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Adventures in Babysitting (as the employer)

Mr. Sally J. and I have reached a new level of freedom as parents, a level not reached since early 2008. It’s the freedom of knowing the kiddos are in good hands on a Friday evening, and those good hands belong to someone other than yourself. 

I am talking about the good hands of a babysitter, and when I say babysitter, I don’t mean grandma or grandpa or your girlfriend who wants to practice on your kids before she has her own.

I am talking about the random teen who appears responsible enough to watch your children for a few hours.

We have been lucky enough to stumble upon three teens this fall who’ve proven to be a good match for our kids. Before the arrival of our son, we had a teen sitter who was fantastic. But, as teens usually do, she got a license, a real part-time job, and a social life. One minute she was an 8th grader happy to come over on a Saturday night, the next minute she was bogged-down with senior class president obligations. Two minutes after that, and she was off to the University of Notre Dame. Once our son was here, it took a few years for me to be comfortable with the idea of leaving a young person in charge. My parents babysat, other adults babysat, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around a fifteen-year-old watching an infant and a toddler. Now that the kids are three and six, I am more comfortable with teen sitters.

The window for a good babysitter is a short one; I’ve found that you have to catch them while they are young enough not to have a social life, then pay them enough that a night of babysitting is a more appealing option than hanging out with their friends when they are older. It’s a tricky balance, but having a reliable, affordable babysitter is one of the best things you can do for yourself and any adult relationship you’d like to cultivate.

The University of Michigan has a great resource for both parents and sitters: Baby Sitter Safety: What Parents and Sitters Need to Know is a good place to start when you feel like you’re ready to hire a teen babysitter.

On a lighter note, there are few things I do to make the evening go smoothly for the sitter and my kids alike:

1) Put out a well-stocked snack box. To prevent snack overload, or putting the sitter in the awkward position of telling the kids “no more cookies,” I put exactly what they can eat in a container.

2) Rent a few Red Box flicks. Since we are Netflix streaming customers, renting a movie is a novel concept to my kids. When I was a kid, my mom always left us with a Totino’s Party Pizza. I leave mine with a rented DVD. It really is the little things.

3) Let the sitter know that he can call you at any time. Sometimes I have to call my husband for reinforcement, and I’m a 38-year-old woman. Probably there are times when the 13 or 14 year old I’ve let in charge is going to be overwhelmed. I always let them know they can call or text if they need anything.

4) Make sure pajamas and anything else needed for bedtime is prepared.

5) Always round up when you’re paying them. If they’ve been there for 3.5 hours, pay them for 4. It’ll help make babysitting for you more appealing than other social opportunities the next time you call for their services.

What other tips do you have for finding and retaining good babysitters? What did you appreciate as a sitter yourself?

11 replies on “Adventures in Babysitting (as the employer)”

The biggest thing for me when I was a babysitter was knowing about when to expect the parents back. I used to babysit for this one family where the mother was never, ever home when she said she’d be. It’s one thing to underestimate how busy the restaurant will be and come home an hour later than you were expecting. It’s another entirely to not turn up until 3am. (This happened to me once. I did not go back after that.)

I still babysit occasionally now that I’m in grad school (because of poverty) and these are the things I like:

1. when the parents have prepped the kid with a game/toy/activity that isn’t necessarily a huge endeavor for me (like, if you want me to take them to the pool I’d like notice so I don’t think it’s TV and homework afternoon) (alternate: when I know in advance that we’re doing something more adventurous or that the kids might want to, say, walk to the park; I like those activities too, but not when I show up in slippers)

2. when I’m explicitly allowed to snack on whatever (because I’ll do it anyway and I’d rather not feel bad about it–like I said, poverty)

3. when it’s clear whether it’s like a “treat” that I’m there and I can go easy on things like bedtime or if it’s all regular rules and schedule (and when the kid also knows this)

Now that I’m older I like a time minimum too, so that I don’t give up my evening and drive across town for $20. The family I babysit for most arranges to always be gone for dinner and an activity so that I get a reasonable amount of money, the kid knows the schedule (some game/activity, a snack, getting ready for bed, story time, sleep–always the same when I’m there), and we can all plan in advance. When I was younger and babysat more, that mattered a lot less (and $20 was worth more to me!), so that will vary by sitter.

It’s possible that I’m the laziest babysitter in the world now that I’m an adult, actually…

When I was in college though I had a standing every-Friday appointment for the same family and it was great to have it in my schedule. They only gave me a check every few weeks and it roughly balanced out, and the parents ran errands/did whatever/had some free time. That would have been a GREAT deal when I was 14 or 15.

All good points! it definitely becomes an issue of a job being worth your time when you’re an adult. the point about whether the kids are in “normal routine” or “treat” mode is a huge one!

Since I taught preschool for years, I’ve done my fair share of babysitting as an adult myself. Something I didn’t appreciate as a teen that I did as a grown up? Being paid in cash, tax free :) (small amounts! totally on the up and up!)

Being told I could eat whatever I wanted was a big thing when I babysat as a teenager. The family I babysat for regularly told me not to worry about opening or finishing anything. That was a huge relief because I always worried about what I could/could not eat.

I also liked having a standing appointment- I babysat for a family every other Saturday for several months during high school. I knew ahead of time to make plans on other nights and getting money regularly was great too.

I think the discipline is very important.   When I babysat as a teen if there was a family whose kids acted up and the parents made clear that they weren’t interested on how they behaved for me, I never went back.  Conversely I had a kid bit me once and the parents’ talking to made an impression because every time after that she let the parents know that she hadn’t bitten me that day.

Oh my god, were you my babysitter? I totally bit my babysitter. She bit me back. She was freaked out that she was going to be in HUGE TROUBLE, and I’m pretty sure my parents just high fived her because they knew what a little shit I was being. Of course, this was back in 19holyshitsomanyyearsago, when that wouldn’t get any of the involved parties thrown in jail. i actually saw her last year, maybe?, for the first time in 20 years or so, and she was all, “Remember the time you bit me and I bit you back? I used that as a cautionary tale for my kids for YEARS.”

Oh that is something!! That is the stuff legends are made of!

Two weird things happened during my tenure as a teen sitter-

1) a kid broke the toilet sit and promised that he was going to tell his parents that I broke it. I’m sure his parents laughed as  I nervously explained what happened, and how it was the kid who broke it and not me.

2) Another kid used ALL of his dad’s shaving cream on a bathroom rug and then ran his remote control truck through it as snow or something. It was weird.

After that, I stood by the bathroom door when those kids needed to go to the bathroom. Clearly, bathrooms were the place for mischief on my watch..

For me, as a teen babysitter, I needed to know what the parents expected from me in terms of discipline if their children acted like little shits. (I’m sure yours are angelic, but I had some real terrors when I did this stuff.) Did the parents expect me to do time outs and restrictions, and if so, how did those work in their home? Or was I expected to just keep a notebook full of the shitty things their kids did and report back when the parents got home? (I admit that the latter expectation was pretty frustrating when the kids were super out of control; smiling weakly at children who are running all over you and just making a note on a sheet of paper is a pretty quick way to guarantee that those kids will NEVER behave for you.)

Also, a quick rundown about bedtimes, medications, allergies, and any neighborhood kids who are allowed to drop by to play was always helpful.

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