You leave her in charge of the most precious people in your entire universe. So do you ever wonder what the babysitter is thinking (and doing) after you scoot off down the driveway? We asked part- and full-time sitters from around the country to share some of the things they wish they could tell you—if they only had the nerve.
1. Your House Grosses Her Out
Nobody expects a house with kids running around in it to be pristine, but it shouldn’t be downright grody. That leaves a conscientious sitter feeling like she has to scrub down the kitchen before she feeds your kids or take a time-out to tend to a germ pit of a toilet. “I once had to give a 4-year-old a bath, and the entire area was orange with soap scum and mildew,” says a sitter in Chicago. “It made me uncomfortable because I worried about the child’s health! I would never set foot in my bathtub if it looked like that, yet I had to subject a little boy to it.” Worse is when employers seem to expect a sitter to do major cleaning on top of minding the kids. “At one of my regular jobs, almost every time I come in, the kitchen is a mess. I don’t mean a couple of dishes here and there or a spill on the counter. I mean the sink is full of dishes, there’s food spilled on the floor, the counters are covered with used pots, pans and utensils that didn’t fit in the sink, and the kids’ mom wants me to clean it up for her,” describes a sitter in Bolingbrook, Illinois. “I’m a child-care provider, not a cleaning lady.” Photo by Shutterstock.
2. She’s Scared to Approach You About Money
When you work for a corporation, requesting a raise is nothing personal. But babysitters—especially the full-time kind—often have more intimate knowledge of their employer’s financial situations, which can make broaching the topic particularly nerve-wracking. Many sitters say they have never been offered a raise, even after years of working for the same family, and that they usually stop accepting work from a family rather than ask for more money. Some sitters even put up with habitual late payments because they’re scared to speak up. If you’re wondering what your next-door neighbor is paying your sitter, rates average $10 to $18 an hour. However, etiquette expert Diane Gottsman of San Antonio, says, “When there are more kids, the price should also increase.” Big holidays like New Year’s Eve or Valentine’s Day also warrant extra. Don’t expect a sitter to come back next year if you just pay the regular rate and a $10 tip! Photo by Shutterstock.
3. She Wishes You’d Come Home When You Say You Will
Do you think your sitter’s time is less important than yours? That’s the message you send her when you waltz in late without much of an apology. “An extra half-hour feels like an eternity when you’re waiting to go home,” says a sitter in Boston. “I often wonder how they’d feel if I randomly were to show up 10 or 20 minutes late while they were waiting to leave for work. Many times my plans have been messed up, whether I’m trying to get to a local store before it closes or meet my husband for dinner.” Keep in mind that a hardworking sitter may even have another gig lined up after yours ends, or that a teenage neighbor has schoolwork and a social life of her own to get back to. When you’re running more than 15 minutes late, call her to apologize and let her know when you’ll be home, then give a nice tip when you return. “When you’ve found a conscientious sitter who takes good care of your children, you want to make sure she’ll be a return visitor to your home,” Gottsman says. Photo by Shutterstock.
4. Bribing for Good Behavior Is Not Out of the Question
Savvy bargaining is one way sitters keep things running smoothly when you’re away. In addition to the usual “no dessert unless you finish your broccoli” rules, some sitters dream up more creative incentives for good behavior. One made a deal that if her charge finished his homework, her boyfriend would come over and play a video game with him for an hour on the Wii. Another promised the children they could watch a movie of their choosing if they were good all day long. That same sitter has openly threatened to never come back again when the kids are behaving especially badly. Sometimes, sitters even make bribes with themselves just to get through a rough stint: One allows herself a covert cigarette break on the back deck after the little ones are successfully tucked in. Photo by iStockphoto.
5. You Sometimes Undermine her Authority
If your regular sitter establishes a rule for a child (say, he can only bring his Zhu Zhu Pet to taekwondo class), don’t reverse it on a whim when she’s not around. That just undermines your kids’ respect for their part-time caregiver. In the same way a good sitter makes every effort to respect your rules, she wishes you’d trust her judgment and let her establish some of her own. Speaking to you in a non-condescending way, especially in front of the kids, is also appreciated. “My employer sometimes talks to me as if I just stepped off an aircraft from another planet and have never had contact with a child before,” says one Boston sitter. Photo by iStockphoto.
