Mother's Little Helper and Babysitters

This Wednesday it all came full circle. After years of taking care of other people's children, a very mature fourteen year old girl I have shared years and years with came over to help me with Joaquin. I am not sharing her name because she's a gem and I'll be damned if you take my free time! I hired her as a "mother's helper" for a couple of hours; she played with the kiddo and I (joy, oh joy) did housework. It was great to see them so busy, him so entertained, and I could actually vacuum without worrying if he'd fall apart. Poor kid still hates loud monster vacuum cleaner. I'm not sure I like it any more than he does.

So, in light of the fact that I'm now getting care after giving it for all these years, I thought I'd share a little information about Mother's Helpers and babysitters. In case you were wondering, there are some significant differences between the two. Mother's Helpers tend to be younger people who come over while the parent is home; their job is primarily to play with the child/children. Babysitters are usually older and take care of children, including playing with them, feeding them, putting them to bed and making sure they stay alive until the folks get back from their outing. Nannying and professional childcare providers are a whole different basket of cookies; babysitters are more likely to play games and make sure the kids don't access porn or Michael Bay movies, instead opting for Disney classics. Most professional nannies (at least, myself) opt to have the television off, or very limited. But, once again, whole other world.

Let's look at the Mother's Helpers and babysitters. If you are smart, and if this person is a good match for your family, keep your relationship good with this person. He or she is worth their weight in gold. Here are some things to do to keep this angel from heaven in your life:

Make your expectations reasonable and clear.

Keep mealtimes easy by planning ahead. Pack a snack box with food you want your kids to have. Prep dinner meals so that they can be microwaved or just steamed. Your sitter is not a cook.

Let your child be comfortable with this person, and then go off and do you own thing. Use your time well. Keep an ear open, or, if you are leaving, say goodbye and stay gone until you come back. That in-and-out thing is hard for young children.

Be back from your outing when you say you're going to be back. This helper has a life too, even if it's only meeting her friends at Walgreens to spend her newly earned money on lip gloss.

Don't ask if your child was "good". It's a loaded question, and most people don't want to answer that. You could just ask "How did it go?" and you'll be told what you need to be told. I would also suggest waiting until your child can talk before leaving them with a non-professional or non-relative.

Be abundantly clear about any food allergies your child has. Also be horribly specific about where in the neighborhood your child can be. A few years ago one father told his sitter that the child could go for walks "in the neighborhood"; she took him on the bus across town to her boyfriend's mother's house.

Lay down the law about who may be at the house while you are gone. Maybe the sitter's mom would like to come over for dinner; this might be fine for you. Maybe the sitter's date is "early" to pick up the sitter-- this may not be fine. If it's no friends, no boys/girls, etc, let that person know.

Write down any specific instructions that matter to you. For example, if you need the kids to have a bath before bed, and it's important, write it down. When someone walks into your front door and into your home, their brain is still outside, so merely telling them won't necessarily sink in. Most sitters want a steady gig and repeat business. If this is a mother's helper, keep it simple. No lists. Just play with the kids. That's all.

Above all, and I can't stress how important this is, you need to pay this person for the time scheduled. They have planned to be at your home by a certain time and may have even turned down other jobs to come and work for you, so cultivate some good feeling. So what if you or your spouse are sick and decided to stay home? So what if your mom showed up and "wants to watch the kids for you"? THIS IS NOT THE SITTER'S PROBLEM. If your child is asleep when the sitter arrives, and you want to start a little later, pay them for the time originally scheduled. If you child falls asleep in the stroller, like Joaquin did, a half-hour before our "time" was over, pay them for the full amount of time. I hope I have beaten you over the head with this, but it's for good cause. This is the number one reason I won't want to go back and work for someone again. Nothing makes sitters more unavailable than getting shafted on their time.

Here are some other ways to lose a sitter:

Be weird. Run around in your lingerie and talk about the "hot date" you're going to be having that night.

Talk all about yourself. Try to become their friend, instead of remembering that you are, for that evening, their employer. Tell them how cool you were when you were their age. Better yet, don't leave for the first hour-- make it all about you. (This happened to me as well-- another crazy person I'm never working for again.)

Ask, no--insist-- that they stay and have a nightcap with you when the evening's done. (Well, this is fine if it's a good friend watching your kids, but otherwise...)

Try to set her up with your awkward teenage son or nephew.

Ask what kind of grades they get in school, or if they have a boyfriend, etc. In short, go for the personal questions.

If you're a single parent, go into great detail about the divorce, what a bastard/bitch your ex was/is, and the tramp/gigolo they're dating now. Be sure to give the lowdown on where the custody battle stands, then tell them that the ex will be by to pick up the kids for the weekend. AWKWARD.

Rush in every time your kids sound upset and interrogate the caregiver. Oh, yeah, we like that a lot.

Best of the worst, have your slightly handsy husband, who smells of drink, give the sitter a ride home. UGH.

So, the moral of my story is don't ass out. Be a decent human being/employer, pay your caregiver at the end of the night for the full time you scheduled (don't even ask her to take a postdated check, you loser) and let them do their job when they're there to do it. If you find it's a good fit, great, if not, just don't call them back. Unless they've done something heinous/illegal, in which case, file reports with the police and CPS. Otherwise, let it go and find someone else.

Above all, enjoy what little freedom you'll get. It's worth every penny.


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