You're not going to believe me when I tell you that for two full days after the Boston fiasco, I left this babysitter on the calendar for the coming Wednesday night. Why? I felt stuck. I had to be somewhere for work. Dan had to be somewhere for work. To cancel on her made me squeamish. And there's this part of me (a part of me I don't really admire) that goes back to the laissez-faire, '70s parenting I grew up with. Part of me wants to be the "it'll be fine" parent, because I turned out okay, right? But I'm not that parent. And this isn't the '70s. So, on Tuesday night, with a big gulp, I called the babysitter and let her go. Then Dan and I adjusted our calendars.
Knowing you will never be the groovy parent will help you both.
Speaking of the '70s, I think that sometimes as parents we want to be groovier than we know we should be. It's hard to say to someone, "No, you may not have a beer after my child goes to sleep," because, let's face it, what mom among us has not had a beer after we've put our children to sleep? But here's the big difference: You're paying this person hard-earned cash to be, if not you at your superwoman best, then the soberest approximation of you that good money can buy. So, when you come home and there's a beer bottle on the counter, buck up, because you've got an un-groovy conversation coming your way.
It's rough out there in the global financial crisis, and it's okay to look for deals on laundry soap and string cheese, but don't go looking for a deal on a babysitter.
Here's one thing I've decided: I'll never pay a babysitter less than I'd hire someone to work for me as an assistant. Don't get the wrong idea—it's not that I often have assistants (I think the last time was prerecession '07!). But from time to time, in luckier days, when I've been working on a big project, I've hired a kid from the university. And whatever I paid them is what I expect to pay a sitter. Babysitting, I figure, is a job I need well done, because my child is precious. And short of adopting a nonworking grandma (a rare thing these days), no matter how tight money gets, I need every check I sign to say "I value you."
If you can't get a super sitter, you need a can-do babysitter.
Last fall, in the wake of the Boston debacle, my friend Celine said something important to me: "You need someone who makes your life easier." A lightbulb went on over my head. Here I'd been cooking up gluten-free meals for sitters, telling them, "Don't worry about the dishes," and ignoring the days when I came home to pandemonium. Suddenly, a door was opened. If I couldn't find someone whose tune was that song from Annie Get Your Gun, "Anything you can do, I can do better," then I needed something close.
Back when I was growing up, most babysitters were in high school. Since I've become a mother (this seems to be a cultural shift), my babysitters have all been young women in their 20s or early 30s. I think it's important to realize that if you have a 16-year-old sitter, she should be used only on weekend nights, and you should come home early—after all, she too is growing and learning. With someone a bit older, for whom this is a real-life job, you can ask for more. On the other end of the spectrum, if you're renting a grandma, be aware that she might not be able to stay until 2 a.m.
Know when to let go, or as my mother always says, "The only thing certain about the world is change."
When you finally find that perfect babysitter, the one your children squeal about when they find out she's coming over, the one who actually doesn't think it's insane to do the dinner dishes and put the toys away at the end of the night, the babysitter who is happily reading her book on the couch (not feverishly texting her boyfriend) when you come through the door and welcomes you with a smile, you have to accept that this person will someday, probably, need to leave you. She'll have to go to college or she'll have her own baby or just plain complicated life will take her away. And although you'll need to get back on the merry-go-round to find someone new, and probably suffer a few duds in the process, let her go. Bless her, thank her, and send her on her way. Why? Because holding tight when she wants to go isn't paying her the respect she deserves. Keep your chin up—there's a fabulous babysitter out there, one who needs a job and wants to do it well, and she's just waiting for you to find her.
Caitlin Shetterly is the author of Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home (Voice).
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