6. Cancelling at the Last Minute Is Not Nice
How would you feel if your boss called right now and told you to take the rest of the week off—while he docks your pay accordingly? Calling off a babysitting date on the same day is similar. “If I have a week or even a few days’ notice, I can usually come up with alternative income for that time,” says a sitter in Alexandria, Virginia. “But there have been a few times when I’ve had a parent cancel on short notice after I’ve had to turn down other babysitting opportunities for that day. They should realize that a lot of us are college students who rely on this income for more than just ‘going out’ money.” Gottsman recommends that if you must cancel within 24 hours, offer to pay the sitter in full. “She may say, ‘No, thank you,’ but at least you offered, and that’s a sign of good will.” Photo by iStockphoto.
7. She Disapproves of Your Parenting Methods
One babysitter refuses to give her 2-year-old charge a bottle—even though the parents still regularly offer one. “She’s perfectly capable of using a cup,” says the sitter. Another waters down the sugary juices that the mother encourages her to serve throughout the day. A third caretaker tells a 4-year-old that when she’s on duty, he has to be a “big boy” and not be carried around or wear diapers, like he does when Mom and Dad are in charge. “He’s fully potty-trained, and I refuse to treat him like a baby,” says the Bend, Oregon-based sitter. “A lot of times kids say, ‘Well, Mommy lets me do it.’ I say, ‘I’m not Mommy.’ Kids really do respond well to discipline, and they love me, even though they can’t have toys at the dinner table or watch cartoons all night.” Photo by iStockphoto.
8. A Longer To-Do List Means Less Attention for Your Kid
Lists are actually the least of it—some sitters say they’ve been faced with nonnegotiable spreadsheets filled with chores. It’s standard to ask a regular sitter to do the kids’ laundry and dishes, clean up their toys and prepare simple meals, but keep in mind that the more additional tasks you pile on, the less time she has to focus on the kids. Having her do your huge load of laundry after a vacation, for example, is probably not the best use of her time. Nor is having her clean the kitchen using a different kind of spray for each type of surface. “I’ve been asked to take dogs for walks and go through toys and clean and organize them. These aren’t appropriate tasks for your babysitter, and if you do go out on a limb and ask these favors, pay accordingly,” says a sitter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Some also feel uncomfortable helping kids with especially involved or long homework assignments—they’re experienced as child-care providers, not tutors. Photo by iStockphoto.
9. She Needs to Eat, Too
Make sure to tell a new sitter that she’s welcome to help herself to your snack cabinet once the kids are in bed or to include enough dinner for herself if she’ll be preparing one for the kids. Most say they wait for a clear invitation before they crack open your fridge. Until then, they either remember to pack their own food or just let their stomachs growl. If you have a regular sitter, stocking a few of her favorite items is a great (and relatively inexpensive) way to show your appreciation. One family leaves their sitter a stash of caffeinated soda for her late-night study sessions, even though it’s not something they drink. “I’ve had people buy me a dinner from the grocery store or even leave me choices—I loved this! It’s so thoughtful and so much appreciated,” says another sitter from Charlotte, North Carolina. At the very least, it’s nice to have something in your cupboard other than a box of quinoa or stale crackers. Photo by Bob Stevens via Getty Images.
10. She Wishes You’d Warn her When Your Kid Is Sick
If your child is ill, sitters appreciate knowing this before they show up at your door; some would prefer to lose the income rather than risk the health of themselves and their families. “I showed up for an evening sitting job and the parents informed me that their daughter had a fever and had thrown up earlier in the day,” recalls a sitter from Chicago. “However, they had tickets to a play. I don’t mind taking care of kids if they have a cold or runny nose, but anything more than that warrants a courtesy call to me so I can make a decision.” A sitter living in the suburbs of Washington, DC, agrees: “I, for one, am happy to have a low-key evening with a child with a cold, but I might pass if there’s projectile vomiting involved.” Photo by iStockphoto.