You want—no, you need—to get out of the house, but your kids will need a sitter and you don’t know the first thing about available childcare in your area. What to do? Getting a great babysitter is tough! First you have to FIND someone that will be available when you need them, and then you have to weed through to find one who’s dependable and trustworthy (assuming that you love your kids and don’t want to leave them with just any ole psycho from Craigslist). And within your budget would be a definite plus, too, because let’s face it— if you had a pocket full of money to burn, you’d have hired a nanny already. It’s definitely a challenge. But it’s also a definite possibility that if you don’t get out of the house without your kids at least once or twice a year, you might just go stark raving mad. Challenge accepted. Now, where do you even start?
Try people you know personally first. Your definition of “personally” might be broad enough to include friends of friends, that sweet old lady that goes to church with your mom, or even that girl that runs the cash register at the liquor store. But I digress. Regardless, there are bound to be people that you know who have had to use sitters in the past. Ask your friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers for sitters they’ve used and liked. And remember, just because THEY liked them, doesn’t mean that you will. But it’s still a great place to start.
Ask other people that you know and trust. Think about asking your kids’ Kindergarten or daycare teacher if they ever do any childcare outside of business hours. Some do! And even if they don’t, they probably have some good recommendations for others to pass along to you. Your pediatrician’s office may have some suggestions, as well. If it’s just for special occasions, you might even ask other parents that you know if they’d be interested in swapping out some babysitting time!
Child care agencies and websites are growing more popular, too. Companies like these are great for making connections between parents and sitters. You can browse through their profiles before ever communicating with them, and most also provide basic background checks.
After you’ve found potential sitters, the direct contact should begin. You may have a standard set of interview questions to ask each candidate, to determine if they’d be a good fit for your family’s needs. You can do phone or email interviews as a preliminary test, to cull your picks, and then progress to a face-to-face interview.
What kinds of things should you be looking for in a potential babysitter? Beyond the obvious, like good references and CPR training, (maybe a lack of a felonious criminal record), you’ll also want to make sure your potential candidates possess the following qualities:
• They show up on time. Missing your date night reservations, or being late for work, because your sitter didn’t show up on time is not cool. Obviously, things happen from time to time, but lack of punctuality usually indicates irresponsibility or lack of interest or respect for the position.
• They interact well with your child and your child likes them. Obviously, you won’t be leaving the decision totally up to your child, but it’s important that your kids be comfortable being left with whomever you choose. It may take a little while for children to get use to a new person, so you may have to go on instinct the first time or two and see how it goes. If it doesn’t feel right, try someone else.
Once you’ve found a sitter that meshes well with your family, you’ll need to come to an agreement on the pay rate. Child care rates can vary greatly by location, so you might want to do a bit of research before talking to your potential sitter regarding her fee. If you already know the general going rate for your area, it will put you in a more knowledgeable position for the pay discussion. Keep in mind that if your sitter has a higher level of child care training and/or experience, it’s completely within reason for her to expect to be paid more than the teenager across the street. Although, to be honest, that teenager across the street is still going to expect to be paid more per hour to lay on your couch and watch Nick Jr while keeping your kid alive than you made per hour your first job after graduating college. Negotiations are acceptable, but don’t be an asshat. We’re talking about paying someone to be responsible for YOUR kids!