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Should a Babysitter Just Babysit or Do More?

Should a Babysitter Just Babysit or Do More?

By Kelcey Kintner

People often ask me how I get anyone to babysit for our 5 kids so my husband and I can go out at night. It’s easy. I just tell the sitter I have two kids and after we are already out, I text her, “Oh by the way, there are three more kids sleeping upstairs!”

Okay, I haven’t done that. Yet. The truth is – it’s not hard to find sitters at all. We usually hire teenagers (age 16 and up) and it’s a great gig. We put our 2 year old to sleep, our 5 year old twins go to bed shortly after we leave and that pretty much leaves watching TV and playing some games with our two tween daughters until they go to bed. And then lots and lots of free time until we arrive home.

But it’s when we do get home that I can get just a little bit irritated.

Because we walk into a kitchen filled with dirty dishes and a living room with scattered boardgames and toys… And our sitter on the couch – happily texting.

In fact, almost every Saturday night, we go out and almost every Saturday night, we come home to the same mess. And I just don’t get why the babysitter doesn’t take a 10 minute break from the iPhone or watching TV to neaten up.

I’m not looking for her to be on the floor scouring or reorganizing our pantries.  But throw the dishes in the dishwasher, put the games away and straighten a few pillows.

Back when I used to babysit (long, long ago. Like medieval times.), this was common practice. At least for me and my high school friends. We had jobs where we played with kids, tucked them in and then basically got to watch TV and eat other people’s snacks for the rest of the night. If they had cable too, I was in heaven!

But I always straightened up and cleaned the dishes during the commercials.  Even though no one asked me to do it. Because I figured it was part of my job. And because I wanted to make sure I got hired again.

But we employ a lot of sitters and very rarely does anyone do this. Okay, never.

I try to reason with myself….

They are there to save my kids in the event of an emergency! True, but any reason they can’t wipe down the counters while waiting for the emergency?

They are there to babysit, not clean. Perhaps but any sitter during the day would always be responsible for cleaning up a bit and maybe even folding kids’ laundry.

They are not mind readers. Why don’t you just ask them to do it? This is valid. But for some reason, I feel awkward asking them to do light housekeeping chores when I’m out galavanting around town.

But it’s true. People aren’t mind readers. And sure, I’d like my sitters to have a magical work ethic that would immediately propel them to neaten up, but you know what? Maybe I need to communicate exactly what I want in a very nice way.

Like, “Hey, once you get the kids to sleep if you wouldn’t mind just throwing these dishes from their dinner in the dishwasher and putting away the games they played with.  Thanks!”

See that wasn’t so hard.

And I’d be happy to pay them a few extra bucks for doing it.

Plus maybe I’m teaching them a valuable lesson about going the extra mile for any job.

So what do you think? Do you expect a babysitter to only care for your children or do you want them to do some associated light clean up too? Thoughts?

Kelcey Kintner
About the Author

Kelcey Kintner

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog 

Kelcey Kintner, an award winning journalist and freelance writer, is a fashion critic for US Weekly, created the humor blog The Mama Bird Diaries and writes for the Huffington Post. You can follow her @mamabirddiaries or on Facebook. She’s still trying to fit 5 kids on a Vespa. 

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Comments

  • Chris

    I would expect a teenage evening babysitter to tidy up what ever was used while she was there (toys, snack dishes,etc).  If she was unfamiliar with the house and where things belong, at least stack dishes in the sink and put toys in some sort of order.  I would not expect her to clean or tidy whatever was untidy before she arrived (dishes from the dinner served before she arrived, unfolded laundry, etc). If she did, she deserves extra appreciation!
     
    As a teenage babysitter, I remember some homes were completely picked up before I arrived and it was easy to tidy whatever came out while I was caring for the kids.  That’s how I tried to leave our home when we had a babysitter for our kids. Other homes were left in a mess as the parents rushed to get out for a well deserved break.  I tried not to judge, but at the same time , it was hard to know what to pick up and where to put it, so I only dealt with the stuff that came out on my watch.

    Chores for a regular daytime sitter/nanny situation should be negotiated between the parents and the sitter.

  • robink

    I would expect the babysitter to clean up after herself, and maybe the little ones. it sounds like the little ones are in bed though so your tween daughters should probably put their own dishes in the dishwasher and pick up their own games. 

    • Agree that the tweens can be a part of the clean up too!

  • Cheryl S

    I would expect a babysitter to clean up what she messed up.  Games, toys, crayons, dishes from snacks, etc.

    I would not expect her to do dishes that were already in the sink when she got there or clean anything that was already a mess.  If you messed it up, you clean it up.

