babysitting basics

I started babysitting when I was 11.  At 12, I took the Red Cross babysitting course, laminated my card, and proudly displayed it at church when moms asked me if I could work.  I babysat, nannied, mother-helped until I was 30… for one kid, 5 kids, 3 kids, 8 kids, on vacation kids, any kid of kids.  It’s just what I did.  I did it fairly well- not perfect, oh my heavens– but well.  In retrospect, I realize this is because I was taught well.  It was a job.  I cooked, I cleaned, I tutored, I played… and I made some serious cash.

Imagine my dismay and confusion now that the shoe is on the other foot.  I am the mom.  I am looking for fabulous AND normal people to watch my kiddos occasionally.  And I am coming home to happy kids, but a wreck of a house and a completely empty wallet.  After talking to a lot of you on facebook the other day, it’s clear I am not alone.  Sitters these days are simply not as motivated to do a complete job.  What was unspoken but expected in our day of babysitting is well above-average for those on the scene now.  Kitchens are a wreck, food is left out, clothes are on the floor, and every lotion you own is now in the basement.

Perhaps it’s not completely a motivation issue.  In fact, I know it’s not.  The truth of the matter is, we simply assumed they would know what and how to do… all of it.  And, they don’t.  Let’s change that.  Let’s, as parents of babysitters, teach them what a ‘good job’ looks like.  How to load a dishwasher (yes).  How to wipe down the counters (no, seriously).  As parents, send your kid in there with a basic understand of how to do simple tasks well.  Let’s, as employers, be specific about what we expect.   Absolutely specific, from the responsibility side all the way to the fun side… be specific.  Every family does things differently, and your babysitter has not done this for 700 thousand hours with your children like you have.  They are only there for a few hours, but those hours can be torturous for them (and a pain for you when you get home) because you assumed when you should have equipped.

I missed the class on how to be a good Babysitter Employer.  I do not see that on the Red Cross schedule for the year, but I dare say it should be.

Here are 5 things for parents and 5 things for babysitters that will at least get you through a night.  Certainly, these don’t come close to being everything you need to think about.  But, having spent significant time on each side of the issue, I think these are a good start.

For the parents:

1. Spell out any routines.  Does Jane NEED her bear to sleep?  Does Jack always cry for 10 minutes before falling asleep?  These things are second-nature to you as their parent, but your sitter will need to know if you want her to make your kids as comfortable as possible.

2. Make any bottles ahead of time and put them in the fridge.  Your sitter is not used to making them.  And, while the instructions are on the can or you explain that it should be 7 ounces, it’s unfamiliar and can be confusing when there are 100 other unfamiliar things surrounding the chaos of your children at dinner and bedtime.  Make the bottles ahead- even if it’s plain milk– and have them ready to go.

3.  If you expect your sitter to feed your kids, expect to feed the sitter as well.  Having some great snacks in the pantry for after-hours is a great way to boost morale.

4. Don’t put it on your sitter to come up with a fee.  If you ask, “What do we owe you?” they will inevitably shoot back with, “Whatever you think is fair.”  And now, you’re mentally dueling and scrambling when you’d rather be in bed.  Do you research ahead of time, have a fee in mind, and then be prepared to pay it.  Nothing is more awkward for a sitter than an 11pm conversation about what her time was worth.  I say, “Great.  Well, $7 is our back-up rate.  If you think about it later and would like to change that, we can certainly talk about it.”  Start the conversation and leave the door open.

5. Leave helpful notes.  How do you make your tv play a dvd?  Do you need a pilot’s license to understand your microwave control panel?  Air conditioning?  Heat?    I have a page of sticky notes I keep in a file that explain our thermostat, tv, internet, oven… and anything else a visitor might need while they babysit or house-sit.  When someone’s coming over, I can grab the appropriate ones and post them right next to the appliance so it’s easily accessible and understood.

