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Finding a Babysitter

By Amalah

Oh wise Amalah, I could surely use your advice right about now.

A little history first: My husband and I have a son who is 4 ½ (Sept 30,2005!) and another son on the way, due end of July/beginning of August.

We both essentially work full time (him 40hrs/wk, me 30hrs/wk) and our son is currently enrolled in daycare 5 days/wk.

On paper, it looks as though on eves & weekends, we would probably want to spend every waking moment with our lil guy (soon to be 2 lil guys), who we LOVE to death.

But alas, I feel the marital connection between my husband and I is waning. We need a babysitter/nanny/mommy’s helper!

My mom was our sole “date night” caregiver until she passed away unexpectedly last year. She was the absolute best grandma any kid/parent could hope for. Now, I’m lost!

I won’t bore you with all the little details about why none of our friends or other family members are good candidates (in-laws…TOO OLD, little sisters..TOO IRRESPONSIBLE, friends…HAVE THEIR OWN TOTS, etc). I don’t want to do Mommy Trades (“I’ll watch your kid, then you watch mine”).

Bottom line is I want this to be a business transaction. Someone I can call when the need arises, that will come to our home, and who I can pay for their services appropriately.

And off course I want someone that is loving and fun and caring and PERFECT. Can you help me figure out how to find this person? I would prefer someone that can drive themselves and who does not have little ones of their own. This would mostly be weekends only and I don’t want to dip into the kids’ college fund to pay for it.

PS- Craigslist scares the crap out of me so PLEEEEEZE don’t suggest that. Eeeek!

PPS- My pregnancy anxiety has started to wake me up at 3am every night. Because WHO WILL COME TO OUR HOUSE TO STAY WITH OUR 4YR OLD IF I GO INTO LABOR AT 11PM? OR 1AM? OMG OMG Panic Panic!

Thank you Thank you Thank you,
Wide Awake in Washington State


What’s that site again? SITTERCITY.

To each their own and everything, but I do not know how couples make it through a week — much less multiple weeks, much less multiple YEARS — without a reliable babysitter on speed dial. For us, it’s beyond essential. Date nights are beyond essential, even if it’s just a cheap slice of pizza and a beer together and the sitter is the biggest expense of the night. We need it. I need it, even as my workload inches closer to full-time and our nanny spends more hours here during the week. I absolutely love our time as a family of four. I absolutely love our time as a grown-up couple. You have no reason to feel like you need to justify this to me or anyone any further.

So back to finding a sitter. For ages we generally just sort of lucked out with our sitters. (I found them through my BLOG, fine, okay, that’s weird and I know it but they are two of my favorite people in the world, even now that they’ve MOVED AWAY and got awesome jobs or engaged or WHATEVER, I’m not BITTER ABOUT THAT.) Then we bounced around using friends of theirs and friends of those friends before we ever really found ourselves completely sitter-less and needed to start a search from scratch.

A couple years ago I did hire a summer mother’s helper and used Craigslist, and it was exhausting and annoying and time-consuming and I absolutely refused to do that again this time. (Even though the candidates I actually met were quite lovely — it was just such a pain to sift through the hundreds of sub-par responses in order to find them.)

Enter — a site I know I’ve mentioned here before. And full disclosure: They sent me a free one-year membership right when Ezra was born, but it expired before I ever bothered to use it, so we actually paid for our recent experiences with the site. Searching Sittercity was like a breath of fresh air — so many local, serious candidates! Complete bios and photos and available hours and stated rates! Background checks! CPR certifications! Driving records! From high school and college students to full-time professional nannies searching for evening and weekend work! It. Was. Fantastic. We found our nanny within a month, though I think I paid subscription dues for two months because I forgot to put my membership on hold right away. Still: worth every penny.

(And you can search the site before you commit, just to make sure there’s a decent number of candidates in your area. But you need the membership to actually contact anyone or post a job listing.)

Now, of course, we’re looking for a back-up sitter for evenings and weekends when our nanny isn’t available (she’s always happy to work M-F but understandably protective of her Saturdays and Sundays, given that this is her full-time job between us and two other families). And we’ll likely use someone she recommends (she knows a LOT of nannies, SCORE), since she’s proven to be responsible and professional and loves our children — it’s pretty safe to assume she wouldn’t recommend someone her employers wouldn’t be happy with, you know?

So really, the trick is finding that first person. If they work out, chances are finding future sitters will be much easier and a less stressful undertaking. You mentioned your son attends a daycare — many, MANY people I know simply ask the daycare providers if they’re available for evenings and weekends. And many, MANY of those daycare providers are. So that’s a double bonus, because you already know and trust them. And even if they aren’t available or willing, you should still ask them if they have any recommendations. Then: phone interview, in-person interview, check references, background check, DONE.

