Then, you have to figure out how to keep ‘em By Whitney Allison SeamanIllustration by Susan Randstrom
Your problem: You'd like to go out on Saturday night, but you don't have anyone to watch your kids. You're frustrated with baby sitters who are irresponsible or unreliable. You are ready to give up finding someone your kids will love and ready to settle for for someone who will supervise. Don't despair. The effort it takes to find and keep a good sitter is worth it. You'll have peace of mind and your kids will be happy. But how to find-and keep-the right person for the job?
1 Be proactive. Let people know you're in the market for sitters. The more options you have, the more likely you are to find the best sitter for your family. Focus on finding a local high school, college or graduate student. Young people are the most energetic and flexible sitters and they make great role models for your kids. Talk to people who spend time with teenagers. Camp counselors frequently baby sit, or have friends who do. High school guidance counselors are also terrific people to approach because they know a lot of bright, motivated teenagers. If you feel your children would benefit from someone older, local universities are filled with students who like to baby sit when they're not at class. Find out who the webmaster is for a local sorority and ask her to forward your e-mail to the house listserv. But be forewarned: one e-mail to a nearby sorority house or one ad in a university newspaper might deluge you with applicants.
2 Do your homework. Check references. Ask potential sitters about their experience. Have they taken any safety courses or baby sitting safety classes? Are they certified in CPR? In general, try to get a feel for their skills and maturity. If you have a baby, make sure the sitter is experienced with infants.
3 Be prepared. Before the sitter arrives, write out your emergency information. List your cell phone, close relatives, family doctors and nearby emergency contacts. Don't forget to include the address and phone number of your home. If there is an emergency, the sitter will need to give that information quickly over the telephone, and won't have time to run outside and look at your house number and street name.
4 Be organized. You were organized about finding and preparing for a sitter, now be organized about using her. Until the sitter becomes familiar with your family and routine, you should take care of meals and baths.
Schedule the sitter ahead of time, for several dates if possible. Calling every six months at the last minute will not indicate you value her services. Don't cancel unless absolutely necessary and consider paying anyway, particularly if you cancel at the last minute. If you frequently cancel, your sitter will feel she has every right to cancel on you, too.
5 Establish boundaries. Any person who is genuinely interested in baby sitting understands his responsibility is to make sure your kids are safe and cared for. He shouldn't expect to spend the time on the phone or invite his friends over, and you shouldn't offer. Parents often feel they need to be especially accommodating to keep sitters happy. Don't be afraid to establish boundaries. Your sitter needs to know your expectations. He'll feel more comfortable if he knows what the rules are, and you can feel comfortable knowing your kids are being well cared for.
6 Pick up and deliver. Even if she has her own transportation. This gives you the chance to relax and talk before you leave. Tell the sitter what your family did that day, how the kids are feeling and what they'd like to do that night. This will give the sitter things to talk about with your kids, and help her think of things to do that evening.
Driving the sitter home gives you the opportunity to hear how your kids reacted to being left with the sitter, when they fell asleep and what they're likely to wake up thinking about the next morning.
7 Turn off the TV. A night full of television can be disastrous when it's bed time. While the TV is on, your kids are transfixed. Once it's turned off, they begin to think about how much they miss their parents. Better to have the kids engaged with the sitter all night, playing games or doing other things, so that they are actually tired by bedtime.
8 Make it fun. Their evening should be about more than having someone there to brush their teeth and turn out the lights. Tell your kids this is their night to do fun things they can't do during the week. They are already out of their usual routines, so let them do something special. Girls might enjoy Spa Night, where they paint their fingernails and curl their hair. Girls and boys like Camera Night, where they each snap a roll of pictures using a disposable camera. If your kids really want to watch a movie, make it into a Movie Night. Have the video laid out next to a bag of popcorn. Set out your kids' slippers and throw some comfortable blankets and pillows onto the couch. Your sitter and your kids will be happy to do it all again.
9 Reassure your kids. Tell your kids you will come in and say good night when you get home. Let them know you want them to have fun while you are away, but that it is important that they listen and be respectful. Reinforce the sitter. Ultimately, your kids will be most reassured when they see that you like and trust your sitter.
10 Keep in touch. Even a Saturday night sitter can become a friend of your family. The time and effort you put into keeping your sitter and your kids happy will be rewarded with a loyal and caring sitter. Get to know the person you are entrusting with the care of your children. Your kids deserve it!
Whitney Allison Seaman is a freelance writer traveling abroad. She recently graduated from Northwestern University, where she spent a lot of time baby sitting for Chicago families.