Friday, September 20, 2013

The Babyfesto: Quit hard-timing the babysitter

In my attempt to write a book while simultaneously being available to my children every day after school for assorted activities and homework assistance, and in my quest to have a job that fulfills a need in my community, I launched an after-school program.

For those of you who are reading this and thinking "Oh my", let me assure you - it is even less glamorous than it sounds. But I am picking up my own kids, and feeding them a snack and entertaining them - so why not a few more kids in the mix? The more the merrier, right?

Which might explain why some people seem to feel that my after school program should be free. Or that, perhaps, payment is something that can happen "sometime". Also, that cancelling at the last minute, or expecting me to just hold a space "in case a playdate doesn't manifest" is cool.

Yeah. No.

When I was a teenager, babysitting was very straight-forward. Parents called and hired me, I showed up to work on time, they came home and paid me cash, everyone was very happy. As an adult who still provides childcare, all I can tell you is I have no idea WHAT THE HELL HAS HAPPENED but something's gotta give. For babysitters, this is a crisis of biblical proportions.

Here are a few guidelines for the care and feeding of YOUR childcare provider - and I think it covers everyone from teenage babysitters to live-in nannies. As a parent I also needed this reminder, because I have on occasion broken most of the rules outlined below - sometimes simultaneously. Luckily I pay well, rent movies, have pizza delivered, and buy good snack food - so all was forgiven.

1. Treat your sitter like a precious commodity. The first and most important thing to remember is: A good childcare provider does not need YOU - YOU need THEM. They are the reason you are able to have a career/exercise regimen/date/life/modicum of sanity. It is like the golden rule, but platinum: treat your sitter as you would want to be treated, or you will find yourself without a sitter and also up shit's creek, because they will tell every other childcare provider that you are an asshole. Getting blacklisted by your babysitter is a very real thing that happens. Don't let it happen to you. Every parent needs good, reliable childcare at some point.

2. Pay your sitter well, and pay them on time. Once you have a babysitter that you love and trust, hang on to them. The best way to get - and keep - their devotion (translation: availability) is paying them a decent wage, in a timely fashion. I have had parents comment on how little I charge, and then - almost in the same breath - ask for a discount. No. I have also had parents forget to pay me. Hey, I get it. It happens. I mean, I have NEVER forgotten to pay my babysitter after a night out - but I have on occasion forgotten that it was "payday" for my babysitter on Friday afternoon after a long week of work drama. And upon remembering, I have driven to her home immediately - at night, in my pajamas - to bring cash and ice cream. Because she earned it, and I need her.

3. If you cancel, remember that your sitter was counting on that money. You need your childcare provider. You need them to be available and ready to love and entertain your kids and watch them carefully and keep them safe. This is their job. Do you have a fantastic sitter? Lucky, lucky you. Is your sitter always there when you need them? Good. So, if for some reason you don't need them at the last minute, even though they have planned for it, cleared their schedule and counted on that money, you should still pay them. Don't ask. Just pay them. Because you want them to continue to be available to you. Consider putting your babysitter on salary if you know you need them a certain number of hours every week.

4. Your sitter's job is just as - if not more - important than your own. Which brings me back to the whole "you need them" thing. Childcare is not optional, especially if you work. And caring for your child is their JOB. Do not behave as though their job is something that is beneath you. They are caring for your child - the most treasured and beloved part of your heart. Their job is more important to your child than pretty much any other job that anyone else has - including your own. Because you wouldn't have that job if you didn't have reliable child care. Are you picking up what I am laying down?

5. Childcare is not free. It amazes me that I even need to say this, but I will: childcare is not a playdate, and vice versa. In order to have a playdate, your kid needs to be invited. If you need someone to watch your kid so you can work/sleep/swim/yoga/date/etc. that, my friend, is babysitting.

The difference - which you may have noticed - is between being invited, and requesting an invitation.

As with anything else in this world, if you want someone to do something for you, at a specific time, for a specific length of time, you should pay them for that time. Especially if you want that to happen on a regular basis. ESPECIALLY if it is so you can earn money. Which brings us back to (gosh I hope you are getting this) the fact that you need childcare sometimes.

The bottom line is, it takes a village, kumbaya etc. etc.until the day I've spent $15 on organic grapes, cleaned a booger off the inside of my car window, checked an itchy head, fished Nerf darts out of the light fixture, washed three pairs of muddy feet - none of whom belong to my own kids - in my once clean bathtub, and found a puddle of pee next to my toilet. You owe me. Group Hug!


Unknown said...

THIS. IS. SO. TRUE. I've taken to paying my sitter immediately via PayPal--and making sure to remember important details of her life and schedule--like the days she works at the salon, the days she goes to school, in other words, as much as possible to respect her time with attention and money the way I want others to respect mine. I love that you've started the aftercare program--and I'm so glad you CHARGE. Don't ever hesitate to bill, even your friends :-)

Unknown said...

I completely agree with the first guideline. We definitely need the babysitter and not the other way around, especially these days, it i not easy to find someone you can trust to look after your children, so we should really treat them like a precious commodity and we have to pay what's due them and yes, on time. These guidelines here will definitely shed light on how we should treat our babysitters if we want to keep them for a long time.