Or, you know, SITTERCITY DOT COM. LOVE OF MY LIFE. Besides my husband, but since it makes THAT love life more possible, it still wins.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Julie

    April 21, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    I second the asking at day care recommendation. One of the teachers at our daycare actually sent home a flyer advertising her availability as a sitter, but I know many day care providers are willing to be sitters on evenings and weekends, since sadly they’re often underpaid at their main jobs. And if not, the worst that happens is they recommend asking someone else in the building, or say no.
    I am curious to see what others say about the “OMG, pregnant, babysitter for labor!” question, since it’s one that’s crossed my mind and I’m not even pregnant with the second or seriously trying to be – I know that once I am actually pregnant again it will be a top notch obssession. But calling random sitter to ask “Will you be on call for several weeks and be willing to be woken up at 2 am for when I go into labor?” seems a bit… odd. Any thoughts from those who have gone through trying to find someone to take on that role? Fortunately family isn’t too far away, but it would still take them several hours to get here, and asking them to drive that in the middle of the night when they’d be sleep deprived seems like a really bad idea.

  • Michelle

    April 21, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Yes, I totally 100% agree with both of Amy’s suggestions. When my first son was in daycare full-time we just asked our favorite teacher in his class if she was available for babysitting and she was. Yay!
    Enter baby boy #2. Due to a complicated series of events, I work from home full-time. And needed regular help. It seemed silly to keep lugging the boys to daycare. Enter sittercity. It was immensely helpful in finding a part-time nanny (my oldest goes to preschool in the afternoons and the baby “usually” naps then). Granted we are on our 2nd nanny as the first was a college student who got pregannt unexpectedly and ended up on bedrest. But our current nanny? Sent from heaven!!! I am not even kidding a little bit. And she does laundry, washes baby bottles, etc…all without me even asking.
    Of course, our date nights are almost always on Friday since that is the day the nanny is here until 5 anyway. But who cares!
    With using sittercity, I found it more useful to put up a posting of exactly what I was looking for rather than just contacting viable candidates first. I spelled out in explicit detail what I wanted and all deal-breakers. We interviewed 4 candidates in person to see how they interacted with the kids and would have been completely happy with 3 of them.

  • Deanna

    April 21, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I miss babysitting so much. I started babysitting before Sittercity was well known and another good way to meet babysitters can be church if you go. Call the youth minister and ask for recommendations. S/He should know which ones are responsible and have their own cars.

  • Debbie

    April 21, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    For canadian readers:
    and even:
    I’m a former nanny and I *only* used Canadian Nanny in my job searches. I loved that site and never would use any other if I were to begin searching for a nanny position again.

  • kate

    April 21, 2010 at 1:12 pm is another similar site. And we totally use our daycare provider as our babysitter. It works GREAT!

  • bec

    April 21, 2010 at 1:19 pm

    THANK YOU!!!!!! I have a 15-month-old son, with no family and only a few friends in the area. My husband and I have had only a few nights out over the past year, and then only because my sister was visiting. I just took a look at Sittercity, and I think our babysitting prayers have been answered!!

  • Lisa M

    April 21, 2010 at 1:26 pm

    I only ask my daycare provider if it’s something right after work, because she has her own life, too, with her kids and lacrosse practices, swimming practices, school plays, etc. BUT, she also has a teenage daughter (who is leaving for college in a couple weeks) that we have been taking advantage of whenever my mom can’t watch our boys.
    Now I must set a reminder to ask that girl if she has friends she would recommend, because I wouldn’t have thought of that. Duh!
    But I will also try sitter-city, because, well…we need to get out more.

  • Belle

    April 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    I would also totally recommend Mommy Mixer!
    I babysat all through college and still do on the occasional weekend or week night. This is how I found two of my favorite families EVER, so it was a wonderful and pleasant experience for me, but I know it was for them also. They both came to consider me family and trusted me. I know moms pay a fee to join, and then you can sift through resumes or even attend mixers where you can meet some girls in person.
    It’s only in certain cities, but I think it’s expanding… so check out if it is where you are!

  • Belle

    April 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Just posted a long comment about how is and it didn’t post.. but long story short, it’s amazing! Check the website out and see if they have it in your city!

  • T

    April 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

    A church youth group can be a good source, but I also highly recommend a local college student. I think a lot of schools have job posting web boards for things like these. If you find a college sitter you love, and she (or he) isn’t available on a particular occasion, she has many, many friends at her disposal. We had a lovely summer sitter last year who was unavailable this summer, but sent an email out to her sorority and I had 10 promising candidates within 2 hours.

