If you have children—or plan to in the future—this is probably a topic you’ve given a good deal of thought to. It’s a bit of a dilemma because although you as the parent are best qualified to take care of your own children, you still need some time away from your children, at least occasionally. Or maybe more frequently.
That makes the selection of a babysitter one of the most important decisions you can make regarding your children. Under the best of circumstances, you want someone caring for your children who you can trust, who will be available on a regular basis, and who won’t cost too much. How do you find a good babysitter?
Find a Good Babysitter: 4 Ways
1. The Family Option
Family is usually the first, best place to find a reliable sitter. Grandparents often consider having their grandkids over to be a special event, and aunts and uncles may view it in much the same way.
This is also usually the least expensive option, but for that reason you have to be careful not to use it too often. When you do, offer to pay some money—maybe not the “going rate”, but just making the offer can be reassuring to a family member that you aren’t taking advantage of them. If you can’t afford to pay a family member, then offer to perform other services for them instead. Do your best to make the arrangement as reciprocal as possible.
2. The Local Option
In most neighborhoods there are usually one or more teenagers or even adults who offer babysitting. The best time to get in touch with such a person is before you need them! What I mean is that you want time to check them out, get references and put them to use in low stress situations. You won’t have time to do any of that if you call on short notice.
Hiring a sitter for your children is much more important than many people think, so there are a few things you’ll want to do in advance.
- The closer the sitter lives, the better. If the sitter lives in your neighborhood, you may know her, or at least her family, both of which provide additional reassurance.
- You want names of references—as many as you can get, and preferably people you know. If they can’t find anyone who will speak well of them as babysitters, you have reason to worry.
- You will have to try them out a time or two before declaring someone to be your official babysitter. Some sitters who work well with other families may not work for yours.
- It’s best that you have more than one local sitter. Most are teenagers and they aren’t always the most reliable when it comes to schedules and availability.
- Once you find one or two good sitters, stay with them. Familiarity is a plus, especially with children.
3. The “Sitter Swap”
For my wife and I, our closest family members are over 800 miles away—you can imagine what that does to your sitter options when you have young children! But as God provides for his people where ever we go and what ever we do, we became very close friends with another couple in our area who have children the same age as ours. And like us, their nearest family members were also hundreds of miles away. Can you see where this is headed?
We developed a cozy arrangement—a sitter swap! On an alternating basis, they watched our kids, then we watched theirs! Each couple had a trustworthy “sitter”, in a home and family where their kids felt safe and welcome and—bonus—no money ever changed hands!
Many of the sitter nights turned into overnight stays, and some into full weekend stays. That gave us tremendous flexibility, in addition to freeing us of the need to add babysitting to the cost of a night out, or just for a free weekend. Best of all, when our kids were with them, we never worried about our kid’s well-being or safety—they were in good hands, as their children were with us. And another bonus—the kids on both sides looked forward to the swaps as adventures.
If you can get a sitter swap arrangement with another couple, I strongly recommend it. It offers a level of childcare flexibility that you can’t get short of having reliable family members in the immediate area.
4. Using Sitter Services
Along the way we’ve also used various babysitting services. There was a drop-in center in our area—Kids Stay ‘N Play—where we could bring the kids as “walk-ins”, and that’s a convenient option to have when you need help on short notice. We could drop the kids off, they’d get a hot meal, and be free to play on the play equipment or to participate in supervised activities.
We’ve also hired sitters from services while on vacation. Let’s face it, there are things you want to do and places you want to go without your children even when you’re on vacation, but the pool of family members or local sitters is usually non-existent. Hotels usually have certain local services they recommend for this purpose, and they’ll watch your children right in your hotel room.
Services are popping up all the time now. Our kids are teenagers now, so we haven’t used any services in several years, but some are now available even on the web. One such site is SitterCity.com . We’ve never used them, but the concept looks interesting. You go to the site, enter your zip code, and it offers a list of potential sitters in your area. In my zip code, over 8,000 prospects came up. Each has a photo, a biography and resume, rates and even reviews and references.
(If you decide to try them out, they have a 25% off promotion running right now if you use this code: ‘LUCK25′)
My own feeling—again we’ve never used this service—is that you use a site like this as a starting point to see who in your area is available to baby sit. But you should apply all the same rules of caution that you would if you were hiring anyone else to sit with your children. The site claims that it does background checks, but never trust anyone with your children unless you’re completely satisfied with them based on your own research, reference checks and intuition. Think of sitter sites as something like a dating service—you know how those can go so be prepared for anything!
Try Combining All Options
One thing my wife and I learned along the way—you need different types of babysitters at different times. That makes a strong argument for using all four sitter types. Family is always best, but you don’t want to abuse that option. A sitter swap with another couple with similar aged kids is a close second, but there may be times when you need a sitter and they can’t accommodate you.
Having a local sitter who you can blend in with family and friends can provide a valuable third option. And if that sitter isn’t available, then that’s what the sitter services are for. I personally think you should use sitter services only as a last resort, and only in very short term situations. Having and using all four options though should keep your sitting needs covered come what may.
What babysitting options do you find to work the best? Have you ever used a sitter service? Have you had any bad experiences? Leave a comment below!