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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mom Matters: Finding (And Keeping) a Great Babysitter

I have a great deal of experience with managing childcare.  I've gone the route of full time day care (didn't last long), paid preschools, enlisting family to help, Parent Day Out part time care, and the nanny/babysitter route along with hybrids of both.  For my current elementary aged kiddos, I only need childcare during the summer time.  Since we moved last year, I had to locate and hire a new summer babysitter for my crew.  I'm happy to say, we found a new sitter and a new family friend.

It can feel daunting, but you can set yourself up for the best results by sticking to the following steps:

1. Find referrals to locate a fabulous girl and be clear about what you need.

As you prepare to need a sitter or nanny, use your current contacts to ask about those who may be interested.  I have found the most reliable sitters through our church, but have also hired off Craigslist and the daughter of an acquaintance.  It makes all the difference in the world to have someone you trust give you the name of someone they trust, but still - do a background check.  I was able to get them for around $49 online.

Think about what you will need so that you can articulate to a potential sitter what you will expect.  For instance, can she provide transportation to classes or activities for all your children?  Is she willing to do work on learning skills?  Is she willing to prepare meals and help with cleanup?  How will she handle sick days?  Does she have any time scheduled to be away?

2. Establish a pay scale in your budget, then negotiate.

Do some research and find out what is reasonable pay for your area, determine if you can truly afford it.  Establish what you are willing to pay and then ask a candidate if she is willing to provide the needed duties for that compensation.

For example, my budget allows me to pay $75 per day (seven hour day).  My sitter needs to be able to transport three children to occasional activities, church functions or boredom-busting events like $1 movie morning.  The costs or fees are covered by us in addition to sitter compensation.

3. Set expectations and deliver what you promise

If promptness is important, make that clear, and be prompt about your return time.  If you come home a half hour early, compensation should not be adjusted.  In fact, if you suddenly don't need her for a day, she should not be penalized.  However, scheduled time "off" need not be compensated unless this is a full time position including paid vacations.

The way this works in real life may look like this: Sitter lets me know weeks in advance that she will be unavailable on dates x, y, z so she can attend a wedding.  I let her know at the beginning of the summer that we will be away for vacation for the week of ----.  These situations are planned ahead and noncompensatory.  However, if I find out that next week the children will be spending the night with Aunt Mindy and we don't need childcare, I let my sitter know, but do not dock her pay.  Another example may be that on Tuesday night I realize that I'll be staying home with a sick baby on Wednesday.  I'll call the sitter and she'll get the day off, but I will pay her for the time she was scheduled to come.

Communicating about these issues makes things so much easier for me and the my sitters have always appreciated it.  Loyalty is important when establishing a relationship with a sitter, so I have found that over-explaining is better than leaving questions out there.

On a final note, let her know clearly when you will pay her.  Will it be daily? weekly? monthly?  I need to track childcare costs for tax and support purposes and so I let her know up front that the income will be reported.

4. Endorse the sitters authority

My children know that when I'm gone, she is in charge.  She is aware of our family rules and schedule and I expect her to enforce them.  She children cannot try to side me against her, I will take her side and her word.

5. Begin and end each session with a realistic chat.  

In order to keep communication flowing, be sure to welcome the sitter with a plan and instructions for the day/time period.  For me, this included general schedule, menu, etc.  Upon returning, I go out of my way to ask if there were any troubles or discipline issues, then ask a few more probing questions: What can I do to make the time work best with the children and a sitter?  Especially in those first few weeks, I like to ask if there have been power struggles or sibling incidences. Are the children treating her respectfully?  Do they need more outdoor activities?  Are they cooperating with the menus and chores?  What does the sitter need from me?  Let her know you on her team for a good relationship with your children.

Ask about her life beyond your children.  Encourage her where you are pleased and be clear about areas you need her to step up.  It doesn't happen instantly, but the best sitters eventually become like extended family members. They add to the family support dynamic and provide you with the freedom to pursue things beyond your little ones.

If you find a sitter who loves your children, is reliable and communicate well - keep her around! Think of little ways to encourage her and communicate your respect:

  • Have the children do something fun for her birthday.
  • Provide a holiday bonus or gift card.
  • Keep her favorite snacks handy.
  • Provide great references, when she needs it.
  • Let her know your schedule well in advance.
  • Include her in family celebrations, if she lives far from home.

Do you employ a regular babysitter?  What do you do for occasional childcare needs?  Do you remember any fabulous sitters from your own childhood?