If You Want the Best….

Allow me to present you with a scenario:

A church group meets at one of its members’ homes to receive a missionary’s presentation. The group is made up of young families with few teenagers. Their meeting will take nearly 3 hours including dinner, so they need someone to take care of the kids.

The original number of children was between 8-10, and two babysitters were asked to be there. At the last minute, interest spread and more families joined in. Now there were roughly 20 children, and a third babysitter was found.

Dinner was provided, and then the children were sent downstairs for arts, dress-up, and Anastasia (which, by the way, was not an appropriate choice).

Tempers flared when it was made clear that the weather did not permit outdoor play. There was a brief reprieve to join the adults while the missionary gave a presentation of his country’s musical instrument history, but for the most part the children were stuck in the basement.

At last the evening drew to a close. While coats and boots were collected and people started to shift toward the door, the babysitters stood unobtrusively to one side and watched the awkwardness build.

The original babysitter’s contact, who had pointed her to the event, finally took notice of the girls. She had made her rounds to discuss with and collect from the other parents their payment. Money changed hands like both sides were guilty of something, and the amount was not counted until retreats had been made.

The money had been split in half, between the last-minute babysitter and the other two, who were myself and Nina.

The other babysitter got $25.00. Nina and I each got $12.50.

For 3 hours and one-third of 20 rowdy children crammed into a basement.

People do not understand the value of babysitters.

For the sake of avoiding confusion, we’ll call my “contact to the above event” Shelly. Before that evening (which was almost a year ago now), I had babysat Shelly’s 2 children for a couple years. She and her husband have always paid me well and are careful to make sure I know how much they appreciate me.

I didn’t say anything to Shelly about the events of that fateful night. Not until she called me a couple weeks later to set up a time for me to watch her kids again.

I had already mulled over the issue and, mustering my resolve, I addressed it with her.

It was easier than I had hoped because Shelly is a very open, understanding person. She heard me out, apologized, and then asked me what I thought would be a good solution in future. I was not blaming her, but I have learned that things cannot change if people do not point out the current system’s flaws.

I also know that what happened was not Shelly’s fault. She led the collection and contributed significantly to the amount, because somehow it slipped the other parents’ minds. When Shelly ended up with $50.00 for the three of us, at least one parent was surprised and asked if that was too much.

I beg your pardon? That’s roughly $0.83/child per hour. Split three ways.

What planet do you live on?

Here is another scenario:

Being the holiday season, Jo and I have been careful to keep our weekends open. Inevitably, someone from church will realize belatedly that they need a babysitter and call upon us, because we’ve developed a reputation for being reliable and flexible. Also, we both are careful to be honest with parents about how their children behave. Turns out, parents appreciate that.

Jo was musing recently about which family of the few she normally sits for she would rather sit for this year. The pros and cons list kept coming back to how well each family tends to pay.

This has been a growing issue for us. Years ago, before we became aware of how valuable our time and flexibility was, we would accept whatever amount parents deigned to grace us with. When asked, “How much do you normally charge?” we would shrug shyly and say whatever they thought was best worked for us. Back when we were teens, this worked well enough and we didn’t question it.

Now we do.

I am not saying this because I believe, as an adult a little removed from the traditionally average babysitter age, I believe my time is worth more. I am saying this because I believe it needs to be said.

Parents who hire a babysitter are not just getting a young friend or relative to keep their children from killing each other. Parents have chosen someone they trust to be responsible for the lives of their children.

What is that worth to you?

Yes, there are variables to consider:

  • Does the babysitter need a ride, or can she drive herself to and from your house?
  • Is she driving your children to any events?
  • Is she driving a significant distance, late at night, or in bad weather?
  • Do any of the children have special needs?
  • Are you feeding your babysitter?
  • Will any or all of the children be sleeping for the majority of the time?

But none of these are an excuse to pay even less for one of the most under-appreciated jobs I know.

To parents seeking a babysitter, here’s what I wish I could say:

True, I don’t have any special certifications. I understand the principles of CPR but I don’t have any training in it. I have read plenty of books but I haven’t taken any courses. 

I am happy to let your kids run a little wild so long as they are having fun and not breaking anything. I have seen the looks of mingled confusion and terror when you turn from pulling on your coat and the kids are already hanging off my arms and clamoring for attention when they’re normally so well-behaved.

I get it. Many of you have known me since I was a kid. I’m more like a friend to you than someone with whom you’re doing business. I probably go to church with you, so it’s awkward to ask for another $10 because what you gave me will barely cover my gas expenses. You hand me a wad of cash or a check (again like we’re guilty of something) and ask if it’s okay and I don’t check. I just nod and smile. 

But guess what? 

I am flexible. If you give me 2 days’ notice I’ll try to make it work, because I love your kids. Also, they keep asking me to come back.

I don’t need a ride, and I can stay out late. I can cook food and I’m good about cleaning up after myself.

I’m not afraid to discipline your children, and I always report their behavior, good and bad, to you. I’m easy-going, down to brushing off the bruise I got when your son kicked me in the face and almost broke my glasses.

I have practical experience in dealing with injuries and awkward questions (like, you know, “What is rape?”), I love children’s literature and am in-the-know with geeky things like Minecraft, and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and be silly.

Why do you think your kids beg for me to come back? It isn’t because I let them do what they want. It’s because I know my stuff, and I am upbeat and fun when I work with your kids. This is my job. I know what I’m doing

Also, I have experience calling 9-1-1 and reacting calmly (if a little oddly) in apparently dangerous situations. I’ll even save the dog if I can.*

What about those of you who called me in on a recommendation or when your normal babysitter couldn’t make it? To me, that’s worth more than having been in your Sunday school class. It says a lot if you trust what a friend or coworker said when you asked for the best for your kids.

I ask you again: what am I worth to you?

I am not (just) taking care of your dog. I am not watching your house. I am taking care of your offspring.

Is it too much to ask for $10/hour (minimum), even if the kids go to bed two hours in? What about a tip when you decide to stay out late and you know I won’t say no?

You aren’t just getting some polite young woman with a little experience in wrangling children. You have chosen someone with whom you trust the safety – the lives – of your children. (Ask yourself: would you feel a little better if the apocalypse hit and you knew they were with me?)

If I still babysit for you, it’s probably both because I enjoy it and because you pay well. However, I no longer say “Whatever works” when a parent asks how much to pay me. And if you do the research, you’ll find I don’t even ask the average rate.

Food for thought.


*That is a story for another time….

A side note:

I love Anastasia. I believe it is woefully under-appreciated. For starters, Anastasia is voiced by Meg Ryan. I particularly enjoy Jo’s impersonations of the Bartok the bat. However, this is not a good choice for an audience with a majority under 7 year old.

For starters, the villain sold his soul to the Devil and has set his demons to hunt down and violently kill the main character by any means possible. You know, like he did to her family years before.

This results in an explosive train wreck, a collapsing bridge, an animated giant horse statue, and lots of fire.

Add to that, the love interest is a con man. (We love him, but it’s a bit complex for kids.)

The only way I could get one little girl to stop crying was to promise her an adorable puppy would soon appear.


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