Good babysitters can be hard to find.
With my oldest child being 12 and having moved a whole lot, I have searched many, many times for babysitters. I will admit that my expectations for babysitters have changed over the years. However, I feel like I have enough experience with the search, and I want to share what I’ve learned: the good, the bad and the ugly.
As a child, I was never watched by a babysitter that wasn’t a grandparent.
But when my first child was born, we lived more than 2,000 miles away from my parents and even farther from my in-laws. I couldn’t imagine leaving my child with anyone. Because of this, I waited a long time with my firstborn before even dropping him off at the church nursery. Date nights included the baby (how romantic, right?).
Seventeen months later my second boy was born. Boy, oh boy did things get crazy fast!
I was trying to survive deployments with two toddler boys. I swear, I was ready to let any breathing being on the street babysit my kids. Momma needed a break!
We lived on base which made things a little easier. I just felt better about a sitter that lived nearby and was connected to the military. I thought it would provide a person with accountability in such a small community (not always true). I never used a babysitter when my kids were babies and couldn’t talk until my third child was born.
We lived off base when my daughter was born and when she was around 5 months old, I needed to find a regular sitter. I went with a babysitter that was older and whom I thought to be trustworthy to watch my three kids for ten hours a week. But as you can guess, it did not end well. I learned some lessons from this experience and many others.
So how do you find the right sitter? It’s really about finding, interviewing, and keeping your babysitter.
Find and Interview
There are different reasons you may need a babysitter; finding one depends on those needs. First, what kind of childcare do you need? Care can range from just for a few date nights a month, before or after-school care, a few hours during the week, or full-time care. I have been in every category for my babysitter needs. At one duty station, while I had three very young kids, I got a sitter once a week for two hours so I could go out and have lunch or get nails done with a friend.
In my experience, the best way to find a babysitter may be through friendships. For those rare date nights or errands, finding a friend to swap kids with may great for you and your child. A playdate for your kid and free childcare in return!
I have also had great experiences hiring teenagers of friends I know. I like teens for my kids over the age of 3. Teenagers typically will play at the level of young children and still have a lot of energy. It’s also a great way for teenagers to earn a little money and work experience.
I have used Sittercity.com every place I have lived in. It used to be free for the military; now they offer a discount. I like that they do background checks. I also like that I can put out my ad for a sitter, receive many replies, and choose who I want to respond too. Care.com shares many of the same features and both sites have reviews left from other parents.
I have learned to keep my ads short. I share the ages of my kids, what days or hours I need, and how much I will pay. The sitters have a profile page that shows how far away they live. Their profiles also show their experience, how much they would like to be paid, their availability, if they are CPR/First Aid certified, if they have their own vehicle and if they have had a background check.
Once I see a sitter profile and decide that I want to meet with them, I contact them through the site and set up a meetup time and place.
I used to have sitters come to my house for the interview, but I stopped doing that after speaking to a good friend of mine who was a nanny for many years. She shared with me that as a sitter and the parent, it is safer to have the first meet be at a public place like a coffee shop, just in case. You might meet the person and realize they are not the right fit or something is off; if you meet in public, at least they don’t know where you live yet. Once you have spoken with them and feel good about it all, you can schedule a meeting at your house where they can meet your kids.
I have a print out of a Babysitter Information Form that I made and have the sitters fill it out at the interview. I ask for their full name, date of birth, address, phone number, references, and availability.
No matter how many hours or days you will need the sitter for, it is a job interview. To me, there is no other job as important as keeping my kids safe.
The babysitter websites only share the sitter’s first name and last initial, so it is important to get their full name. During the interview, I get to know the sitter as a person: their likes and dislikes, their family life, education, and past jobs. I also discuss how much I will pay them and how I will pay them. I never have cash on me so I make sure my sitter is okay being paid electronically through Venmo, Paypal, or Zelle. Typically this has not been a problem. I write all these notes on the babysitter form. The babysitter form has been great for me to look back on, especially when I interview a few sitters in the same week.
Keep your Sitter
When you have found your babysitter, make sure you treat him or her as more than just “hired help.” I keep my chats with my sitters short but I like to continually be updated on how their life is going. For example, I might ask how was their vacation or how they are doing in school. I try to be aware of their birthdays and get them a little gift around Christmas. If your kids are with this sitter a few times a week, your sitter will become like family to them. Be sure to show them that you care.
I went through a period where I had work clients cancel frequently, so I was able to be home early for my kids. But this meant I was canceling often for my babysitters. To show them that I was aware that they were blocking off their time for my family, I let them know that if I had to cancel them more than once a week, I would still pay them for at least one hour. A little courtesy to their time is always appreciated.
You should be respectful towards your sitter and communicate well with them. Make sure everyone is clear when it comes to expectations. Teach your kids to treat the sitter with the same amount of respect you expect them to have towards you.
I have given you the basics of how to find, interview, and keep a babysitter. For your own education (and perhaps a laugh or two), here are a few babysitter fails my friends and I have experienced. This is not to scare you but to make you more aware of what you want to avoid.
- I had a babysitter that turned out to be part of a cult. We fired her, stating that we didn’t feel comfortable with her beliefs and her leader. Her leader wrote a very long letter to us and left it in our mailbox. He then sent a letter to the base command about us! Thankfully it was not base legal’s first encounter with the group, but it was scary. We were so glad that we got orders to move shortly after.
- I had a sitter that I found out was stealing from me. She lived on base and I caught her wearing my clothes.
- I had a 70-year-old sitter who apparently felt comfortable enough with me to share that she was still looking for the right man. She told me, “There’s still fire down there, I check it out once in a while to make sure it all works.” 😳
- I had the sitter who was always on the phone and took naps while watching my kids who were still awake at the time.
- I had a sitter who was always on her laptop when I came home. My kids said she was on it the whole time. I used her twice, and that was it for her.
- I had a sitter who didn’t give the baby his bottle before bed and put my oldest to bed without underwear on.
- I gave clear instructions to my sitter as to what to feed my kids. It was dinner I had already made; she just needed to heat it up. When I got home and asked how they ate, she explained that my 5-year-old son said he could just have Cheetos, so that is what she gave him for dinner.
- I had the sitter that was late and never called. I also had a sitter that was two hours early because she was in the area. This was awkward because we had family stuff going on before we went out for the evening, and I didn’t know if I should pay her for the time that she wasn’t supposed to be there.