Babysitting the Babysitter
I am a new Mom for the second time and have been using the hell out of my used-to-be-adequate sitter. I want to tell you that she’s great and I love her but only the latter is true. I love her, she’s a great kid and lives right next door. The operative word there is “kid”- she’s 12.5 and we are her first gig. As the youngest kid in her family with no prior experience I’m realizing she hasn’t a clue what she is doing. She often forgets to take my oldest to the bathroom, doesn’t feed him and just “can’t” get him to nap. If this wasn’t enough I recently took her along on a shopping trip for an extra set of hands while I tried on clothes and she lost my 3 year old. She treated the trip as if she were on a field trip, not along to help out.
I am going to take her to a infant/kid CPR class since I could use a refresher myself but what do I do about the rest? I don’t really know how to train her. I want to keep her because my son adores her and as I mentioned I do too, I just need her to do a better job. How do I teach her what she needs to know without hurting her feelings? I leave a list for her every time, when to feed, how often to take the boy to pee, what time to nap, and she just doesn’t do it. Do I need to phase her out or can this be saved?
The hard truth: Some 12.5 year old girls are mature and responsible enough to care for younger children. Some –and probably bordering on most — are not, and the consequences can be very bad, beyond a missed nap or potty accident. You got a glimpse of the possibilities on your shopping trip: SHE LOST YOUR THREE-YEAR-OLD CHILD. I’m not even going to tell you what news story and child’s name to Google, even though I imagine most of us know exactly which one I am thinking of. Would this girl have the presence of mind to…I don’t know…call 911 and follow instructions if your child was choking? (Says the mother who gave her toddler son the Heimlich.) Does she know not to throw water on a grease fire? (Says the former teenaged babysitter who accidentally started on while making grilled cheese sandwiches, but who at least knew to cover the pan to put it out.) (SHUDDER.)
I don’t want to sound alarmist, I really don’t, but oh my God, little children can get into SO MUCH TROUBLE, even with a responsible, involved adult sitting RIGHT THERE, in the same room. We all get distracted, we all turn our backs, but if this girl is unable to demonstrate even the basics of competent child-care (food, drinks, potty, bed), I do shudder to think what might happen if something outside that scope happened.
We all put our trust in sitters that they would rise to the occasion instead of panicking or dismissing the problem or hiding the evidence of injury or whatever. So you have to ask yourself if this girl has actually done anything to EARN that level of trust, beyond being essentially, a paid playmate for your son. My first early babysitting gigs generally involved just playing with the kids for an hour or two while Mom ran a single errand or worked outside in the yard — it was a couple years before I was genuinely capable enough to handle meals and bedtimes and the occasional grilled cheese disaster. (I was the baby of the family too, which I do believe makes a BIG difference between me and another 12-year-old with younger siblings.) You might simply be asking too much of her right now, and will need to decide whether you think she has potential to be a great sitter for your children later, or if your current sitter needs demand that you look elsewhere for someone more experienced.
If you DO decide to stick with her and help guide her, here are my suggestions:
1) The CPR training you mentioned is a great idea, provided you think she’d take it seriously. It’s not going to necessarily change the problems you mentioned, unless you ALSO take her to a childcare class, at which point you’re investing an awful lot of time and money in someone else’s child’s babysitting career. But it might prompt her to realize that babysitting IS serious business and open her eyes to what being in charge of someone else’s child can entail.
2) Demote her to Mother’s Helper only, or even pet-sitting. Don’t leave the house the next couple times she comes over and see how well she sticks to the schedule you leave, and stick your nose in whenever needed. Yes, it is like babysitting your sitter — you can pay less during the hours you’re around, depending on how independently she gets the job done.
3) Talk. To. Her. Mother. I would imagine, if you’re having this girl over to your house on a regular basis, that you must be on pretty good terms with her mother, right? Tell her mom some of your concerns, that you LOVE her daughter and your son LOVES her but you think she could really use some guidance on the A, B and Cs of childcare, and with the new baby you simply can’t be the one to help her figure it out. Maybe her mom would be willing to accompany her daughter once or twice to kind of…show her how it’s done so YOU aren’t — again — essentially babysitting your babysitter? I would hope her mom is proud of her daughter’s efforts to earn money and be responsible, and I know when/if my children start caring for neighbor’s children I’d be happy to help them along and make sure they’re not putting diapers on backwards or leaving choking hazards out all over the place.
It’s possible that this girl will be a wonderful babysitter in a year or two. Or three. She might just not be ready yet for anything more involved than coming over to build forts and train tracks with your son. She might still be more “capable playmate” than “authority figure.” And that’s FINE. Sometimes that’s just what you need to get a few basic tasks done around the house. But sometimes you’re going to need someone who can do forts and trains AND get lunch made AND potty AND make naps happen AND clean up the lunch dishes AND toss in a load of laundry. And that’s FINE TOO. You owe it to yourself to have the kind of help you really need, rather than feeling obligated to let this little girl use your kids and household as her training grounds.Published August 16, 2010. Last updated July 22, 2017.