Would you believe that I know moms who have never once left their child with a babysitter? Maybe you're one of them! I, on the other hand, took full advantage of the opportunities I had to leave my children with someone else while I slipped out of the house for a little adult only time.
Now don't get me wrong. I was a full-time mom from the get-go and all the way through my last child's graduation. But maybe that's all the more reason why I found it necessary every now and then to entrust my children to another's care so I could go out
- to run some errands
- to get my hair done
- to keep a dentist's appointment
- to have lunch with a friend
- to speak at a women's event
- to go on a date with my husband
- to buy a swimsuit...without two preschoolers climbing through the fitting room stalls or asking embarrassing questions!
I didn't leave my children with others too often. I didn't have that much money or that many good friends to take advantage of! But I didn't apologize or feel guilty over the occasional times when I would bring someone else in to care for my children while I slipped out.
So if you've hesitated to leave your child with a sitter up to this point, but now realize that "hey! here's a great, responsible, smart mom who left her kids with sitters every now and then and they turned out well-adjusted, beautifully behaved, smart, and extremely successful"...
...well, that's a little over the top!
But seriously, if you'd like to escape the world's greatest job every now and then to take care of you (and that, dear friend, is a good thing to do), then here are a few tips for wisely choosing a sitter.
- Pray and plan ahead. I've noticed that good moms these days do not leave things to chance. They plan ahead. Well, that doesn't mean you can't hire a sitter; it just means you need to follow suit when obtaining one. Pray for God to provide your family one or two or three competent, likable, and responsible sitters. And plan ahead. Do the work well before you're actually needing a babysitter. Interview potential sitters. This is a job and it deserves due process.
- Observe her in your home. Who says you only get to hire a sitter when you're going out? You can try a sitter out while you're still in the house. Ask a potential sitter over to watch the children while you sew your new drapes, take a bubble bath, conduct a meeting, or prepare a gourmet dinner. She can keep the kids in the other end of the house or upstairs, but you can check in occasionally or keep an ear out. Of course you'll still pay her, but you've also earned a little peace of mind in the process.
- Do a background check. Of sorts. If you're considering hiring a teenager, think about teens who have been raised by parents you know and trust and who parent the way you'd like to parent. Do you have an older friend with a teenage daughter? Observe how that teen treats her parents, talks about her friends, handles her personal responsibilities, and handles school work.
- Set the bar high. When you do talk with a potential babysitter about caring for your children, go ahead and state some high expectations. Do NOT say things like, "It won't be much work; you can just let them watch TV and do your homework or whatever you want to do. It'll be a breeze!" Instead suggest activities, insist on a certain bedtime or mealtime, explain behavior expectations and household rules, express your desire for order, detail safety precautions, and set limits. You only want babysitters who take your children seriously, but you'll only get that if you let them know how seriously you take the job.
- That said, relax a little. Don't expect a sitter to do everything with your children just the way you would. In fact, set them up to be liked and enjoyed by your children. Let them order a pizza for dinner, skip the bath, go to bed 30 minutes later, and watch a video you've secured just for that occasion. If your children see having a sitter as a treat, they'll be more likely to respond well to her.
- Look for the right things. Maybe this goes without saying, but you're not hiring for a beauty pageant or popularity contest. Look for a young person with maturity, a sweet spirit, respect for authority, and a sense of right and wrong. You may have to have a little interview process: have the potential sitter over for a casual dinner with the family. Get to know her.
- Look for a connection with your children. Whether you observe her in your home, at church, in the neighborhood, at a local park or at her home, spend some time watching the sitter with your child. See what she does when your child is disrespectful, demanding, playful, inquisitive, clingy toward you, tired, and shy. Notice how she holds your baby, changes its diaper, plays peekaboo with it. That way you'll have an idea of how things will go when you're not around. Provide several opportunities for your child to interact with the sitter before leaving him alone with her.
I realize a lot of parents are hesitant to hire a babysitter these days because we hear so many horror stories about abuse, neglect, or poor behavior. But really, you have to put these stories in perspective. Babysitter horror stories are about as prevalent, percentage wise, as airplane crashes. And yes, if it happens to you, the damage can be great.
But smart parents not only take the time and effort to choose sitters wisely; they also know how valuable leaving the kids behind with one occasionally can be. It's good for mom and dad to get out for a date night every so often. It's a good thing for a stay-at-home mom to get out sans kids every once in a while. And it's even good for your children to have to behave for and cooperate with another caretaker occasionally.
And don't forget, you can choose other kinds of "babysitters" as well. Swap child care with another couple or mom. Or you know that sweet, recently retired woman at church who keeps offering to take your child to feed the ducks and get an ice cream? Let her!
How do (did) you go about choosing the occasional child care provider? What are your concerns when it comes to leaving your children with a sitter? Let's talk about it!