After we paid for our bill at a local pizza restaurant, I leaned in to my husband and said, “We should ask our server if she babysits!” He thought I was crazy; “What?! She’s a stranger!” To me, she looked like a nice, responsible young adult who bantered cutely (or probably politely!) with our crazy kids at the table (ages 14 months and 2.5 yrs). I told him, “So since we know no teens on our street, and your 20-something cousins live too far-away, how are we supposed to find sitters!?”
So, alas, we have been stuck in the dilemma many parents face: where and how to get a good sitter.
It’s not like we go out all the time, but we try to make a point to go out once or twice a month sans kidlets. It does the mind and marriage good! But that said, we usually can’t rely on our mother-in-law during the work week, because she works and lives in North Jersey, and our recent ‘regular’ sitters (which have been awesome!) are now out of commission (we lost one because she is now working full-time as a nanny, and the other dislocated her shoulder playing sports so she can’t drive). Previously, anyone who has watched our kids have been family or the two aforementioned college students who have been friends-of-friends. Coupled with some of my own experiences, I’ve asked a bunch of my mommy friends for their advice on choosing a great babysitter.
1) Ask your mom friends who they use, and if they have time to take on another set of kiddos. (Some moms guard their babysitter list like it’s the winning lottery ticket numbers. Don’t be offended if people don’t give you a list of their fave 3 sitters, because they don’t want their go-to list of baby-watchers to dwindle when it’s crunch time for date-night.)
2) Consider a sitter-swap with your friends who have kids, too. I have done this with three good mommy friends of mine, and it is sometimes the best solution (because it’s FREE! Ha! But then again, you have to work around someone else’s schedule that has kids…) What we do is plan a night out where my girlfriend comes over after she puts her kids to bed (and my kids are already asleep too). Then we swap the following week or so with her. Once, the husbands did the babysitting!
3) Try the babysitter-referral websites. Care.com and Babysitter.com have monthly plans that are $35/mo (and sometimes run 25% or 50% off specials) and $140 for the year. When you consider many of their sitters are licensed and you can run background and driving checks, it’s a good investment in finding quality caregivers. You can see photos of potential sitters within a few miles from your house (OK, I did see one college student posing in a bikini in her profile, which I didn’t find appropriate, but most of the girls – and I must say I saw no male sitters in my recent search – had good sitter experience, came with references, and had many certifications like CPR training and even experience with ADHD children, for example). You can find casual sitters (i.e. for the occasional date-night with the hubby or Monday-Friday nannies on those popular websites).
Fellow mom-friend, Kate, from Atlantic Highlands, tells me, “We used Care.com for our nanny search and found a great one. I’d interview them on the phone, then if I liked them they would come to meet us, then if I still liked them I would have them watch the baby while I was home doing housework so I could monitor (them). We ran background checks on our two finalists – definitely worth the $50!”
4) Look around your neighborhood. I see a number of teens within a few blocks of my house and I may ask them someday if they babysit and if they have references. (I started babysitting when I was 12 for a neighbor in Miami who approached me and offered me a whopping $2/hr for a gig. Not knowing the market value of babysitting services in the late 1980s, or, anything beyond buying Snickers bars and Coca Cola, for that matter, I jumped on the job. I ended up babysitting them for years as their family expanded to two children, and I got $6/hour eventually. )
Note, be prepared to pay $8-12 per hour for one kid, and $12-20 for two kids in the Monmouth County area, from my experience. Teens and mother’s helpers cost less, and sitters from the babysitting websites sometimes charge more, from what I have noticed. Also, some sitters have a time-frame minimum, like 4-hours. At first I thought that was presumptuous, but some babysitters want to make it worth their while to drive to your house; still, I think that’s part of the consideration to hire them, in the first place!
My friend, Shannon Connelley-Maida of Tinton Falls, explains their recent search: “We needed to expand our babysitter go-to list. We have used Sittercity.com, in the past, and found the perfect person, but she is now student teaching and not really available a lot. I also use my neighbor, who is in high school and took all of the courses at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, but cannot do weeknights. I am desperately trying to find more sitters, so this momma can enjoy more nights out. I am just curious…(what) other services to find someone super reliable, super cool with kids and super trustworthy (local moms have used). I am really nervous about bringing in new people, and when we found the nanny/sitter through Sitter City, we made her jump through hoops to prove she was the "one."
Ask questions like “Do you have CPR training or certification? Have you taken a babysitting course? Do you have experience with infants, or toddlers? Do you have your own car?” I do know some moms who have massive lists of questions to ask babysitters, but in my humble opinion be smart, be direct, use your common sense, and don’t pepper potential sitters with 120 questions and scare them away from even wanting to watch your kids. (If you’re looking for a full-time nanny, 6a-7p, that’s a different story. I’m talking about 3p-7p sitters, or those that come over for a few hours while the kids are asleep so you can reconnect with your spouse).
My friend Polly, of Brick, babysits regularly for several children and has some additional tips. “What I always have been asked is how I would deal in a situation where the child isn't listening or is throwing a temper tantrum. Running background checks is a good idea, too,” Polly says.
I also recommend staying in the house for an hour or two when it’s a brand new sitter. I’ve done that before, and I think it lets the kids get more comfortable around a ‘new person’ in their playroom, and it brings me peace of mind observing the caregiver first-hand. Last but not least, always have emergency numbers written down, make sure their cell-phone is charged and that they know to use your remote control and how to change diapers!
My friend Kara doesn’t have a list of go-to sitter questions, “ But I do ask whether they know CPR. I love our primary sitter but she is a full-time teacher so she’s not available during the day when I could really use someone for an hour or two here or there. The only other person I started using is my neighbor, who is a grandmother herself. I've used her once so far and she came when the baby was napping so I could run to the grocery store!”
If you have a young relative who’s just starting out sitting, Meridian also has a SafeSitter class for pre-teens/teens (ages 11-14). At the training class, the participants learn how to entertain children and prevent danger, how to call for emergency help, how to prevent injuries and basic first aid, what to do when a child chokes or stops breathing, and CPR instruction. The class costs just $40 and is an all-day event (from 9am-3:30pm), complete with a graduation ceremony for parents and families. Pre-registration is required. You can find out more about the class here, or by calling 1-800-DOCTORS. Upcoming classes are April 6th and April 13th, at take place several times a month at various Meridian facilities.
I hope some of the above tips help in finding a good fit for your family. I also just went to a birthday party at a play-zone and literally asked one of the teenagers at the end of the festivities, ‘Do you babysit? How old are you? Do you have a car and can I get your cell phone number?” She was 18, but transportation may be in issue for her. Incidentally, this week I also joined one of the sitter websites myself, so I will be trying out some new sitters this month. I am confident we can find a great fit – or two, since it never hurts to have a few sitters on speed-dial.