    • Kerry

      Not sure the babysitter is the one leaving toys and games out…. I think tween girls (and even little ones) are MORE than capable of cleaning up those things. 

      I do think it’s reasonable for babysitters to clean up any dishes created while the parents are gone, putting away leftovers, wiping down counters, that type of thing.

      • Kate

        It’s absolutely reasonable for them to do these tasks; it’s not reasonable to expect them to do it without being asked, to just intuit what needs to be done. 

        • Absolutely agree that tweens can take responsibility for putting stuff away. And yes Kate, communication is the key!

  • Raia

    In my babysitting days (also ages ago), picking up and cleaning dishes was part of the deal as well. I would certainly appreciate, and generously pay, a sitter who does but I am careful to be clear about expectations. We have two kids and don’t ask the sitter to put them to bed typically, so I just ask that they tidy up whatever mess was made while they were there, including dinner dishes if they made dinner. I am curious to see what others say – its a great question! 

    • It’s kind of like any job – your boss always appreciates when you leave a neat work area, right? Thanks for your comment. 🙂 

  • R

    If you have tween kids, why can’t that be part of the routine you tell the babysitter? Everyone eats dinner, everyone picks the kitchen afterward. Everyone plays games, everyone puts away the games. Then bed.

  • Jenny

    Yeah, I’d tell my kids, in front of the babysitter that they need to pick up the dishes and their toys before going to bed.  More than likely the babysitter will get the hint and help.  

  • Kay

    I do think the main issue is one of communication, really.  SHOULD it be the norm for them to do it like it was back in your day?  Eh, maybe, sure.  IS it the norm?  Apparently not.  Therefore, you’re better off acting within your understanding of what the norm actually is and clearly communicating what your expectations are at the beginning than hoping it will occur to them and seething when it doesn’t.

  • Kate

    Of course ask her to do it, and you shouldn’t need to pay extra. Teenagers are not used to cleaning up around their own homes, so they don’t see a sink full of dirty dishes or a messy playroom as a task to be done; it probably doesn’t even register with them. So make a list: -dishes clean and put away, – toys put away, whatever else. What’s the girl going to say, no? 

    Honestly, when I was a teen babysitting late into the night, I was SO BORED watching random TV shows til the parents came home. I’d have been fine with a few additional tasks while “on the clock.” 

    • I think you’re right. And a list is a great idea. 

  • Jordana

    I always tell the sitter I don’t want to come home to a mess. I tell them the girls know where things go and to make sure they put things away and put dishes in the sink. I notice if they wind up in dishwasher (they rarely do) and give bonus points. But part of hiring a sitter is coming home to a house that looks like it did when I left it and kids who are asleep.

  • Stephanie

    I’ve been babysitting/nannying since I was 13, 27 now. If the parents don’t ask for anything specific, I make sure that dishes from dinner are cleared up, put in the dishwasher unless it’s full, in that case rinsed off and stacked neatly in the sink. I make sure that toys are picked up in the living area, and anything that they played with in their rooms goes back generally where it came from. I’m not about to clean someone’s house for them, they’d have to pay me a lot more for that, but like I learned in Brownies you should leave everything a little better than you found it. Babysitting is watching the kids and part of that is getting them to clean up/cleaning up after them. 
    If your sitter doesn’t do this, you need to speak up and lay out your expectations. If after that, she ignores you, get a new sitter and this time make those expectations known right from the beginnning.

    • Can I hire you?!! 🙂 I think you are absolutely right. Clear communication is the key. And it does make it easier if you do it right from the beginning. 

      • Stephanie

        Actually you could if you were in the right area- I’m between gigs right now while taking classes, not looking for anything long-term though as I’m due in July with my husband’s and my first baby. ECD certified too! Lol

  • Kerry

    The funny thing is, a lot of teenage girls naturally do these things because their parents taught them common courtesy. I intuitively cleaned up whenever I babysat, which was every weekend! I didn’t want the parents to think I was some slob just sitting around.

    On the other hand, it REALLY depends on the tone used if a parent asks a babysitter to do chores. As another commenter said, I would ask the kids to make sure dishes and toys get cleaned up, and sweetly ask the babysitter to supervise. Yes, you’re paying the sitter for their time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are your kids’ personal maid.

    • Agree. They are definitely not a personal maid and should never be treated that way.  But I do think they can help and oversee clean up so the house looks neat when we get home. And you’re right – tone is everything!