From your response on Facebook Thursday, you all agree it’s a part of the job to clean up a bit after the kids are in bed.  I’m so glad.  It’s something I was taught as a young babysitter, but it’s not something I’ve seen since we’ve been using them ourselves.  Sometimes, pretty things help to make an uncomfortable task easier.  It also makes you consistent and the request less personal.  You’re not reminding only Babysitter A about basic responsibilities… you’re reminding ALL your sitters.   I whipped up these little 4×6 reminder cards to set out when we have a someone over.  These are obviously just the bare basics, but I they are things I find consistently un-done or strange in our house.  Kids in bed in last year’s pjs, hallway lights on, and doors wide open.  What?  Can YOU sleep like that?

For the sitter:

1. Have a fee in mind.  What is your time worth? Be confident!  Ask around, find out what’s appropriate.  What are your friends making? Do they drive to and from the job?  How many kids are you watching?  Do you have to cook dinner?  Be clear in what you are expecting and what you are capable of doing.  I promise you, we are willing to pay you for your time.  Don’t be afraid to put it out there.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  “Um, I burned myself on our oven last week.  Can I make these in the microwave?”  Yes.  Yes, you can.  Not comfortable giving baths?  Absolutely fine.  Just tell us.  We certainly don’t want you doing things your not comfortable doing, and we won’t think less of you for letting us know.  In fact, we’ll love you more.

3. Clean up.  Even if you didn’t touch a single dish, even if you never went in the basement… clean up.  Take 15 to 30 minutes after everything is quiet and do a quick sweep of the house.  We don’t want perfection… we just want a little help.

4.  Have a THING.  Do you always paint nails?  Do you bring bubbles with you?  Do you bring your favorite book when when you were little to read to the kiddos at night?  Do you spread soap all over the kitchen table and let the kids play while you clean up dinner?  What’s your thing? Just one thing.  That thing that the kids love you for and the parents love you for double because it makes the kids love you and know you and excited to see you?  Have a thing.

5. If you’d rather not, just tell us.  With facebook, smart phones, emails, and texts, it’s impossible NOT to get a message these days.  If you’re late (more than a day- yes) in replying or calling back we’ll assume you don’t want to work anymore… and we’ll get the message.  But, truthfully, we’d rather just hear it from you. “I’m really cutting back on sitting right now.” “School is killing me.  No more babysitting.”  “School is a blast.  No more babysitting.”  “Three kids is just too much for me right now.”  (Oh, sorry… that was me.) We’ll take you off the go-to list.  Simple and un-emotional as that.  Ok, I may cry a little because you were THE BEST and you always wiped off the oven top… but thank you.  Thank you for telling me.

And, that’s a start.

It’s your kids!  And it’s likely your sitter’s first ‘job’ of any sort.  So, let’s do it right, Folks!

Might I ask what are you paying these days?  Or, how you decide?  Is it based on experience?  Age?   Do you pay differently when the kids are awake vs. when they’re sleeping? Do you care what other families are paying?


About texasnorth

TexasNorth is a little farm in Western Michigan. It's home to 5 chickens, 25 longhorn cattle, a coonhound (Banjo), 1 barn cat, a husband, and 3 ridiculously funny children. The mom of this zoo has been known to mow the lawn in a skirt and roast marshmallows after dark. View all posts by texasnorth

10 responses to “babysitting basics

  • shanna mac

    Love the list!! I need to create one, though we never go anywhere these days. We’ve been paying 8 for middle schoolers, 10 for high schoolers and 12 for college kids. I’ve been giving no instructions, but will now. Brilliant!

