by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Have you ever looked at your life through your babysitter’s eyes?
Bear with me, this could get painful.
Women’s Day recently explored the topic with The Top Ten Things Your Babysitter Won’t Tell You .
At first blush, this seems like a fluffy, humorous magazine article, perfect for summer beach reading. But like the bestselling book The Nanny Diaries , it’s the uniqueness of the view that makes this topic provocative. Our babysitter’s perspective offers invaluable – sometimes medicinal -- feedback on how we are cutting it as parents, housekeepers and employers.
Among the top ten things your babysitter won’t tell you:
* Your House Is Gross. In other words, she sees EVERYTHING. Including the mess you stashed in the kids’ closet and the scum in the tub. No need to disinfect the house before she arrives. But just know – you have no secrets from your sitter.
* She Doesn’t Respect Your Parenting. No parent is perfect. All this means is she has a different perspective on raising kids. Maybe you should stop giving your toddler so much juice. Perhaps you let your children watch too much – or too little – television. Have a thick skin and an open mind. Few others know your kids as intimately as caregivers. Sometimes, their experience and wisdom far outweighs ours; a different approach can be enlightening.
* She Bribes Your Kids. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with bribery – a bedtime movie in exchange for good behavior, for instance. But some of us seem to expect our babysitter or nanny (or even our husband) to be perfect models of Dr. Spock childrearing, serving homemade organic whole wheat crackers instead of Lays, reading Pride and Prejudice instead of Scooby Doo comics. Loosen up – as long as the homework gets done, the kids are having fun and behaving themselves, don’t apply standards higher than ones you expect yourself to meet.
* You Undermine Her Discipline. I know a family that forbids their nanny from reprimanding their children in any fashion. Not surprisingly, the kids are shockingly disrespectful and out-of-control around the nanny (and most other adults). Their nannies quit as frequently as the seasons change. The point? Caregivers must be allowed to enforce rules. Your kids need to respect other adults besides parents. You can – and should -- establish appropriate ways to discipline your children. But trust her judgment, and back up her disciplinary decisions. If you don’t trust her -- don’t hire her again.
* She Needs a Raise – But Would Rather Quit Than Ask You For It. Surprise surprise, it’s hard to ask for more money – especially for women, especially in a job that blurs the line between the personal and professional . But just like you expect an annual raise, so does your sitter. She could get it from another family, so make sure you keep current on standard pay rates in your area by asking friends how much they pay.
* If You Keep Coming Home Late or Cancelling Jobs Last Minute, She Will Quit. All employees deserve respect. Just because she “loves your kids” doesn’t mean you can treat her time cavalierly. Pay a cancellation fee if your plans change. Call if you are going to be late. Apologize profusely. Double the overtime – and don’t do it again.
* Forget The To Do List. Taking care of the kids is hard enough! You hired her to keep your kids safe, entertain them, feed them, bathe them, discipline them, have fun with them. This is a fulltime job. Don’t ask her to fold the laundry or organize your fridge once the kids are in bed. She needs a break, just like we do.
* She’s Hungry. Here is the simplest need to meet. Make sure you are long on cookies and snacks, a few ethnic or vegetarian treats if she has special dietary needs. It’s part of being a considerate employer. Make sure she knows what she can eat, and what she shouldn’t touch.
No don’t wig out. I’m not suggesting we live our lives to delight 13-year-old babysitters. We are the adults here, with fully developed rationality and pragmatism. However, many of us were sitters once. Remember your favorite houses? The ones with well-behaved kids, firm rules about bedtime, generous overtime pay, a good television set, and lots of ice cream in the freezer? There’s wisdom here. A well-run home, stocked with common sense, yummy food and bountiful respect, makes kids, adults and babysitters all want to call your house “home.”