I usually plan to spend Thursdays with my 4-year-old daughter. We practice piano together, run a few errands, bake something and lick the spoon. I follow her exacting instructions regarding what games we will play and what characters I will be. If I’m lucky, she is the mommy and I am “Baby WooGoo.”
The Baby WooGoo role is incredibly annoying (I have to talk with a high-pitched voice and replace all L’s and R’s with W-sounds) but usually involves being tucked into bed for naps, sung a sweet little song, and left alone in the dark for awhile. It is totally worth it. I can completely turn myself over to her and her amazing imaginary world on Thursdays, because on Fridays I send her to preschool and write like a maniac.
So, it’s Thursday. We did piano, ran errands, and cooked pre-made break-and-bake oatmeal cookies in the toaster oven, all by 11:30. And now she is perched at the coffee table with a plate full of pretzels, cheese and blueberries, watching SuperBuddies on Netflix while I type away.
She thinks she’s won the lottery. Usually screen time is kept to less than an hour on weekdays, and she knows she’ll be playing computer games tonight while her sisters do homework. She’s not sure why I’m breaking the rules, but she’s sure not complaining.
So just why am I coloring outside the lines today?
It’s because I have discovered the Holy Grail of stressed-out mothers everywhere: a babysitter I trust to spend the night with my children!
Instead of spending Friday typing, I’m going to spend it shopping for a nice dress to wear out to dinner. Saturday night I’m heading to Philadelphia for a romantic dinner and a night in a hotel with my husband. (Cue the Hallelujah chorus!)
That means an evening where I can eat dinner without ever having to get anyone more Ranch dressing, and a night where no one kicks me in the stomach and takes my pillow. Joy!
Since both our families live in the Midwest, my husband and I don’t have the enviable option of asking Grandma and Grandpa watch the kids – so getting away takes a bit of finagling. It took us a long time to discover what every parent needs to know.
Babysitters are worth their weight in gold, and a good one doesn’t just protect your children – she protects your sanity!
Parents in search of sitters also need to know not to judge a book by its cover. Some of the put-together, middle-aged, experienced mothers we’ve met have looked like perfect options to watch our kids. Then we realized that these are often women who are tired from watching their own kids, who think their own ways are the best ways, and who don’t take well to critique and criticism. Try to tell a mother who has let her own kids watch unlimited TV and eat PopTarts for breakfast that you disagree with those parenting techniques. It can get ugly. Fast. Plus, her family will always come first (and rightly so). If her kids are sick, you are out of luck.
And those sweet-faced high school girls who seem like the perfect fit? Well, they’ve changed since I was in their ranks. They text a lot. They entertain kids with videos on their phones. They flake out on short notice when a better option comes up. And they think my little girls are adorable. My children see that as weakness and proceed to walk all over those teenage girls, to chew ’em up and spit ’em out, all while wearing a tiara.
Through trial and error, through gossip and research, after trying websites and church bulletins, we’ve got ourselves a rotation of babysitters we can depend on. And it is amazing what that does for us.
Jess, at the forefront of the guard, comes 2 evenings a week. While I shuttle girls to dance and theater classes, she makes sure homework gets done and entertains whoever is left at home. She checks books out from the library to read to my kids. She knows every song to every Broadway show or Disney movie. She’s in college to be a teacher for the deaf, so she teaches my kids sign language. She lets them paint her nails. If I need to get a shower or type or make phone calls, she will get all 3 kids out of the house (in any weather) so I can be undisturbed. She’s a gem.
Having regularly scheduled nights with Jess makes my life a lot easier, but it also keeps her loyal to us. She knows she can count on us for a check every week (and a Christmas gift) – which means that when we call on short notice or need someone to pick a kid up from school, she is much more willing to accommodate us. If she gets a call from another family for New Year’s or Valentine’s Day, she knows to call us before she accepts. That is worth any price – but usually just costs me an iced tea and a cheese pizza, plus homemade cards from the kids.
Our weekend warrior of choice is Trish. She worked at my 1st daughter’s daycare and started with us as an occasional sitter almost 5 years ago. Since then, she’s changed her hair color half a dozen times, gotten a few more tattoos, and been accepted to film school an hour north of us. She still shows up for birthday parties. If I need her to sleep over (like this weekend) I know that I can trust her in any emergency. The kids love her to death and think of her baby-sitting as a “sleep over” with one of their best friends.
We built this relationship the same way – by respecting her time, giving her regular hours, and coaching her in using our parenting techniques so that our kids know what to expect from her. (We also fed her dinner a lot. ) So when I leave for an hour or a night, I can actually enjoy myself – not worry about what’s happening at home.
How does a babysitter become a sanity-sitter? It’s all about YOU.
- You invest the time to show her* your rules and parenting style – and empower her to use your discipline and reward techniques.
- You give her regular hours to build familiarity with your kids and routines, but also to build loyalty.
- You respect her knowledge about child care.
- You hold her to high standards, and help her achieve those.
- You treat her with understanding and kindness (and the occasional gift certificate or hand-me-down boots)
- You make sure that your children treat her right.
Now I know that money can be tight, but I also know that paying a babysitter to work 2 hours every Wednesday so that you can be more productive is a sound investment. It will pay itself off in stress-free date nights and happy (sleeping) kids. It will allow you to get projects done on time (and right the first time). After all, like the commercials say:
Movie tickets for 2: $24
Popcorn and soda: $15.
Not having to leave the movie in the middle of the steamy scene because your child screamed ’til he puked: Priceless.
*Yes, I know some great sitters are male. But I got so tired of typing him/her. I am not trying to be sexist. Please forgive.