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Childcare crisis! Why is it so hard to find a good babysitter?

Why is it so hard to find a good babysitter?

By Amy Rodriquez |

Like many others in my situation, I entered the world of online matchmaking hoping to find The One. I knew I should appear confident, but the scars of bad relationships past made my desperation hard to conceal. I had been looking for my match for three tumultuous years, and I didn’t think my standards were too high; I was simply looking for someone to babysit my three-year-old son. Was it too much to want someone to keep him safe, not have a criminal record, preferably not complain about him, not be as needy as him, and last for more than two visits?

Before I ventured online, I tried to find The One the old-fashioned way: through friends and introductions. A local mom posted that she had a babysitter, Anna, who was looking for more hours. I called Anna, and she came to meet my son, JJ. She arrived in a whirlwind, busting out of her tiny camisole and running her fingers through her hair as she flipped open a notebook. “See? See all these names? These people want me. I am verrry busy. You’ll be lucky if I can fit you in.”

For nine months, I had stumbled through the days, weighed down by the sling and the helpless feeling of being a newcomer in town. Anna could ease my pain. And she knew it.

“Oh, of course!” I said brightly. “I’m very flexible. You can make your own schedule.”

Over the next few weeks, she took care of my children and, mostly, herself. The first week, she exclaimed, “Oh, my sinuses! Can you find some medicine for me?” Next, she brought a basket of vitamins and powders that she had to ingest at specific times. Although she demanded a lot, she allowed me the sweet luxury of going to the chiropractor for neck pain (from the sling) or to the dentist. I needed five hours a week without the sling, so I desperately tried to keep her happy. Once, as I climbed into my car, she yelled, “Do you have a lime? I always like a lime in my tea.” “Argghhhh, that JJ,” she grumbled about my son. “He breaks my back. The crying! He makes me hold him always!

On the way out the door, she stopped to ask my husband, “Do you have any cookies?” When he gave her one, she grabbed another.

After two months, I realized that she gave me a bigger headache than the sling or my kids.

Why, you might wonder, did I put up with Anna? Because I had done my research. I knew what was out there. I had friends with babysitters who showed up late, exercised during their time with the kids, and ordered Panty-grams online. All of which was better than no one or, God forbid, someone abusive. One friend’s husband couldn’t understand why his wife put up with her babysitter’s antics. She said to me, “He doesn’t understand. I am at her mercy!” But boy, did I understand.

Too tired to play? Relax.

Lime for your tea? I’ll get one.

Sore back? Let me hold the baby for you.

Sinuses? Here’s something for the pain.

The next woman seemed so perfect: an energetic college neighbor who needed a job. In her words, “I looooove babysitting. I used to babysit the kids down the street all the time. Any time you need me, just come knock! Any time!” But forty-five minutes into her first (and only) time sitting for us, she called to say, “I don’t know what to do, Amy. He won’t stop screaming. He sounds like his appendix burst or something!”

I rushed home and my son, sitting in his wagon, stopped wailing to say, “Hi, Mama.” No more screaming. And no more sitter. The next week, she told us she was too busy to sit anymore. The situation was so grim that for a while my husband and I gave up the babysitter search altogether. Eventually, though, our friends convinced us it was time to get back in the game, find The One so that we could have a life outside our four walls.

So there I was at Sittercity.com, the online matchmaker of babysitting. I decided to be totally upfront in my ad so I wouldn’t have to deal with the heartache later. I would reveal that my son was wild and that he would cry when I left. My ad read: “Looking for sitter for very active three-year-old boy for Thursday afternoons. Must be comfortable with his separation anxiety. Must have reliable transportation.”

First response: “Sounds great! Need live-in nanny job now. Don’t have car. Need house. Will care for your children all week.”

