Parents have an idyllic vision of what happens when they leave their kids with a sitter. The kids respect the Mary-Poppins-esque babysitter, play nicely, and practically put themselves into bed. In reality … not so much. A lot goes on that parents don’t hear about – here are five things a babysitter won’t tell you and what parents can do to clue themselves in.
1. I Didn’t Get the Kids to Bed On Time
This is the most common thing not mentioned to parents. In my most nightmarish episode, I babysat three siblings (sharing two rooms) who tag-teamed me by running into the hallway as soon as I went into the other bedroom. The kids were up for hours, and I never went back again (this also taught me not to babysit for moms who flat-out admit they have trouble keeping a sitter). Even with the most well-behaved kids, it’s obvious why bedtime is a challenge. As an evening sitter, you need to play games, feed the kids dinner, read books, sometimes give them a bath, and get them into bed – within two hours! No babysitter is going to be as efficient as you are at getting your kids to bed. But there are ways you can decrease stress on your babysitter and get your kids to sleep closer to their usual bedtime. First, the earlier the babysitter comes, the better, because she’ll have more time to engage with the children, especially those who are slow to warm up. Have the babysitter start the bedtime routine earlier, but make sure to leave some bonding time, so she’s not just putting your kids to sleep immediately. If possible, don’t schedule important events for the next day – the added stress of knowing Susie’s gifted and talented test is the next day won’t help the babysitter ease your kids to sleep.
2. You’re Making My Job WAY Harder Than it Needs to Be
Let me get this straight – you asked me to get here five minutes before you need to leave, you want me to cook the kid’s dinner from scratch, the baby didn’t nap today, the older one needs help with her homework, and the dog needs to be walked? Ask the babysitter to get there early to go over the emergency contact information, explain the bedtime routine (also helpful to actually HAVE a bedtime routine), and leave time for her to play with the kids. Once she’s babysat a few times, and she knows the drill, she can come closer to the time you’re leaving. And seriously, the babysitter doesn’t have to do EVERYTHING you do. Just order a pizza. Your kids will love having a special treat on nights you’re away and start loving having a babysitter, too.
3. How Much Your Kids Fought with Each Other
I babysat regularly for two sisters who were constantly arguing. I have a sister, and we waged continuous war on each other from when she was born until she learned karate at 10, and even we didn’t argue as much as these sisters. The topics of the arguments were particularly dumbfounding: Who drew on the couch, whose markers were used to draw on the couch, who used the markers BEFORE they were used to draw on the couch. It was exhausting just to listen, let alone lecture them to use nice words with each other. But while my sister and I often drew blood, these sisters never physically fought. They just always argued. Though they annoyed me to no end, I never said anything to the parents. I just figured that was how these girls communicated. As long as no one was in physical danger, I felt there was no reason to talk about it. Chances are they fought that much in front of their parents, too.
4. How Long Your Baby Cried When You Left
I babysat for parents who had one young daughter. They were very anxious about leaving her with a babysitter since her usual caregivers were Mom and Grandma. The first couple of times I was at their house, we managed to trick the baby with logistical maneuvers, like my taking the girl on a walk around the block while the parents left. But there came a time when the parents just had to leave a screaming baby – made more difficult by the fact that they kept popping back into the house “just to check on her.” After they left, she was inconsolable. I tried blowing bubbles, reading her a book, even dancing to the Wiggles (I’ve never been able to stand Australians since). I plopped her in her crib two hours later, and she cried herself to sleep. Did I tell the parents any of this? NO. Two reasons kept me mum: If the parents knew she cried the whole time, they would never leave her side again (leading, I’m sure, to some awkward teenage situations). Second, the girl was still in that “stranger danger” phase that she would eventually grow out of. The next time they asked me to sit, things were better – only a little crying. Each visit had less and less crying, and today, she is a happy, well-adjusted four-year-old who loves when I visit.
5. We Broke a House Rule
I was a regular babysitter for daughters of two rather strict parents. They had rules about bedtime, mealtime, playtime, and all times in between. One evening, my task was to get the girls completely ready for bed but not actually put them to bed because their parents would be home to do it. A half-hour before the parents were due home, the girls and I were standing around with nothing to do to kill time. Reading books was part of the bedtime routine I wasn’t supposed to start, so I tried to think of something else calm to do (as the parents had forbidden anything “too stimulating” after dinner). One of the girls held up a bag of hair ties and said, “Let’s play beauty parlor!” Within thirty seconds, I was sitting in their vanity chair, congratulating myself while the girls peacefully braided my hair. Unfortunately, my happiness was short lived. The parents returned and immediately reprimanded, “GIRLS. You know we don’t play beauty parlor after dinner!” I, of course, did not get in trouble because I was never told about appropriate beauty parlor playing time. But if we hadn’t been discovered, and I was later told this was a house rule, I wouldn’t have told on the girls. There’s a certain tacit understanding between babysitter and kid that as long as no one gets hurt, it’s okay to break a rule or two. So what if you played hairdresser when you weren’t supposed to or had an extra cookie at dinner? A babysitter is not a parent, so they don’t always have to be as strict with discipline and structure (grandparents also have this freedom).
And just so it’s clear that your babysitter should not be a pathological liar, here are two things that a sitter should NOT hide:
1. Something Serious Happened
There’s no excuse for omitting the truth if something truly dangerous or serious happened. It might seem obvious, but an inexperienced or young babysitter might keep a scary event to herself if she thinks it might reflect badly on her skills. I didn’t tell the parents of the constantly-fighting sisters how much they argued, until one night when one sister threw a pair of scissors at the other. The scissors clattered harmlessly on the floor, but for me, a line had been crossed. I told the parents what had happened and earned their respect as the “tough babysitter.”
2. The Kids Met/Will Meet Someone
This might also seem obvious, but if your babysitter wants to bring over a friend or a boyfriend, she should ask in advance. If she took the kids to the park and happened to run into a friend or someone she knows, she should tell you that also. This avoids the awkward situation where your kid starts talking about hanging out with someone you’ve never heard of. It even applies if your kid just played with a new child and had a lot of fun – your babysitter should keep you informed of anyone who meets your child.