Dear Babysitters. Love, Parents.
I have a notorious nanny aversion. Mostly because, as a SAHM mom around the City (both New York and Jersey City), I’ve witnessed a lot, repeat: a lot, of negligent or indifferent nannies in parks, museums or in kids’ classes. And it burns me up every time.
For me, the scariest moment of my life after becoming a mother was the first time I left my daughter with her new nanny. It did not sit well with me that another woman was walking my daughter through the streets of Manhattan, and taking care of her needs during the best moments of her day while I was at a desk. So we trimmed the fat on frivolous spending and made stay-at-home motherhood work for our family (may I specifically point out that I have no judgment toward other parents’ childcare decisions, as I believe it to be one of, if not *the* most personal and difficult decision that we make).
It was a long time after I launched my illustrious new SAHMotherhood career before I even hired a babysitter for a date night. In the first year, I only hired friends and was a nervous wreck every time. There are just too many unknowns: how caring and attentive are they when I'm not around? How do they discipline (in real life, not in an interview role play) or handle high-stress situations? Will they respect my home and the fact that my daughter is the single most important thing in my life?
I never really enjoyed a date night unless it was a quick dinner nearby until we moved to Jersey City. After we enrolled the World’s Cutest Human at the Lil’ Brick Schoolhouse and met a few of the amazing gals working there who were willing to give me a break in their spare time, I warmed up (red hot) to the babysitter and Date Night concept… as you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while (if not, see here).
Through experiences both good and bad, I’ve learned what makes me love a sitter or what makes me move on to the next. Here are my top tips for babysitters (well, caregivers of any kind) to earn major bonus points with parents and become a go-to hire.
Have a clear financial conversation prior to your first visit.
I’ve had more than one unclear payment situation at the end of a night due to a simple miscommunication or misunderstanding. If your rates vary depending on how long you are babysitting (i.e. less than three hours is $18/hr, while more than is $15/hr), be clear with the parents each time you are hired about the exact rate they will be charged that evening. There’s nothing more embarrassing to a parent than accidentally underpaying a sitter (and the ensuing conversation where we try to convince you that we swear we didn’t intentionally dock your dollar bills), but there’s also nothing more annoying to a parent than understanding you will pay one rate only to find out you owe more money. It’s already a buzzkill when your babysitter costs more than your dinner bill (not unusual if you live in Jersey City with all the great and affordable restaurant options around).
Confirm the night before.
Moms of young children are extremely forgetful. We may be excited about an upcoming date night, but we usually have no idea what day of the week it is, on any given day. A quick text the night before that confirms date, time and rate is very helpful. And don’t put the onus on the parents’ to confirm anything with you — parents are the client, and the more helpful you are in the process of working with you from beginning (pre-date) to end, the more likely we are to engage your services on a regular basis. One of my sitters always used to ask me to remind her the day before and it always made me wonder how reliable she really was if she couldn't remember, or add to her iCalendar, the date and time we agreed upon (don't ask why I re-hired her, I don't have a good answer besides that she was sweet, always available and my daughter loved her).
Do everything in your power to avoid a screen, even if it’s allowed (also, be clear on what is allowed and respect those wishes).
Trust me, there are enough moments in a day where a parent gives in to TV or another form of a screen in order to accomplish basic life and maintain base levels of sanity. But we are definitely not paying a babysitter to play by the same rules as us. I hire a sitter to, yes, entertain my child, to be a fun alternative to mommy and to engage her little mind for every second I’m away, unless she’s asleep. Every house and its available resources vary, but a babysitter is hired to be creative in caring for my child, and whether it’s a puzzle, blocks, books or drawing/art, I want you to try everything under my roof before you turn on the TV or hand over my iPad. Also, babysitters do not fall into the grandparent realm of being allowed to “spoil the kids.” I’m paying you to be awesome and execute my rules in a fun, respectful, caring manner.
Straighten up at the end of the evening.
There is nothing I am more appreciative of than coming home and finding that a sitter has washed the dishes in the sink and put some order to the living room after my little one went to bed or during a nap. Conversely, there’s nothing more annoying than knowing your child went to bed soon after the babysitter arrived and you paid them to essentially iScroll and watch TV (and yes, just be there in case of an emergency and/or so no one calls Child Protective Services). I’m not looking for housekeeper-level cleaning, but if a babysitter has an hour or more where a child is in bed, and there are ten or less dishes in the sink, or books, toys, pillows and blankets strewn about -- especially a mess made during your time with the children -- straighten it all up to guarantee a call back. That said, if everything is in order, and my daughter is asleep, I could not care less if my sitter reads, iScrolls or watches TV.
Double-check if you’re dealing with an “update me” or a “leave me alone unless it’s an emergency” parent.
I am the former. I definitely don’t want to chat with my babysitter all night while I am out, but I like a quick text once my daughter is in bed to let me know all is well, peaceful and quiet on the homefront. It allows me to totally relax and enjoy my night out much more. Other parents want to check out completely and enjoy a night out without (non-emergency) interruption. Both desires are fine, but a sitter who takes the time to see what I would prefer and who follows through is ace in my book and earns major bonus points.
Show that you like kids, particularly the one(s) in front of you.
... and don't try to fake it. Parents can see through fake kid-thusiasm in a millisecond. This one might sound funny or cheeky, but it’s scary when a babysitter arrives and seems indifferent to small humans. We once had a sitter who I met with beforehand and really liked. I hired her for a date night, but was still getting ready when she arrived. My Love greeted and welcomed her, but as soon as we left, he said, “I don’t like her. Strangers on the street have reacted more excitedly and warmly to meeting our daughter”(great timing for such a comment, right?). He told me I was not to hire her again, a shocking statement for him to make (he really trusts me in those matters and tends to stay out of the process) and one he had never made before and has not since. I was then worried out of my mind for the rest of the night and needless to say, we didn’t have that sitter back. Luckily that only happened once.
Stay off your damn phone!
I get it, they're addictive. I struggle to stay off mine in the presence of my daughter. But you're with my child for a finite amount of time during which I'm paying you to focus 100% of your attention on her. A babysitter using his or her phone -- except in an emergency involving the child they are minding -- is so lazy and unacceptable to me that I will not re-hire a sitter I catch talking or scrolling (unless the child is napping or in bed, and even then, see #4). That was a big reason I fired our nanny and made SAHMotherhood work -- every time I came home early or unexpectedly, she was talking on her phone and paying no mind to my daughter. I'm sorry, does caring for children bore you? Then you should probably find another career path or spare time money-maker because you are dealing with someone’s most precious being(s), even if they’re just some kids to you. So please save your scroll or conversation for your own time.
Fellow mamas and papas, what are some of your tips, things you appreciate or pet peeves? A positive relationship between parents and caregivers based on open communication and honest feedback is best for the children in the middle, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.