I weeded through the other obvious weirdoes and wackos and people I was scared to meet, never mind to take care of my child. Then I noticed an ad: social worker at an elementary school, looking for Thursdays. I tried not to get my hopes up. Her picture looked so cute! So smiley! Her name was Meghan, and she said, “As a social worker, I work with children with emotional, social and behavioral issues and can provide support in these areas if needed. I am mature, responsible, dependable and most importantly I genuinely love working with kids!”

When Meghan arrived to meet JJ for the first time, she was smiling and fully-covered – no teensy camisoles. She looked like a professional, like the first-grade teacher you’d want to have. Her smile was warm, and as JJ peeked from behind me, she got his attention naturally and effortlessly: “Hey, JJ? Is that a dino shirt?”

From there, it was magic. They played together; he showed her his “jumpy bed” and his dinosaurs. I was ecstatic to feel like a third wheel. At the end, I stood at the door saying goodbye, trying to sound nonchalant. “Soooooo, I’ll email you, and you can let me know if you’re still interested.” In my head, I thought, “Please. Please come back. Please take care of my child and be as loving and non-judgmental as you seem.” I also refrained from saying, “I will somehow pay you much more than I advertised if you can help end this house-arrest I’ve been under for three long, lonesome years!”

Last week, Meghan sat for JJ for the first time, even picking him up from pre-school. I came home and anxiously walked up the steps. I opened the door. No screaming. No crying. What was that? Little giggles from the den? I peeked around the corner to see JJ, head thrown back, laughing, as he sat on Meghan’s lap. They were engrossed in a tractor book.

“Hi, Buddy!” I grinned.

“Hi, Mama,” he smiled. “Look what I’m showing Meghan.”

I sighed with relief, but I could have squealed with joy.

Meghan walked to the door and said, “Things went great. We had fun. Went outside. Read books. Played in the basement. I’ll see you next week, OK, JJ?”

They hugged, (yay!) and then she whispered to me, “I caught a mouse. He’s under that bowl by the door. I didn’t want JJ to be scared, so he doesn’t know. See you next week!”

Not only had Meghan taken great care of my child, but she had done so without complaint. She thought he was cute and sweet! She did not ask me for one single thing: not a lime or a cookie or a vitamin. And she was utterly unfazed by catching a mouse on her watch. I am trying not to get ahead of myself, but Meghan just may be The One that I’ve been waiting for.

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About Amy Rodriquez

bcamyrodriquez

Amy Rodriquez

Amy Rodriguez is a mom of two who lives outside of Boston. She has written for a number of parenting publications and is at work on a book called Parenting on the Loose, based on her first essay published by Babble. Become a fan of her "four-sentence blog" at https://www.facebook.com/parentingontheloose.

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18 thoughts on “Childcare crisis! Why is it so hard to find a good babysitter?

  1. kk says:

    oh man, I’ve been paying $17 an hour for our former daycare provider to sit for our kid for date nights (awake for 1 hour, asleep for 3). All the other sitters I’ve tried have been… weird. Flaky. Wearing flip flops in the snow. We’ve arrived home to find their significant others using our computer. We’ve been trying to swap sitting with friends, also not great but… ugh! who knew this would be a challenge! Where have all the neighborhood 16 year olds gone??

  2. Violet says:

    While I completely agree with your comment about not wanting your babysitter to complain, and completely agree that your first sitter sounded like a spoiled little thing.

    However, please understand if we (sitters) tell you that your child was fussy for an hour before bed and HAD to be held, it’s because we, as your sitter, want to be as honest as possible with you. Maybe your little one has a cold settling in, we’re giving you a heads up. Or maybe that’s 100% normal and we didn’t know because we’d never kept him at night.

    I personally don’t love telling parents that their children were whiny, however, I also don’t like saying, “Oh, they were great!” when all they did for an hour was the exact opposite of what I asked (i.e. “Please don’t run near the fireplace…” cue them jumping around it, flailing, etc.) I don’t want to give you the impression that your children are being angels if they are walking all over me, because it’s likely that you will, at some point, be it the next day, or the next time I’m scheduled, tell them how happy you are with them for being good while I was there, when in reality they weren’t, but your praise reinforces their actions.

