No Man's Land: Too Old for a Sitter, Too Young to Be Left Alone

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Once upon a time I was one of the world's greatest babysitters. I don't brag often, but this is true: Kids and parents alike clamored for my services. I worked every weekend and even various weeknights, and when I bought my first car, I paid for it with babysitting money.

My best clients paid me $3/hour, which at the time seemed like a lot of money. (It's okay; go ahead and laugh. I do, now.)

Even funnier? I began my career at age 11, and was in regular demand by the time I was 12. My daughter is turning 12 in a couple of weeks, and as much as I love her, I'm not sure I'd entrust her with a house plant, much less a child or two.

As a single mother in New England, I knew that friends of mine were paying college students $8/hour and up to watch their kids. I smugly snared a neighbor when she was still in middle school; at $5/hour, I was paying her above what anyone else was offering, but still paying less than I'd have to pay someone older. And I always said I love to "raise my own" sitters -- she worked for us for years, her parents were right next door in case of any problems, and the kids loved her. As an added bonus, the fact that she could walk over meant I didn't have to figure out the logistics of taking her home when there wasn't a second parent to stay with the kids. I allowed myself one night out each week (for choir practice) and she served us well. Moving away from a longtime, reliable sitter was hard.

Once we came to Georgia, suddenly I had a second parent to help with the kids. That meant that if I had a meeting or something, most likely my husband could ride herd and we didn't even need a sitter. Imagine! Of course eventually we realized we might enjoy an evening out without the children, and then I tried my standard raise-my-own maneuver and found a reliable middle schooler to come sit for us. Well. That was pretty much a disaster.

See, I'd forgotten that the last time I'd hired a middle schooler, my older child was only five. This time, I hired a twelve-year-old when my oldest was nine. Let me rephrase: I hired a sitter only a few years older than my oldest child, who was still mourning the loss of her old babysitter (and friends and home). I feel like it was kind of an impossible situation I put our poor sitter in, and I'm sorry I wasn't a little smarter about that.

Since then, we've gone out very little. For a couple of events we've hired a college student at $10+/hour, but even though I can afford that, now, the cost makes me cringe. Particularly when we're talking about someone sitting on the couch watching television while the kids are sleeping. The bigger problem for me, now, is that my daughter is in that age range where she really, honestly, is too old for a sitter. Twelve-year-olds do not require a babysitter! But my son -- still a very young ten-year-old -- does. And while I trust my daughter alone, I do not trust her not to torment her brother. And quite frankly, I don't trust either of them not to stay up watching Teen Nick if we were to leave them alone at night.

So my dilemma is that I'm stuck in the no-man's-land of too-old-for-a-sitter, too-young-to-be-alone. And the end result is that we just don't go out except when the kids go visit their dad. (Which is rather pitiful.)

Others are perfectly okay with paying for a sitter, but are struggling with the cost. Lynn at TurtleHead has always assumed she was the greatest babysitting client around, but has recently discovered that the going rate is several dollars above what she's been paying. What to do?

Genevieve Theirs shares tips on what to pay your sitter over at Adventures in Babysitting and suggests that $10/hour may in fact be low in some areas (eek).

And as for where it's okay to leave kids alone when, check out the dozens of angry responses to Lenore Skenazy's article on ParentDish where she talks about a mother leaving her 5-year-old alone in the children's room at the library for just a few minutes. Wow.

I'm curious: What are you paying for babysitters? And how old was your child or were your children when you decided you no longer needed a sitter? Because at the rate I'm going, I just won't be leaving the kids again until they're in high school.

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.

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