  • Shelly

    Great post. Again. I love it. I decide what I’m paying kids generally on their age, then on the job they do. I am willing to pay more if they are really good. Generally, I pay $5 / hr for a younger, first time sitter that is like in 5th or 6th grade to just play with my 6 year old. I pay ok sitters $6/hr for all 3 (my 10 & 11 yr old are pretty self-sufficient), good sitters $7-$8/hr. If I have a sitter over a few yrs, I usually give them $1 raise or so. I leave lists now b/c of being disappointed that cleaning up wasn’t a given for many of them. I have also pd extra if my kids happened to give them a hard time. For overnt, I also pay around $25 just for sleeping over, and pay them hourly rate until the kids fall asleep (I ask them when they fell asleep) and then start hourly when the first kid woke up. I always pay the same hourly rate even when the kids are sleeping b/c I esp appreciate someone staying later and figure their time is still their time and like I said, late night hours are esp appreciated for me and hubby to have an extended eve/ night together.
    Thanks again for the great post and ideas.

  • texasnorth

    From Kimberly (watch for the brilliance): Layne and I just had this conversation as we talked about her upcoming babysitting class.

    Do more than keep kids alive.

    What we paid…$5 plus $1 per extra kid thereafter. So, $8 for 4 kids. Of course, now we have a built in sitter. Ahh. So nice.

  • hopefulleigh

    This is a fantastic resource, Katie! Completely generalizing here, I think today’s teen babysitters were not raised the way we were- they often don’t pick up after themselves and so it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t think to pick up after your kids. The family I nanny for currently has minimal expectations for me outside of childcare but from day one I started loading and unloading the dishwasher and doing other light housekeeping, emphasis on light. Families shouldn’t abuse their sitter by leaving a full sink of dirty dishes and a trashed house. Of course, sometimes days get crazy and if a sitter wants to take that on, more power to them. You’ve provided a great guideline here.

    • texasnorth

      Girl, you know of what I speak!

      Laura brought up this point a couple days ago- about the “they just honestly don’t know how to do that stuff anymore” and I completely agree. Generally, it’s just not the norm anymore.

      And you’re right… you can’t set them up for failure, but I do think some mutal respect on both sides goes a long way. “I expect you to do a good job. And, I’ll pay you to do a good job. And I’ll be up-front about what I THINK is a good job.”

  • Leelee Writes (@leeleegirl4)

    I usually charge about $10 for each hour of my time. I am willing to take less if I think money might be tight or if I am getting a full dinner as part of the deal. I am also the mean babysitter that tells the kids to clean up their toys.

  • Kelly

    Love this. I was not very good at telling sitters what I expected. But, I was the sitter where the house was cleaner when the parents arrived home. I even made casseroles for potlucks for one family. And yes, I made tons of money sitting. Thanks, Katie. You did a great job with our kids……even going to the ER with me with Haleigh.

  • Jen

    I haven’t had to pay a sitter in a LONG time, but I remember sharing your immense frustration! I have one word of advice for parents of the sitter! We expect our kids to do these SAME things at HOME when they are home alone or with younger siblings, and when our daughter goes to sit, we ALWAYS remind her that she is expected to clean up, turn off lights (NOTHING more irritating than coming home to a the house lit up like the top of the Chrysler building!!), and be responsible!

    I think if we expect this behavior out of our children (potential sitters for others) in their own homes, they are more likely to naturally take care of these things when they are in others’ homes. Why should we expect them to treat anyone else’s possessions/homes/children any differently than they are permitted to treat their own possessions/siblings/home? It’s not rocket science! HAHA And, our daughter babysits ALL. THE. TIME. so I would guess that she’s doing something right!

    One other thing: if given the opportunity, I will often inquire about how our daughter did while babysitting? This way, if there were any issues, I can talk to her about them in a less-intimidating way and, hopefully, remedy the situation for the future!

  • kellyatlovewell (@kellyatlovewell)

    Oh man. This is so good. Leigh sent me here because I was having an existential crisis over how much to pay my babysitters. We moved recently, and suddenly, I have young teenage girls willing and eager to babysit. I have four kids ages 2-11, so this is WONDERFUL, but I’m struggling with how to set out expectations. I hated babysitting, myself, so I feel new to this environment. You helped me shape a lot of thoughts. Thank you!

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