basically unicorns

Why Is It So D*mn Hard To Find A Babysitter These Days?

These mythical creatures only exist in the movies.

Ariela Basson/Scary Mommy; Getty Images, Shutterstock

“You’ve never been to Vegas? You gotta go at least once. Not with the kids though. Wait until they’re older and get a babysitter.”

Such was the suggestion of a childless coworker a few years ago: I should book a babysitter to stay at my home for several days and nights so I can jump on a plane and visit an incredibly expensive city across the country.

I suspect this person was picturing a babysitter as a British woman who arrives at your home via umbrella, with a bag full of everything children could want or need. Unfortunately, that’s a Disney movie, not reality.

I can’t count the number of times my childless friends have invited me somewhere or recommended I go somewhere and ended with the words: “Just get a babysitter.” It sounds easy. The Baby-Sitters Club books gave an entire generation of people the idea that you can just invite a neighborhood teen over and she’ll bring her Kid Kit and order a pizza. I wish.

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I say finding a babysitter takes So. Much. Planning.

When my husband and I had our first baby nine years ago, I signed up for only to realize it’s basically online dating but worse. You have to review all of your potential matches, then you have to conduct full-on job interviews with someone you’re asking to come into your home once a month for a date night. We found some seemingly lovely people, but I ultimately decided I wasn’t comfortable hiring a complete stranger to watch my 6-month-old just so we could go to the movies.

You could ask another adult you know to watch your kids. But do your same-age friends really want to watch your kids for a few bucks? I’ve called friends to watch my kids only in emergencies, and even then I felt like I owed them money or maybe a spa day.

You could also ask another parent to watch your kids, perhaps you can swap date nights! That sounds great! But that option brings up one of the other issues with this whole babysitter thing — my kids barely fall asleep for me. Bedtime is not pleasant in my house. My kids treat brushing their teeth as some sort of sadistic punishment. Pajamas always come as a surprise. While I’m trying to find one kid’s favorite book and missing stuffie the others will start doing somersaults on their beds and before long someone is crying or yelling and waking up the baby in the next room. No parent wants to deal with that in their own house, let alone someone else’s.

I’m not saying you need to be there every night to put your kid to sleep. Of course

adults need adult time and an occasional night with a babysitter is not going to scar your kids. It’s just... why is it so logistically annoying?

And I haven’t even mentioned the financial strain it can be. If I’m planning a night out, that means I’m spending money on dinner and an activity, which means I don’t have another $75-$100 to spend on a babysitter. Babysitter rates have also gone up since the child care shortage caused by the pandemic made them even more sparse; once you do find one, you want to pay them enough to keep coming back.

But wait! There’s grandma! Grandma is free! Grandma would love to watch the kids!

But grandma is also older than you and may not be up for chasing your toddler for an extended period of time solo. She may not be amenable to staying up late. And all of this is assuming grandma is still alive and lives nearby.

My parents live an hour away, as do my in-laws. My husband and I trust both sets of grandparents to watch our kids and both would be happy to, but it’s been 30-some years since they’ve taken care of small children. When our first baby was just over a year, we were longing for a night out, so we left the baby at my mother’s and went for a quick bite to eat. We were just about to order food when my mom called. Our son was throwing up. Back we went.

“I don’t know what happened,” my mother lamented. “We fed him some mashed potatoes with sour cream and some cantaloupe and he just started throwing up.”

Granted, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what happened either, but I think it had something to do with the combination of sour cream and cantaloupe.

We waited until our kids were a little older before leaving them with my parents again. When I was pregnant with our third child, we unexpectedly got free Hamilton tickets, and there was no way we were turning them down. Because it was an evening show, my parents weren’t willing to drive an hour to our house in the dark, so we drove the hour to their house, dropped off the kids, returned to town for the show, then drove back to my parents where we crashed in their guest room and were woken up five hours later by two excited kids.

The experience was a success (no sour cream was served), but is that the length parents should have to go to enjoy one night out?

I don’t know what the answer is. But I do want my childless friends to know: I want to hang out with you, I want to do fun things, but no, I can’t “just get a babysitter.” They’re basically unicorns.

We’ll hang out once my oldest is, well, old enough to babysit. And if you’re looking for a babysitter around that time, I’ll give you his number.

But he’s not staying overnight while you jet to Vegas.

Lauren Davidson is a Pittsburgh-based writer and editor focusing on parenting, arts and culture, and weddings. She has worked at newspapers and magazines in New England and western Pennsylvania and is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with degrees in English and French. She lives with her editor husband, four energetic kids, and one affectionate cat. Follow her on Twitter @laurenmylo.