Babysitting is a funny job.
Most of us hire part-time occasional sitters with a minimum of background information. We look for referrals for teenagers (usually girls) who are responsible and live close by. In my house, additional criteria may include:
- Willingness to play with Barbies
- Not allergic to dogs or cats
- Knows how to load a dishwasher
- Does not have a boyfriend (though, admittedly, this is difficult to determine and enforce).
Similarly, most babysitters agree to come into our homes and spend hours with our children without really knowing what we’re all about.
The babysitter relationship is an important one. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
So what are the keys to finding and keeping great babysitters?
Here are some tips:
1. Communication and respect:
Communication is the key to any good relationship and the babysitter/parent arrangement is no different. Make sure she understands your expectations, beyond just bedtimes and teeth brushing, including:
- What are the rules around snacks and junk food?
- Do you want to be notified if they’re leaving the house?
- Is the pool/bicycle/trampoline off-limits? What about TV?
Making your expectations crystal clear so she knows what’s okay and what’s not. Write them down if you don’t want to sound like a drill sergeant. Don’t assume every teenager knows that a can of grape Crush before bed is a really bad idea. And if she does make a mistake, tell her what you’d prefer she do next time.
Respect her time and don’t cancel last minute. If you do, apologize and pay her at least partially for lost wages. Round up when calculating her fee. Call or text if you’re going to be late, ask her if that’s okay.
Make being at your house enjoyable by doing things like:
- Asking her if she plans to eat her meal with the kids and if so, does she have any likes, dislikes or allergies
- Giving her the wifi password
- Reinforcing her authority in front of the kids so they all know who’s in charge
2. Pay extra for extra work:
I used to get so frustrated when a babysitter left the house in a mess. The kids were alive, fed and (occasionally) in bed, but I had a least a half hour’s work to undo playtime, which pissed me off.
Eventually, I told our-then babysitter I would increase her hourly rate by a few dollars if she tidied up after playtime. I guessed (correctly, as it turns out) that she would take the initiative to do more than just clean up after the kids and I was happy to find clean floors and an empty kitchen sink the next time she was over.
Consider extra money too if your expectations extend to walking the dog, folding the laundry, supervising hours of homework or similar tasks.
Again, it goes back to communication. You should have a mutual understanding of what basic “babysitting” means. If it’s playing with the kids, feeding them and putting them to bed then you might want to consider adding additional jobs for additional pay, if it’s someone you trust and want to make and keep happy.
Teenagers are usually motivated by cash, so make it rain
3. Bribes and incentives:
A very wise woman once told me she didn’t bribe her children, she merely used “incentive-based parenting.” And the same holds true for babysitters. You can become her favourite client (ie. her “I’m always available for you, even last-minute” client) by doing a few simple things like:
- Stocking her favourite snacks
- Paying for her Uber or taxi ride home
- Offering to provide references
- Giving her the wifi and Netflix passwords, if appropriate
- A small gift during the holidays and her birthday
- Always saying thank you and letting her know how much she’s appreciated
4. Make it fun:
Unless she really likes kids, babysitting isn’t always the most fun job. Sometimes it’s easy money and sometimes it’s a G damn nightmare and a real-time lesson in birth control.
But there are ways you can make it fun, ways that also demonstrate your respect and appreciation by saying “I know my kids aren’t always perfect angels,” or “I know four hours is a long time with a five-year-old.”
You can do this by stocking up on supplies for your kids’ favourite activities or finding an activity for them to do together. Hit the Dollarama craft aisle or bring home a gingerbread house kit and I promise the babysitter will thank you for helping her fill time in a fun and meaningful way.
Making babysitter time fun time also helps if your kids put up a fuss when you go out. I started winning the battle with my oldest daughter when I loosened the reigns on the normal house rules so a night with the sitter became special and more fun. This may not work for you but I decided that if finger painting was what it took to get out of the house without tears and drama, or if seconding every blanket we own for a living room fort was what made her happy to stay behind, so be it.
5. Prep your kids, too:
Don’t leave it up to the babysitter alone to enforce rules and to make sure the night goes smoothly. Make sure the kids are ready and prepared to spend time without you. Make sure they are aware of your expectations for respect and behaviour and that there will be consequences for ignoring them. Let them know the do’s and don’ts so the babysitter isn’t the bad gal, then remind them in front of her so everyone is on the same page.
If this seems like a lot of effort or expense for somehow who raids your fridge and sits on your couch for three hours, then it might be time to find a new sitter.
But first, give her the opportunity to improve. Tell her exactly what you need from her and give her the chance to deliver. Think of your experience together as one big teachable moment and if it doesn’t work, sever the relationship in a caring and respectful way (unlike this guy who played a terrifying prank on his babysitter after she fell asleep on the job).
Time invested in the babysitter/parent relationship is time well-spent. We love our children more than anything and the person who cares for them, no matter how infrequently, is an extension of our family in many ways. Make this a productive, healthy and mutually-beneficial relationship that lasts at least until your kids go to college.