    As I said, your first sitter was a flake, but just because a sitter is honest with you and tells you how you’re child acted, doesn’t mean she’s complaining.

  3. NoHo Mom says:

    They’re volunteering – starting up their own nonprofits to get into college.

  4. sultansmom says:

    you are so right I think it is because all the 16 year old are online chatting and texting all day!! LOL!!

  5. Jenny says:

    I started reading this article already thinking of the comment I would make because I found a solution that worked for me. However, it looks like you found the same solution! The online services have a really great pool of applicants, an embarrassment of riches (really!) and it is actually relatively easy to find a pretty great babysitter there (I live in a sizable city, I don’t know if this would work in a rural area). I use sitter city, but I don’t want to sound like a shill for them, so I’ll say care.com looks good too.

    I’ll also say that it helps to pay a decent hourly rate for your childcare. Many of the ads people post looking for childcare are pretty much offering slave wages.

  6. Anonymous says:

    As a sitter, this is one of the sweetest and most heart-warming articles I’ve ever read on the subject. Good gravy, there *are* good sitters out in the world! Well, I’m just glad to know that the news is finally getting around!

    Ha! :D Loved this article from beginning to end. Your JJ sounds like a sweetie and I’m glad to hear you found the right one for him! Two thumbs up, Babble, for a realistic, relate-able article that shows caregivers in a positive light! :D

  7. Amy Cooper Rodriguez says:

    It’s great to hear all of your comments. I’ve been on both sides…as a sitter and a mother. You never know when you’ll find the right match. When you do, it’s wonderful!

  8. Cassandra says:

    I’m out of college, but only working part-time, so I started babysitting regularly for some friends-of-friends. I babysat only a little in high school, since I had another job, but I’ve always enjoyed working with kids.

    I have to say, I’ve been SERIOUSLY amazed at how hard it is for parents to find decent babysitters! In NYC, even! The kids I watch adore me, but I didn’t think I was doing anything all that special — hell, my childhood babysitter barely had to do anything and I thought she was the coolest person I’d ever met. I guess I underestimated the value of being a normal, responsible person who remembers what it was like to be a kid and understands how to level with them.

    Also, I simply do NOT understand sitters that don’t play with the kids. Isn’t that the whole reason you’re there? Maybe because I’m not 16 and have had other jobs, but if someone is paying me by the hour, it’s only fair that they get their money’s worth. It’s 100% play time when I come over. Way more fun that way, anyway.

  9. Narin says:

    I’m glad you found a good match, but I have to be honest, you seem unreasonably hard on Anna. Why would it upset you that much that a babysitter asked for a lime with her tea and a cookie? Since you are seeing a chiropractor because of the sling, how can it surprise you that she also found it hard to hold a three-year-old (30-35 lbs?!?) for extended periods? I hope this situation works out for you, and you should never have someone watch your child with whom you are not comfortable. Nonetheless, your insistence that a babysitter not have the temerity to ask for anything at all from you “not a lime, or a cookie or a vitamin” makes you come across as a very difficult employer.

  10. ypinkas says:

    For successful matching, parents should consider using NannyTest – an online personality and risk assessment of caregivers. NannyTest helps parents screen potential caregivers by providing a better insight into their personality and traits, as well as an assessment of possible risk factors.
    To learn more,please visit http://www.take-care.me

  11. Kami says:

    I’ve had a similar experience with this stuff and I ended up finding a great sitter using http://www.bestbabysitters.org — it’s like sittercity. It’s been well over 6 months and I’ve been super happy with the service

  12. Laura Ceccato-Chopp says:

    I had a similar experience in trying to find a sitter for my daughter after my maternity leave was up and I had to go back to work. It is so stressful hiring someone after countless interviews and reference and back ground checks only to find that they have done things you asked them not to, like having their boyfriend over while sitting for you and being late which makes me late for work and NOT calling! You worry so much when you are a new Mom. A friend recommended sittercity.com. I am a hiring manager at my firm, so I posted a job and treated it just like I always do when hiring someone. I found a really great sitter and my daughter is thriving while I am at work. I definitely have recommended the site to several of my friends too!

