The first time my parent’s hired a teenager to sit for us, she had a party. I’m not talking a small gathering. I mean, like, a totally wicked groove, baby. Right on! (Thank you, seventies.) Her little soiree was so loud and terrifying to me that I actually hid underneath my covers at the foot of the bed—even though I was sure a snake lived down there.
She quickly fed us and put us in our rooms. Then, threatened us not to come out. But, living in a small three bedroom ranch, my brother’s and I could easily hear everything that went on. From the blaring new stereo my dad had just purchased, to the incessant opening of the pantry—which they surely cleaned out. They even snuck into my room after I fell asleep and stole all the money from my piggy bank.
Maybe that’s why I was always gun shy with baby sitters for my own kids. Now that my oldest is our sitter, I no longer worry. But, I can’t tell you all the woes we’ve gone through to get here. So, instead, I’ll throw you a mom-bone and tell you the tricks to molding a great sitter of your own.
Ask for recommendations. Ok, admittedly, these may be hard to get. After all, a great baby sitter is hard to find. Others don’t want to share. But, you may discover some that you’d never thought of before. Like the older woman in your church, or the new college girl home for the summer. Best of all, they’ve been test-driven.
Explain your expectations beforehand. Once you have a sitter, you may feel slightly elated at the thought of getting some alone time. But, make sure you cover your bases first. Likely, the sitters you will find are teenagers. For some, this could be their first job. They need things spelled out for them. If they had sitters that sat them in front of a television, they may believe that is what sitters do. If you want them to spend the entire time playing with your child, they need to be told.
Have a play date. If you have a potential sitter in mind, invite them over for a play date. Since this is for your benefit, and not theirs, you still need to pay them for their time. But, it’s understood that it’s a trial run, so no one is committed. While they are there, leave the house for a small period of time—even if you just go for a quick walk—so that everyone can interact without you there. Often, the first twenty minutes are the most difficult. Give them that time to get through it and calm down so you can gauge if the sitter is good at this crucial part of the exchange. Then, when you return, watch their interactions with your children. Do they have an uplifting attitude? Are they respectful of your children? Do they initiate playtime and/or conversation?
Interview them. After the play date is over, interview the sitter. Seriously. You wouldn’t hire someone to do your job without getting to know their experience. Don’t expect that all young women are good sitters just because they are female. Or that the young man from church is great because he worked at a camp last year. Ask about past babysitting jobs, what they like to do in an evening with the kids, how they handle misbehaving, if they can cook small meals, and how they handle bedtime. Many sitters are now trained by the Red Cross in basic babysitting procedures and infant CPR. Ask if they would be willing to take such a class.
Ask them their thoughts. Encourage them to be honest about how the play date went. Some people mesh, others don’t. It’s best to find out now if the sitter thinks there’s an issue. Also, give them an opportunity to ask questions. Find out their expectations as well as what they charge, if they prefer to follow strict timing, or are more flexible with when you get home, and how they will get to and from your house. Also, ask if they typically have an open schedule, or if it is better to book them in advance.
Ask your kids who they prefer. Once you’ve interviewed a sitter, or two, or seven, get the kids in on the process. They’ll be happy to tell you everything that happened during their time together from the dog sneezing, to the sitter who told them to be quiet and leave them alone. They deserve to be with someone they are comfortable and safe with. Give them a say.
Remember, every person you place in your child’s life has the ability to mold them in some way. If, like me and my brothers, you children are put in an environment in which they feel unsafe, they will likely have issues that go beyond that romantic dinner you and your husband were finally able to enjoy. Make sure that you are doing the behind the scene due diligence so that it is a great fit for everyone.
Then, hit the town, Mama!