  • Ms. K

    April 21, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    Not to bust the Sittercity bubble, I’m glad to know it’s worth it. But – I am a big fan of Craigslist. We found our wonderful, reliable, resourceful, hardworking nanny on Craigslist. We didn’t post an ad – just answered ads posted by nannies and sitters looking for work. I’m not sure why you would be scared of Craigslist, as you should put the same amount of effort into checking references for any set of sitters/nannies you might interview, no matter where they come from (sittercitty or anywhere else.)
    There also may be parent-oriented neighborhood listserves in your area where people recommend sitters they have had good experiences with. Also a good source.

  • Brooke

    April 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    You need a sibling doula for when you deliver. A sibling doula is a birth doula that you hire to watch your already born child(ren) while you are in labor.
    The one we hired was in training as a labor doula. She was great. I was fine having her around while I was in labor because she was a doula, so not going to be freaked out about me being in labor. She wasn’t super cheap, of course, but she was on call to come whenever I needed her, just like if she were the birth doula. Which was good since I went into labor at 2:30 on Saturday morning.
    Also, I am really sorry about your mom. You must miss her terribly, especially right now.

  • JCF

    April 21, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    I can only speak from using from the babysitter end, but I had an awesome experience. The summer before I got married, my teaching job hadn’t started yet, and I needed to save some money. I found a wonderful family with a delightful little girl whom I adored. It was really easy to use, and although I went on two interviews that were frustrating and didn’t work out for various reasons, I did find a job quite quickly. Now that I have kids of my own, I’d totally use the service (that is, when my husband is no longer a full time unemployed graduate student).

  • Muirnait

    April 21, 2010 at 5:47 pm

    As a student, I definitely recommend looking for a student 😉 heh. I love kids, and I find that people don’t ask me as much now that I’m out of high school One of the main things with students, I think, though, is to be willing to offer (even a little) more than minimum wage – I think it makes a difference in the caliber of candidate you can attract and maintain. And of course, references, references, references!!

  • beth

    April 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    (jumping around, waving) I’m on sittercity!! Hi! 🙂 is another good one. My only suggestion is to be up front about your needs. I’ve had a couple familes “ooo la la soo easy, and GREAT kids, and you don’t have to do ANYTHING and we’re going to THROW money at you” and then. Um, no. It wasn’t that any of the request were unreasonable, they just hadn’t been part of my decision making process (read: they wanted salve labor for about that much pay) I’ll work my butt off if you’re nice, normal, and pay me reasonably.
    Good Luck!!

  • Cas

    April 21, 2010 at 6:10 pm

    I second the college student route. If you live near any sort of university or community college, contact the career service center. One near us has a book of just babysitting job postings. I have used it many times and am able to put what I need: someone who drives, tolerates pets, doesn’t smoke, etc. Most of my babysitters have turned out to be early ed majors – perfect match. The one downside – they all graduate and move away:( If you can get a freshman you at least get 4 years from them!

  • Heidi

    April 21, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    On the subject of what to do with the older child … we were in a similar position, and I sometimes think the all-consuming worry about this is what sent me into labor with Son #2 a month early. If I’d known about sibling doulas, I probably would have looked into it.
    But I’m going to bring up another alternative: having the older child there for the birth. That’s what we ended up doing, just because the water broke, no plan was in place, there was no time to figure anything out, and the baby came seven hours later. Not what I would have chosen–and it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, it was kind of nice. I had an epidural so was pretty relaxed, husband and Son #1 (almost 4 at time) hung out with me, had snacks, explored the hospital, played games, watched TV in the room. When it was time to push, we made sure son was absorbed in a movie.
    It wasn’t a very “couple-y” birth, but it was our second, after all. Besides, we were so freaked out by the early arrival and just wanted to get the baby out so we could know if he was OK. So I don’t know that we felt the loss of anything. And now Son #1 can always say he was there for his brother’s birth, even though it didn’t really register with him because everyone in the room helped us keep it pretty low key.
    Anyway, just bear in mind that even if you don’t get your s#&* together in time to make other plans, this is a not-awful possibility. Or just see my situation as a cautionary tale about getting your s#&* together early because babies can surprise you.

  • Liz

    April 21, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    I was totally hesitant about using Sittercity but was at my wits end looking for a reliable nanny. I asked so many people for recommendations but nothing ever came through so I got a membership and I have been VERY impressed with the site.
    We have a 23 month old daughter and are expecting #2 in a few weeks so it was important for me to have some help around the house in the last months of pregnancy. I also wanted to find someone that my daughter liked so it wouldn’t be such a shock when I’m in the hospital and after the new baby comes home, having a nanny around helping out.
    I set up a posting and let people apply to me, then decided who I wanted to interview. I liked interviewing them alone first, outside of my home (because I am distrustful and don’t want to invite a total stranger to my house) so I could see how I felt about them. Then, if I liked the person, I’d invite them for a 2nd meeting at my house to meet my daughter and see how they interacted together.
    I’ve had 2 nannies off the site–the first didn’t work out and now our 2nd is wonderful. We love her. Highly recommend it. Worth the $$ for the membership for sure.
    Also, just a suggestion–we have written up a contract detailing what is expected of our nanny and what she can expect from us in return. I feel better having everything explicitly laid out in writing so there are no questions for either party.