  13. Bailey says:

    I had a nightmare experience with a babysitter when I went back to work after having my little one. After getting home from work one day, I got a knock on my door – it was a woman who worked in the children’s therapy building across the street from my home. She asked about the babysitter and told me that she had seen her taking my infant and her two year old outside in below zero temperature, forcing the child to walk to a grocery store about 7 blocks away. She said that in her opinion this was a case of child neglect and asked if I would give her the name of the babysitter. I obliged (obviously). I was absolutely terrified, and fired her on that day. The scariest part? She didn’t seem phased. I haven’t hired a babysitter since, because I’m scared of things like this happening.

  14. Romona Easterling says:

    Hi ladies! I saw this post and knew I had to say something. I started http://www.sittertrade.com/ because I had major sitter problems. It’s an online co-op that’s Nationwide. Finding the right babysitter is just like dating.

  15. Anonymous says:

    BabysitterHQ.com is the way to go. The best site I have ever used and only $7 per month membership.

  16. Anonymous Coward says:

    Where have all the neighborhood 16-year-olds gone? They got tired of being ordered to be maids, cooks, and housekeepers as well as babysitters. They got tired of having to clean up after the party you had before you went out. They got tired of dealing with kids who knew they could get away with saying “I don’t have to do what you say, you’re just the sitter.” They got tired of being paid half of minimum wage for jobs that people wouldn’t do for three times that. They got tired of having no fewer than six kids (two per family) landed on them when they agreed to watch two, and being told “you won’t charge any extra, right, because we’re all going to the same place.” And they got tired of parents who said “My little darling would never do a thing like that” when they had the bite marks to prove otherwise. That’s where all the 16-year-olds have gone.

  17. Marella says:

    I have the same dilemma. I hired this 25 yr old nanny who was very sweet and naive who is already a mother herself. She needed immigration status for 10 more months and I needed someone to look after my kids while I recover from under the knife. At first she was impressive as she will never stop doing household chores and playing with my children. She reads books with them in a closed room door (???). A week after she came in late and repeated over the next following weeks. Noticed too that she was seating more and watching the kids play movies and videos while I prepare dinner for all of us including her. She just shows up when the food is served. She only dust the places I ask her to dust. she hardly cleans as her reason was she was told not to overdo cleaning. Until one day my 3y/o son is crying before bedtime which he normally doesn’t do and having nightmares. He is more aggressive. I realized that maybe this girl is scaring my poor son. I asked her and she lied but then my 3y/o told me she was scaring him with the halloween decorations which were the same decor every halloween and never did these kids got scared. My sons’s aggression is one thing I noticed as well so I asked him who is spanking his face when no one among us does it to him and he told me right in front of this girl that she did it. So I fired her instantly.
    This kind of stories and experiences are very scary when kids are the target and they are helpless. Right now, I stopped looking for one and just continues to hire my neighbour’s nanny for over 3 years part-time. My kids are happy with her and so do I. She makes effort to come and help me whenever it’s not affecting her schedule at her employer’s house. I can see in her nature too that she loves kids as she is taking care of 3 girls while mine are 3 boys.

  18. Junewell says:

    I’ve been on both sides of this. I did a ton of babysitting as a teenager and the parents loved me because, among other things, I truly enjoyed the kids’ company. Now I try to find sitters who have that quality; right now I’m stuck with one who I don’t think really likes kids all that much, and it’s frustrating. I think what she really likes to do is cook and, notwithstanding the fact we are on a budget, all she wants to do is go through our fridge and whip up complicated (but not particularly palatable) meals that she can share with the kids.

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