Growing up, my siblings and I lived for nights with a babysitter. It meant someone young and fun to play with, staying up slightly later than our bedtimes, and if we were really lucky, a Kid Cuisine for dinner. Thankfully my tastebuds have matured, but I remember the time my siblings and I spent with babysitters fondly. So fondly in fact, I believe in making sure my own children get similar experiences.
These days the new trend seems to be only allowing family or other adults to watch your kids. I know lots of people are wary of babysitters for financial reasons, or worried they aren’t responsible enough to care for their children. While I totally understand this approach, especially when your kids are babies, I really think it’s worth it to occasionally up your budget (if you’re able) and take a calculated risk. There are valuable experiences to be gained with babysitters.
Fun food. Whenever there is a meal during babysitter time I do my best to make it something different, a la the Kid Cuisines we got when we were kids. These days there are SO many more options out there, organic, vegetarian anything, so you’re not tied to overcooked chicken nuggets and a brownie that bakes in the microwave. We normally go the corn dog route around here, complete with frozen peas and clementine oranges.
New and exciting ways to play. My babysitters were always willing to play games that my parents weren’t. I’m so grateful the babysitters we have for our boys are similar. They never hesitate to sit down and play ANOTHER game of Connect 4 or Hide and Seek. In addition, the boys are always bubbling over talking about whatever imaginary game they play, be it monsters, dress up, or anything. One sitter loves to make origami boats and they spend days afterward playing with them. Y’all, I’m a decent mother, but I’m not making anyone origami anything.
Different rules. We all know there are mommy rules, daddy rules, grandparent rules, etc. There is also absolutely a set of babysitter rules. Typically I let a sitter know hard and fast house rules, and then other than that, it’s up to her discretion. The boys often tell me that so and so let them do something and I say, “How special and fun!” It’s okay if things are a little different with babysitters. So, when I get home and the bedroom door is open and the sound machine light is on, or I find out that they read six books before bedtime and then they laid down and sang songs for an hour, I choose to be happy. I’m grateful someone else is willing and able to be silly and relaxed with my children, ESPECIALLY at bedtime.
Learning responsibility. Leaving the boys with someone else gives them an opportunity to trust their own judgement. Sitters will sometimes tell me that the kids told them they weren’t allowed to do this or that. This makes my heart smile because I know they are following rules even when I’m not there. Conversely if someone gets in trouble while I’m gone, I typically allow the guilty party a chance to tell me about it on their own. And they do. It’s a small way to allow them a measure of independence from me, even while they are still sufficiently supervised. I feel like it’s good practice for growing up.
Giving older kids a chance. I really believe that not allowing high school or even college students to babysit our kids is hurting both sides of the coin. I started babysitting at the ripe old age of 12. By 14, I was watching kids all day during the summer while their parents worked. Most parents I know now aren’t willing to give these younger kids a chance. It made me nervous, too. But, two summers ago I took a chance on a sitter who just finished her freshman year of high school. It started with just a couple of hours during the day. Over the past two years she has become one of our most requested sitters, and we use her all the time. That success buoyed me to add two other high school students to our call list, both boys. If no one is letting these kids have occasional jobs as a way to earn extra money and learn more responsibility, they are going to be missing out on these skills later on in life.
More people to love my kids. At the end of the day, babysitters do amazing things. They allow parents to get much needed breaks (or go to doctor appointments) that help them recharge and come back to the family ready to go. They give kids a break from standard parenting and allow a level of freedom that is supervised, safe, and fun. Most important though, they love our kids, and another person to love on our babies is never a bad thing.