  • Jen

    April 21, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    We are in the process of searching for a nanny to watch our 6 month old twins. We put an ad on Sittercity and were inundated with interest almost immediately. We have narrowed it down from about 40-50 to 8 viable candidates, and are going through the more in-depth interview process now. It is a tad overwhelming, and there are lots of great-sounding people practically begging to watch our kids.
    However… I have never hired anyone to do anything ever so I am sorta blindly stumbling through this. If you have recommendations on interview questions, red-flags, bugaboos to watch for, etc. that would be sensational. Of course, that is probably a whole ‘nother post.

  • E

    April 22, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I just visited SitterCity and noticed that they have free membership for military families (including members of the Guard and Reserve).

  • Ree

    April 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I’m in a college town and use sitter city to find local students to watch my two-year-old. We found a regular day time baby sitter who also helped out when I went into labor a month early with #1.
    Because it was a surprise, we ended up taking our daughter to the hospital for a few hours, then dropping her back home with the baby sitter. This was also before Christmas, so we scrambled and brought some of her presents to the hospital for entertainment (new toys were not as exciting as pushing the buttons on mommy’s bed, sorry to say).
    So I’d recommend, if you go the baby sitter during labor route, find someone now so your child will be familiar with her by the time you go into labor. It really seemed to help our kid.

  • Chaya

    April 22, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    A lot of great suggestions for finding an evening sitter. I am sure you thought of this, but asking any mom friends\acquaintances, especially ones who are native to where you live or have lived there a long time, they should have some ideas for responsible older teens\college students, maybe even ones they use occasionally themselves. Or are people possessive of those numbers?
    Also, as far as birth is concerned, we don’t have local family, so we had complicated contingency plans, that involved friends that we wouldn’t use for regular baby-sitting, who would do something like this as a favor, including shifts-this person was ok being called in the middle of the night, but needed to be at work at this time, so would take the kid to a neighbor who would take the kid to pre-school, by which time hopefully either my husband or my parents (they live 6 hours away) could be around. Oh, but there were afternoon contingencies too (after care, play-dates, who could pick up and put too bed, which wans’t the same as the middle of the night people). Ok i m stressing you out more, it was a little complicated. But worked…friend came in middle of the night, got my 3yo dressed in the a.m. (who didn’t even ask where we were?!), took her to a classmate’s home at about 6:30, when we knew that their kids wake up, who drove her to school. We were calling in regularly, pretty much except when i was pushing. and if i remember correctly, my husband picked her up from preschool at 1:00. My point is, though, that those plans can include people (like mom friends, single friends, even slightly irresponsible relatives) in ways that you wouldn’t do for regular constant babysitting. If that made any sense.
    Good luck!!!!

  • Heather

    April 23, 2010 at 10:20 am

    I couldn’t agree more about It’s the best! THE BEST. Get there.

  • Lisa

    April 23, 2010 at 12:57 pm is another great resource to hire babysitters. There is a free preview and you can search throughout the United States and Canada.

  • Rachel

    April 23, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Sending my condolences to you for the loss of your mother. I can’t imagine how tough that would be at this time of your life, especially since it was unexpected.
    I don’t have kids yet, but when I was in high school I baby-sat a lot for people at my church. They knew me and my parents (many of them actually watched me grow up; my family went to the same church from before my birth till I was halfway through college), I had my own car & drivers license on my 16th birthday, and they trusted me. I think I usually got paid somewhere between $40 and $60 on an average evening, so I imagine it’s a little cheaper than an actual nanny. Also, as someone else mentioned, a college student could be a great sitter as well, especially an early education major.
    Good luck!!

  • Stacey

    April 24, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    My mom has always sworn by the 12-year-old babysitter. Old enough to know what they’re doing and stay out fairly late, young enough to not have a life (read: always available on weekends) and not charge an arm and a leg. The only downaide is that they can’t drive, so you might be limited to whoever’s in your neighborhood.

  • Candi

    April 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm could be a great option for your childcare needs. You can login and contact babysitters that are of interest to you – find 3 or 4 you like – and just keep them on file – to call when you need them. There is an online investigation service to run background checks and also sample interview questions, a sample reference form and a sample contract.