Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grow-your-own babysitter

This is not our babysitter
Between my mom friends in Oak Park, online and at work, I hear a lot about the stress of finding, retaining--and occasionally firing--babysitters.

We've been lucky. We've found teenage babysitters through friends and neighbors, recruited some sitters using SitterCity and ran through 3 out of 4 of our family doctor's kids. Recently I was intrigued by the (sponsored) posts my blog friends Caitlin and Sara were writing about the high-end sitter placement firm K. Grace Childcare, but I was too intimidated to enter to win a free placement.

And honestly, I'm not desperate. Our girls are pretty much angels for babysitters, so we've never had any trouble keeping them coming back. They're also old enough and articulate enough to tell us what goes on while we're out of the house. Which means we don't have to worry about a baby being left alone in front of the boob tube while the sitter spends all evening chatting on the phone (or worse).

But it gets better. We're also growing our own babysitters. We have two mother's parent's helpers who come by weekly to help out for 2 hours. The 11 year old keeps Z and A happily occupied with crafts on Wednesday afternoons, freeing Josh up to write or accomplish a quick errand, and a 13 year old comes on weekends. And since the older girl got a mobile phone and permission to babysit "for real" when she officially became a teenager, so we no longer feel obligated to stick around the house when she comes over.

There are so many great benefits to hiring a mother's helper.
They're young enough to remember how to play (and enjoy it). By the time they're old enough to sit, they'll be familiar with your child and his or her routines. Younger teens don't have the social life of older teens, so they're more likely to be available and happy to sit. In general, I've found they're really respectful of you as a parent and your wishes--even if they sometimes forget little details like cleaning up the toys before moving on.

Financially, an eager, fun young teen is a bargain. Less experience commands less money. We pay our mother's helpers $3 an hour when we're home with them and $5-7 an hour if we're out of the house but nearby. And best of all, unlike high school seniors, newlywed preschool teachers and college students, they'll be around and in my children's lives a good, long time.