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?