What Do The Babysitters Say About YOU??

The other day a friend told me a story about a mother, a babysitter, and some bad behavior — not the children’s behavior mind you, but the mother’s. It was ugly.

Elinor had been horrified to hear her normally kind friend speak to the 17 year-old girl who was about to spend the next five hours feeding and caring for her four kids in a rude, insulting way.

Although the mother’s attitude shocked Elinor, it didn’t faze me. As the mom of a babysitter, I’ve witnessed some pretty questionable behavior on the part of some parents myself.

Once for example, some neighbors asked my daughter at the last minute to babysit for “just an hour and a half.” She was leaving early the next morning for a big day in the city. She mentioned her plans and explained that she had to get to bed early. It was Friday and she was worn out after a week of school. Not a problem, they promised.

But two hours after they left, they called and asked her to stay a little longer. Put on the spot, and being 16, she said okay. I fell asleep reading in bed, waiting for her to come home. Next thing I knew, it was 4:00 in the morning and she was still gone. Panicked, I called the neighbor’s house and got a hold of my daughter, who was exhausted and upset.

She gave me their number and I called them and asked what the *!!* was going on.  “Oh, sorry, we’ll be right home! We didn’t realize how late it was.” Then they finally came home, full of apologies. To make matters worse, they threw A LOT (and I mean a LOT) of money at her, as if that would make everything okay. It really didn’t. In fact, it just added to the confusion and the number of things we had to talk about the next day.

My kid, who got to bed at 5:00 AM, was too tired to go on her own adventure in the morning. I was pretty beat myself, and mad! These parents were not terrible people — they just didn’t get that a 16 year old needs to be treated with the same level of courtesy and respect as an adult.

My daughter has had many other experiences with parents who have been very thoughtful and considerate and I’m sure that’s the case for most babysitters, most of the time. But kids do get taken advantage of by parents often enough to warrant some attention.

So here are some things to remember when you’re dealing with these God-Sends (and possible mamas-in-training) who help us so much as we raise our children.


  • respect their time–pick them up and get back home when you said you would.
  • treat them the same way you would an adult but don’t expect them to have the same level of knowledge or experience. Explain everything you need to in a kind, respectful way.
  • agree on a fee in advance and pay them when you get home. Give them a little extra if they stayed later or did extra work.
  • pay them fairly. If you are having them care for other kids besides your own, don’t skimp on their fee. If they are babysitting kids from two families, both sets of parents should pay.
  • give them clear instructions about everything they need to know in order to do a great job for you: rules, bedtimes, food or medicine allergies, limits on TV or computer use etc.
  • leave all important information about your home (like your address and phone number) in an obvious place so they can find it. You’d be surprised how often babysitters don’t know where they are when they have to call for help.
  • leave a list of important numbers (doctor, neighbor and how to reach you) right by the phone.


  • leave them with a sick kid unless it’s absolutely necessary and they have been given advance notice and feel comfortable with the situation.
  • be more than a FEW minutes late without calling.
  • forget that in their eyes you are “PARENTS.” No matter how young you feel, look  or think of yourself, you look pretty old to them. They, on the other hand, are not that much older than your own kids and may not know how to comfortably say “no” to an adult. So make sure you don’t put them on the spot or take advantage of this fact.
  • talk down to them or treat them like second-class-citizens just because they are young. I still remember the great parents and the not-so-great parents that I babysat for and so will they.

Be the parents they will remember with affection and respect when they grow up. And don’t forget…in just a few years, it’s going to be your kids who are out there working hard to make some extra money. Treat your young employees the way you hope your own kids will be treated when they get to that stage. You’ll be making some life-long fans and teaching the next generation of parents the true meaning of cool.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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