Seven year old number one child was pushing four year old number two child in the umbrella stroller while two year old number three child rode in the grocery cart and the baby was snuggled in the pouch on my chest. This was the weekly scene as I went grocery shopping and about town on any errands. It was as exhausting as it sounds. Number two child was far too rambunctious to trust to walk freely. I gave up!
Because the family budget allowed it I hired a babysitter once a week for two-three hours. (Yes, Captain Obvious, I could have done my shopping in the evenings when my husband was home, but didn’t wish to.) A neighborhood teen would come to our house after school and stay until I returned from errands or husband/dad came home from work which ever happened first. I always took one child with me and left three at home. I rotated through the children so that they each had a turn to be the one to get to go with mom. This rotation was part of our host child system which you can read about in my Host Child post.
We also used babysitters for our dates, which for many years was a weekly date night. The date night babysitter usually prepared and served a meal to the children and often managed bedtime also.
The best babysitter and the children’s favorite was Miss Tracie. She was 15 years old when number one child was a newborn and she began babysitting for us. She also went away for college but came back to us. Number one child was 10 when she was swept off her feet and married a man from Michigan who took her away from us. (We have forgiven him.)
What makes for a good babysitter versus a not so good babysitter? The good ones are engaging and creative. They arrive prepared to play with the children. They may even bring a bag of toys or games with them. They listen carefully for any specific instructions and then follow through on them. They do not just watch TV or movies or play on their phones. If the sitter prepares or serves a meal they should also put away leftover food and put dishes in the sink or dishwasher. The children can be involved in this chore and any other clean up necessitated from activities while parents are away.
I preferred adult sitters over teen sitters. Adults are usually more trustworthy and capable of handling emergencies however they are more difficult to obtain. Whether the sitters are teens or adults all expectations, like putting dishes in the sink, need to be clearly explained and not just expected. Make sure they have your cell number and you have theirs before you leave. We always kept a laminated information paper near the house phone which had on it our name and address as well as other important names and phone numbers such as family members, neighbors, poison control, etc. . . . Now many homes do not have land lines, but such information is valuable and a sitter needs to know how to find it. Perhaps post it on the refrigerator.
Eventually number one child was old enough and mature enough to watch his siblings for an hour or two during the day. I could still take one with me and that left only two at home. This was a good exercise for him. The siblings were not always fully cooperative and he figured out ways to get them to cooperate. By the time he was sixteen he was in high demand as a babysitter for other families. He too, was creative and engaging.
Giving care to little ones as a mommy’s helper while mom is present or being solely responsible as a babysitter is good for teens. It is good to focus on others. It is good training for parenthood. It is good to be responsible and earn some money. It is good for mom and/or dad to get a break or assistance.
Miss Tracie with four of our children and friends, Katie and Adam. Practicing the parade wave.
When our number five child arrived on the scene our older children were 10, 12, 14, and 17. They saw first- hand and were involved with caring for a baby. They were his babysitters. This was also good for them on many levels. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that it helped them be more confident caring for a baby when they became parents themselves.