you may have read that title and thought, “wait. i can get a babysitter and NOT pay them?? that’s an option for people?!” haha let me explain…
see, our church places a healthy emphasis on the privilege of serving in all areas of our lives – giving of ourselves in many ways to bless others, build up the church and the community and to glorify God by imitating Christ’s example of ultimate servanthood. we emulate facets of the Gospel by serving those around us. an opportunity for young teens to serve can often be found via childcare for others. zach and i both had specific opportunities as well as consistent seasons where we babysat for families for free out of a desire to bless them by our service to them. there are many young teens in our church with amazing, servant’s hearts and who are willing to bless others with their time and service. we hope and plan to raise our children the same way, both by example and by encouragement.
however, sometimes in a church with this mindset, an unhealthy expectation can develop that the teens should serve anyone who needs it, anytime, without needing or wanting to get paid. i disagree. but i don’t think that everyone should have to pay every babysitter every time for every childcare need. i think there is a balance somewhere. after a number of conversations with fellow moms about this topic, as someone with a considerable amount of babysitting experience, AND as a mom who now has a regular need for babysitters, i felt prompted to post my & Zach’s thoughts for the sake of anyone else who might benefit from them.
zach and i both babysat quite a bit as teens. him primarily caring for his younger sisters, but also for a few families in his church. me? i babysat A TON. it was not uncommon for me to have babysitting jobs 3 nights a week, for a month solid, for the majority of my jr high and high school years. and i remember a lot from my years of babysitting. showing up to a house with cute kids… my huge babysitting bag in hand filled with games, craft projects, stencils and colored pencils, books, a kid’s cookbook, face paint, bubbles, movies, etc… getting the low down on the evening from the parents… planning out the evening so that we had enough time to do each child’s favorite activity and still get to bed on time… doing the dishes and tidying the house… settling in to read or do homework until the parents came home… this was my world for over a decade and i completely loved it!
most of my friends were frequent babysitters too. we would often swap stories, theories, and discuss the “secret” rules of after-the-kids-are-down-babysitter-food. things like, “always scoop ice cream by skimming all the way across the top so it doesn’t look like you took very much… or any!” or “if there are the same number of treats left as there are kids in the home, it’s off limits” or “never open a box/package” or “never finish off a box/package.” 😉
i remember some crazy mishaps. like the little girl who came running into the living room with her shirt pulled over her head, tripped over the dog and cut her lip on the tile floor. thank God for popsicles. or the time i was draining the spaghetti noodles using only the lid… which slipped and the whole pot of noodles (the kid’s dinner in it’s entirety) went straight down the disposal. or the time one of the toilets started flooding the bathroom – water gushing over the side like it was niagara falls. the little girls and i had a good laugh and sang “it’s a hard knock life” while mopping it up together.
as a college age/single, i also remember discovering – much to my surprise – how therapeutic and stress relieving it was to spend a couple hours making silly faces, eating animal crackers, snuggling up to watch a Disney movie and/or playing on the floor with children after a long day at the office. i learned a lot about kids through babysitting. and it certainly helped to foster and deepen my desire for children of my own one day.
given our background, zach and i to lean heavily on the side of believing that “a worker is worthy of [their] wages.” we live in a capitalist country where people need to earn money to live. and for young teens, caring for children is an excellent, and sometimes the only, option they have for earning a wage. and young teens need money! they have expenses! granted, they may not be the same type or on the same scale of “expenses” that we adults have, but money is a very real necessity for them, especially if their parents can’t afford to pay for everything their teens need/want. or maybe their parents are scaling back on what they pay for now that their teens are capable of earning money. either way, they have a real need for some form of income.
based on our experiences in babysitting, along with insight and observations from those around us, zach and i have been discussing our own personal guidelines for hiring a babysitter. specifically in the area of where the balance is for serving vs paying. here’s what we’ve come up with:
short version: if it’s their only form of income, we pay them. almost every single time. if we would rather not pay, we ask family, trade with friends, or ask girls who already have a regular income. here’s how we flesh this out:
there are a two specific categories that we prefer to not pay for a babysitter:
1. daytime things like a Dr’s appointment or a particular errand that would just be WAY easier to do without Jack (ie the DMV, etc)
2. evening church functions that are “mandatory” (ie biweekly small group, a leaders meeting we’ve been asked to attend, etc)
in the case of #1, we turn to specific groups of people for babysitting – my parents or one of my sisters in law; or a woman in the church with grown children who still enjoys caring for little ones for short periods of time, or a homeschooling family with kids who would get a kick out of having a baby around for an hour or two, etc. for these situations i typically offer to drop Jack off and pick him back up, making it as convenient as possible for whoever i’m asking.
in the case of #2, if family/friends aren’t available or would cause problems with Jack’s schedule (ie – too difficult for him to go to bed at someone else’s house, etc) i turn to college age/singles who already have an income. i also try to make it easy and as appealing as possible. maybe set it up so that Jack will sleep for most of the time, not ask for a ridiculous level of frequency or a hard core commitment for the next 3 years, have a special treat on hand for them, or at least point out anything “fun” I have and encourage them to help themselves. ANY time i’m asking someone to care for my child for free, i will go to an extra effort to make the job as appealing and as easy as i reasonably can.
