally acceptable, that we did not allow animal products into our home. Surprisingly, she didn’t seem too shocked, though she did ask a few questions, which I answered honestly and to the point. We don’t believe it’s healthy. We care about animals. We don’t buy or consume those products.
For the first six months, as cold as it may seem, I never invited her to eat lunch with us. I assumed that as a Mongolian she would not want to eat what we eat. In any case, it was common for the local babysitters to take a lunch break, so each day at lunchtime she headed out to eat.
When our second child was born, I needed more help around the house. Doogee started helping me to prepare lunch while I worked a little longer on the computer with the baby in sling on my chest. At that point, letting her leave for lunch seemed rather rude, so one day I asked her if she wanted to stay and eat with us. She replied with a resounding yes! She said she had always eaten with her old American family, and they, by the way, were vegetarians. I couldn’t believe she’d never mentioned it! But then again, I had never asked.
Doogee has been with us for over two years now, and we know how very lucky we are to have such a loving person help us care for our children. But the road has had a few bumps along the way, and there have been teaching opportunities while growing into the fine relationship we have today. Here are a few hints for teaching your babysitter or caregiver about vegan life:
Instead of limiting your options by searching only for a vegan caregiver, look for someone who embodies the qualities you find valuable in a person.
Don’t assume that your babysitter isn’t interested in or doesn’t understand about veg life. You don’t have to proselytize, but you can and should share information that will make her job easier.
Offer to share your vegan food! If you don’t allow non-vegan foods into your home, this is the easiest and most considerate way to handle mealtimes. It’s also a great opportunity for passive activism.
If members of your family are not vegan, make sure to keep your child’s food separate. Don’t rely on your non-vegan helper to make wise choices about what your child can eat until he or she has been with you for some time. Post a list of acceptable snacks on the refrigerator.
Ask her to please show you first any gifts of food that were purchased for your children. This is a delicate area where you’ll want to handle refusal of any items carefully. Let your babysitter know that it was very thoughtful to bring a gift for your kids, and be specific about why they can’t have it or which ingredient is offensive to you as vegans. This is an opportunity for learning!
If your caregiver helps to prepare meals, ask her if she has any vegan recipes she could teach you. You might be surprised! Doogee has taught me how to make a traditional curried potato pocket and has shared recipes for traditional salads. (Turns out Mongolians do eat vegetables after all!)
If a mistake occurs, and your child does eat some non-vegan food while in the care of your babysitter, don’t overreact. First find out exactly what happened, then discuss together how these mistakes can be avoided in the future.
If your children and babysitter leave the house together, include a list of food items that would be acceptable wherever they are going, or better yet, pack snacks from home!
Investing time and energy into teaching your caregiver about vegan life will give you peace of mind. More important, however, is welcoming warmly into your lives the person who will be caring for the most cherished members of your family.