Family Matters Column. Last night we left our kids with a baby for the first time. Okay, well, she wasn’t exactly a baby, but seventeen does seem awfully young. I have to keep reminding myself this lovely fledgling will soon very officially be an ‘adult’ and is biologically capable of bearing babies of her own.
We’ve left our kids with family before. And ayi (our maid in China), but never with an almost-adult.
I must admit, I was a little nervy when we finally tottered out the door in a cloud of perfume and tinkling baubles (me, not Husband). Not because I didn’t think our Babysitter was capable of tucking our kids into bed and reading them a story and even extinguishing a spot fire with our ever-ready extinguisher.
It just that, well – I remember being seventeen. Boy, do I ever. And although I babysat from the age of 11 most successfully and responsibly, I also remember what I was getting up to outside of sitting other people’s kids.
No, I did not expect to find a debauched party scene when we got home last night, but of course, the scene did flash into my conscious mind once or twice during our time at the party, especially when I saw forty-year-olds misbehaving badly.
When we returned, all was well with the world. The children were sleeping soundly, and Miss Seventeen was curled up on the couch under a throw rug. She did a sterling job.
As she headed off and Husband and I tucked ourselves like nannas into bed, it got me thinking that perhaps it’s not just the parents who get nervy when hiring a babysitter for the night. Although it’s too long gone for this crusty old memory to remember every detail, I’m sure I was also nervous as a sitter.
I do remember one family I consistently sat for – two gorgeous little boys – about 18 months and four years old. I remember creeping into the baby’s room every 20 minutes just to be sure the little one was still breathing. Talk about anxiety.
I also remember spilling some juice on the floor and feeling sick with worry the mum would notice a trace of sticky residue under her heels when she came home. I also remember the time a three year old flashed his bum at me after changing into his jammies and being terrified the mother would know I’d laid a glimpse on his little pink cheeks.
Yes, it was fun to babysit but it was also a little unnerving, and it got me to wondering if Miss Seventeen was also a little nervous last night. I did ask her not to wear shoes in the house or use the phone or computer, but that’s about it. I wasn’t Dragon Parent from Hell. I told her to watch what she wanted on tele and eat all the food she desired. I showed her where the fire extinguisher was and listed our numbers by the phone but I didn’t terrify her into mute immobility.
I was kind and went out of my way to make her feel comfortable. I instilled enough behaviour warnings in the kids to curdle their young brains. I didn’t phone home every twenty minutes nor leave a nanny camera in a teddy bear on the shelf.
It’s such a fine line, this trust thing. Which is why I turned to good old Professor Google for some advice (who has better advice than Professor Google?) on Dos and Don’ts for parents and sitters.
Here is what Professor Google said (well, the ones I think are worth heeding):
Before you hire…
- If possible, use a sitter on recommendation
- Use a sitter with experience that corresponds to the needs of your children
- If possible, organise to meet them in advance
- Find out their fees in advance and be sure to have correct money on hand, plus a little more in case you’re late
When the sitter arrives…
- Introduce them to the children and let them spend a short time together
- Take the sitter through the house and show them essentials like exits, phone, safety equipment, children’s equipment, out of bounds areas for sitter and kids
- Show the sitter where contact and emergency phone numbers are listed and ask them not to use your phone in case you need to call
- Tell them you will phone once to check how the kids are behaving (ie: you’re not checking on the sitter, but the kids)
- Make sure you list your home address with the phone numbers, in case the sitter needs to call emergency services
- Also list your names on this paper – first and last names of every family member, plus the children’s ages
- Write down where you will be – name, address and phone number
- Leave written instructions for any medications the children need
- Advise of any food allergies
- Preferably use a sitter who has CPR and first aid
- Organise a place outside to meet if there is a fire
- Tell the sitter a little about each child and what you can expect behaviourally
- Advise them how to handle misbehaviour
- Advise of any food or drink to be given to the children – and what to avoid
- Explain general rules for the children regarding snacks, bedtimes, television, etc
- Tell them the children’s bedtime routine
- Explain the house rules for the sitter very clearly and don’t be nervous about enforcing these
- Tell them what time you expect to be home
After you leave…
- Call home at least once to check on things
- Don’t stash your mobile phone under a pile of coats where you can’t hear it ring; keep it on you
- Call if you’re going to be late
- Have fun!
When you get home…
- Ask the sitter if there is anything to report
- Ask what food was eaten and what specifically happened during your time away
- Take any concerns you have very seriously, and discuss these with the babysitter or their parents
- Make arrangements to escort your babysitter home at night (if required)
- Listen to what your child says about the sitter afterward
This list may seem a little pedantic or obvious, but there are things here I wouldn’t have even thought of (like making sure the sitter knows your full names and address).
We are not the type of parents who go out a lot at night, but when we do, it’s nice to know we can have an enjoyable evening, relatively free of concern. In fact, my only concern for the next party we go to is how to convince Husband it’s MY turn to have unlimited bubbles.
Something tells me I’ll be turning to Professor Google again.
My child is only 3.5 so I’m not ready to leave him with a teenager just yet, but I loved your article. I hope I remember all that when he’s 15 and I am ready to! (Just kidding…)
Tania McCartney says
Our kids are 6.5 and 9 – and even then leaving them with a teen was unnerving. I’m so pleased with how things, went, though – that our sitter is popping over soon for an afternoon session while I go to a function.
I think it’s all about finding the right person and feeling that trust.
I hope you get to go out before your little one turns 15!!!