also, to be honest, i adjust my expectations for anyone watching my child for free. yes, i tell them when bedtime/naptime is, how to make up his bottle, what the “norm” is for when he goes down, etc. but i also make sure they know that i’m happy as long as he is alive when i get home and they aren’t going crazy, haha. i don’t insist that they endure 30 minutes of crying until he falls asleep (i can’t even handle that!), or that they rock him for 45 minutes if he’s fussy, etc. i take on a much more laid back approach and hold things very loosely anytime we are being blessed by free childcare. it may cause more inconvenience for me later, but that is the “price” i am willing to pay for free babysitting.
you might be thinking, “well that’s easy for you – you only have 1 kid!” and it’s true. my babysitting needs are very low and easy right now. but i don’t expect it to be like that forever. the choice to have more kids DOES mean more inconvenience and more money – on every level. with every child that we add to our family, our “maintenance” level will get higher and higher. some of the “free” options i mentioned above may become less and less of an option. but that’s part of the choice we make when we choose to have more children and we’re prepared to deal with that as our family grows.
pretty much all evening outings, especially things that are technically “optional” (date nights, parties, etc). mentally, i just assume that part of the package of these outings means needing to pay a babysitter. but again, if we’d rather not or the budget is super tight one month, then we will draw on the above listed categories of people to serve us. otherwise, i contact a young teen and pay her, straight up. just a normal babysitting set up. (btw i will also pay a little extra for an older babysitter, and especially if they drive! not like, double pay, but definitely a bit more.) we just feel like it isn’t fair to ask the young teens, for whom this is their only means of income, to babysit frequently, or often, for free, for any childcare need that arises. does this mean that i’ve never had a young teen babysit Jack for free? nope. i totally have. but i have done my best to make sure they knew my gratefulness for their service and that i considered it an exception. and i make sure to pay them the next time. it’s not that i refuse to let them serve me. i just 1) want to be VERY careful about taking advantage too often of their hearts to serve, 2) 99% of the time, we can afford to pay them, so i’d rather pay them and leave them free to serve other families for whom finances might be tighter and would benefit more from being served for free.
when i am paying a babysitter for their time and skills, i feel a bit more freedom to have higher expectations for the “job performance.” i expect them to follow the schedule and routine we have laid out and the preferences that i clearly state, within reason. just like any employer, if i’m paying you to do a job, i have the right to certain expectations about how that job should look. especially when it’s my own child we’re talking about!
one thing i remember from my years of babysitting were the times when a family would call and ask if i could watch their kids, but weren’t clear about if they were going to pay or not. or they weren’t clear about why they were asking. was it a church meeting they heard about last minute and were required to attend? or were they simply in the mood to see a movie that night and needed someone to watch their kids? it was suuuuper awkward and really hard to handle. because frankly, i did factor those things into my decision! there were times i had plans for the night in question but may have been willing to forego or reschedule them given the opportunity to make money. or if i knew they were scrambling to find a babysitter for a church meeting, i was far more apt to try and help them. it was just hard and awkward when it was unclear or unknown. i decided long ago that i would always try and communicate as much information clearly up front when asking for childcare. for example, saying “is [name] available to babysit Jack for us on thursday evening for our date night? it would be from 6-9pm and we would pay her $X.” or, “would [name] be interested in serving us by watching Jack while we attend a church meeting on Monday evening from 7-8:30pm?” that way the sitter can make an informed decision with clear expectations on both ends.
my current thoughts on how much to pay: rates have definitely gone up since i babysat, ha! from what i can tell, they’ve more than doubled, actually. then again, the expenses that young teens have these days have also gone up. when it comes to paying a babysitter, i prefer to set my own rate. i asked around to several people (families and babysitters) and decided on a rate that we felt was reasonable and appealing. i suppose there are 2 approaches you could take. the first being to see yourself as an employer offering a potential employee a job, where you outline the job requirements and the pay being offered. the second approach is to see yourself as a consumer looking for the best deal for a service and the worker sets their rate and you decide if you want to hire them. i prefer the first approach. 🙂 but like i said in the previous paragraph, i will communicate the amount being offered for the job right up front so that the sitter can make an informed decision. if the job isn’t worth it to them, they absolutely have the right to say no and i will try someone else. if i can’t find anyone, maybe my offer is too low and i need to raise it. 😉 but hey, that’s economics. that’s life.
so there you have it. this is our mindset when it comes to babysitters. thus far as parents, living with my parents while we remodel our house has been a huge blessing as far as getting a lot of convenient and free babysitting goes. but now that we’re, Lord willing, only a few weeks away from moving into our house, i am excited enter more fully into the world of babysitters for my child. it feels like a special part of my life has come full swing!