Help! I need a babysitter…

My babysitter luck ran out last year. For seven years, I was literally flush with babysitters. I was the go-to person for my friends who were in need of childcare. Then, my regular sitters, a key few who had been with me for six or seven years, aged out, moved away, found real jobs, etc. and I was faced with three young kids, two jobs that needed to get done, a husband who lived out of town all week, pick- ups that needed to be coordinated with my youngest’s nap-time, occasional weeknight evenings out or weekend outings with my husband (remember him?) and no help.

I know many people are extremely lucky and have local family who babysit on a regular basis. In fact, this past weekend we were at a concert with friends who have a 3-year old son and 4-week old twins. That’s not a typo, yes, these adorable babies are 4 weeks old. Yet, there they were, at a concert, socializing with adults, no children in tow. How did they pull off this what I consider amazing feat? One of the grandmothers was babysitting. All three children. Overnight. Until the morning. My jaw dropped.

In any event, last spring when my luck ran out and I had emailed everyone I knew to see if they had any extra sitters to no avail, I went online to Craig’s List and answered some ads local college students had posted advertising babysitting services. Desperate, I quickly lined one girl up to babysit and I will admit it, I did not conduct my usual thorough interview process and reference check for this person. She was great with the kids, showed up on time, until one day, I got a call that she was leaving town and never returned again. This was when I had an event that I was planning in two weeks and had her lined up for about 20 hours per week. I learned my lesson the hard way, and regardless of my situation, will always perform a thorough interview, have a trial period prior to lining up regular days, and check at least 3 references.

I have since had many conversations with my friends who shared their experiences with me. Here are some suggestions they came up with:

Where to find a sitter:

1) Ask your friends, neighbors, co-workers, etc.. If they don’t have any sitters in reserves they are willing to share, their trusted sitters might have a roommate, friend or cousin who is interested.

2) Local colleges are great resources. I have friends who have had luck posting a flyer in the education department of local colleges.

3) Your kids’ teachers – particularly pre-school – are often interested in picking up extra hours, or may have family members looking for extra money.

4) Craig’s List. I did have luck with Craig’s List this year – in a less frenzied state I posted an ad and received many responses. I interviewed 4 or 5 girls and ended up with a great regular sitter.

What to ask potential sitters:

 1) Have you babysat previously? If so, please describe your experience.

2) Have you received any specialized training (such as first aid/CPR, attended a babysitter course, or taken related school courses)?

3) Why do you enjoy working with children?

4) What activities will you plan with my kid(s) when I am gone? (Ask this question to determine whether the potential babysitter plans any games, crafts or child-friendly activities in your absence.)

5) What age children do you most enjoy? Least enjoy? Why? Which age group are you most comfortable/experienced with?

6) What will you do if the kids aren’t getting along (aka screaming and fighting)?

7) Do you know how to prepare a meal for kids (Don’t assume a person knows how to properly use an oven or microwave.)?

8.) What type of commitment will you provide me that you will honor our agreement to babysit and notcancel? (This question is particularly important if you are hiring a sitter for key holidays or busy times such as New Year’s Eve.)

9) What was your worst babystting experience, and why? (See how the candidate worked through the problem.)

10) Do you have a list of references? (If you have not already spoken with someone about the babysitter beforehand, be sure you call and talk with references before entrusting a person to care for your child.)

What to ask references:   

1) How well do you know Susie?

* In what capacity did she work for you?

* How long did she work for you?

2)  How would you describe her?

* What are her best qualities?

* What are her worst qualities?

3)  How did your kids like her?

* Was she always excited to see your kids?

* Did she have a routine when working with your kids?

* Is she flexible? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)

* Is she mature? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)

* Is she patient? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)

* Is she timely? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)

* Is she energetic? (Consider getting a rating on a 1-5 scale for this question.)

4)  Did she drive your kids, do an overnight job for you or sit for a newborn?

* How did she do with these tasks?

5)  How much supervision did she need?

* How well did she follow direction?

6) Was she willing to clean up after herself on the job? (very important in my house!)

7) What areas could she improve in?

8.) Would you hire her again?

* Why did you stop working together?

9)  Is there anything else you would like to add?

* Can I contact you again if I have any more questions?

Do you have any babysitting advice (or nightmares) to share?

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Rachael Ray