We’ve recently had to look hard and long at my household budget, and I’ve realized how much cash we’ve spent on babysitters over the years.
I’m only about a year away from being able to leave my kids alone together for more than an hour after dark. Which may be as thrilling a milestone as the day I no longer needed to purchase disposable diapers every time I went to the grocery store.
The cost of childcare was one of the primary reasons I didn’t go back to work full-time after popping out my first baby … or after dropping the second. After moving to Asheville from Boston, I learned that a comparable job here to the position I had there would pay a heckuva lot less (I was a development and communications professional for an independent school). Plus, I’d had a fairly successful career, and I was ready to try something new. I was ready for diapers and baby barf and sleep deprivation. Or so I thought.
Despite shakily accepting stay-at-home parenting, I continued to work part-time (teaching at Warren Wilson, development consulting, freelance writing), so I needed to employ babysitters frequently.
Finding someone consistent was tough, especially for tiny babies. Luckily, Warren Wilson’s the kind of place where, in a pinch, I could teach with the baby on my back and even nurse her while moderating a debate on the responsibilities of environmental journalists. Nursing her while interviewing big bucks non-profit donors would not have been apropos, however.
Thus came the search for consistent, dependable, child-loving “professional” sitters. These are, yes, mostly women, who make a living taking care of other people’s kids. They can change a diaper one-handed, soothe separation anxiety with a word, cook, clean and fold laundry, all while playing peek-a-boo.
They also cost more per hour than I typically make in a day. They’re worth it, of course, for the parental peace of mind. The only other problem with the professionals is that the families they serve closely guard their identities. So much so that getting your friends to share their sitter’s names and contact information can be more difficult than getting them to share their Social Security numbers or information about their financial holdings. I had a friend who fell out with a lifelong buddy because his family “stole” my friend’s nanny. It was ugly.
Though it seemed to take decades, my babies eventually stopped wetting their pants and became eligible for school. School’s great for lots of reasons, but I see it primarily as safe childcare. The learning part’s a perk.
I was somewhat relieved when we could move to the next level of sitter — from professional to non-professional, but experienced, adult. This is typically someone who has a day job but who moonlights as a sitter at night for extra cash. These, yes, once again, mostly women, have been my primary source of childcare for a number of years. They typically cost a less than the professionals, but still aren’t inexpensive. Even so, I’ve always been willing to pay to leave my kids with someone who has the wherewithal to get them bathed and in bed on time, and who can handle sibling fights and meltdowns without needing to call me while I’m out to dinner.
Happily, just in the past few years, as my kids have gotten older and more self-sufficient, we’ve moved into the final sitter state — the teenage neighbor. This stage is pretty great. Teenagers typically don’t ask for tons of cash, and while they may not get the kids to bed on time, they have enough energy to keep up with them and even wear them out some. Plus, my kids are fascinated by these slightly older versions of themselves; although my boy does start in on his annoying show-off routine whenever a young female is in the vicinity.
Who needs to study primate mating rituals in the wild? Just come to my house and watch the boy frisk around like an over-stimulated chimpanzee whenever a teenage girl is within 100 feet. Luckily, he’s got several more years to learn how to control this behavior. At least I hope that’s what happens. I grew up in a houseful of girls, so I’m a bit worried about how, when and if boys evolve from wild beasts to relatively domesticated critters.
The primary problem with teenage sitters is that they’re still kids too. So the cleaning factor can be negligible. But that’s OK, because I’m paying them less. The other problem with teens is that they rarely can hang with my kids on school nights, and, once they reach a certain age, suddenly they have their own social lives. What’s up with that? I’m always bummed when I realize my go-to neighborhood teen suddenly prefers going out with his friends on Saturday night to hanging with my kids and making some cash.
So, I’ll be happy to be at the point where I feel that my kids are old enough and responsible enough to stay at home without an adult (or an older teen). Though I realize it’ll still cost me. I’ll probably do what my parents did and pay both kids — the older to be responsible for the younger, and the younger not to pick fights with the older. If there’s blood when I get home, no one gets paid.