  • I’ve had babysitters leave milk and other perishables out, and I mostly stopped asking my sister to babysit because she invariably leaves the dirty diapers open on the changing table! (She’s in her late twenties. She knows better. I have no explanation for that one.) So I feel you.

    We currently have a toy pick-up time as part of the bedtime routine – my husband has an alarm on his phone that goes off ten minutes before bedtime and then my kids (who are six and three) have to put their toys away, with our help. (Yes, they threw fits for the first week or so, but with both of us being firm about it they gave in eventually.) So if the babysitter follows the routine I give her, the toys get cleaned up.

    If she (or he) puts away leftovers and does the dishes, that’s nice, but it doesn’t bug me that much if she doesn’t. Some people are really picky about loading the dishwasher, after all, so she might be worried about doing it wrong.

    • Kate

      We’re on our third and my husband still leaves the dirty diaper on the changing table. I honestly think he’s so focused on getting the baby redressed (we have wigglers) that by the time that’s taken care of he’s forgotten about the diaper.

  • Alison

    I am a career nanny (I’m 30 now; I started when I was a teen). Even when I was a teenage babysitter I would clean the kitchen and make sure the living areas were picked up, even if it was a mess when I got there. If there was any laundry lying around I would put it where it went (dirty laundry in the laundry room; clean laundry folded and centrally located). I went the extra mile because it pays off; I was employed by one family exclusively for ten years, and my current family feels I’m worth keeping around even though I now bring my own infant to work with me.

    Even though it would be nice if every babysitter thought like this, it might be worth asking for the little extras, then making it known how much you appreciate it when it does get done.

  • Brigitte

    I remember when I was a teenager heading out for a night of babysitting, my mom clearly instructed me that I was to leave the house at least a smidge tidier than I found it.  That meant doing the dishes if I gave the kids dinner, tidying anything we had used, and maybe finding one extra little thing to tidy or doing any extra dishes I found in the kitchen.  I don’t think I would have thought of this myself and I’m glad she spelled it out for me.

    Having worked with teenagers myself in my professional days, I definitely agree that you should just spell it out for them.  Most teens are happy to comply if only they understand the expectations.  Sometimes it takes several repetitions or extra clarity before they understand, though!

  • I grew up with very picky cleaners-I.e. Get out of my way and let me do it lol. So I was always very careful about what I did in other people’s houses. That being said, I’d wash my own dishes/help the kids clean up their stuff, so at least the house looked like it did when I arrived.

  • Joanna

    When I babysat (mid-90’s) I always washed any dishes that the kids and I dirtied (and would often do a few more if there were just a few in the sink…I didn’t usually do a sink full of dirty dishes that were there when I arrived). I also picked up anything that we got out and generally tried to leave things neat. I will say that this is something that my parents drilled into me when I first started babysitting…from their point of view anything else would have been unacceptable. But, I can see that it might not be intuitive to some teens…they are used to being guests at other peoples’ houses, and you don’t usually do dishes when you’re a guest. So, I think it may be up to setting expectations, as much as one would hope that they will just do it!

  • Susan:)

    I used to babysit a lot while I was high school and college. I would definitely clean up anything that the kids or I used or got out while I was there, such as dinner dishes or games. I mostly babysat at night, so after putting the kids to bed, I would try to tidy up around the house a bit. But yeah, that was awhile ago, before cell phones and texting!  I didn’t watch tv while sitting, mainly because I didn’t want to wake the kids. I usually read a book if I had nothing else to do. 

    I think that if you want the house to be cleaned up, you definitely need to tell the sitter what your expectations are, in a nice way of course. I would expect tidying up whatever went on during the sitting job is a reasonable expectation. If you want more done, such as laundry or extra cleaning, then I would categorize that as mother’s helper, and they get paid more. 

  • Emma

    I was a babysitter/nanny for 12 years. I would try to clean up what the kids messed up. Just be specific about what you expect from a sitter. Show them where your counter spray is, if you want the floor swept, etc.

    If you expect them to clean up the (already messy) playroom and fold laundry please pay extra.

    Honestly, most kids should be cleaning up their own toys and putting their plates in the sink by 3/4. Teach your kids well. Tell the sitter to enforce your rules!

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  • Steph

    I baby sat through highschool and nannied through college. I always thought that cleaning up after the little ones and my self was part of the job. I felt so horrible for thee last family I babysat for (friends of my brothers) when they came home and saw that I had put up the toys and done the little guys dishes, they said they had never had a sitter do that before. It took me months to convince the mom on my longest nanny job that I was more than willing to help her out around the house as she worked nights and her husband was a Detective. A sitter and a nanny is there to help make parents lives a little easier, not give them more work to do.

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