Babysitting is the best side gig – at least, it is if you love children. I was a regular babysitter for over a decade, a full-time nanny during college, and a "mother's helper" long before that. Now, pregnant with my first child, I'm about to experience it all over again on the other side. While all babysitter and parent relationships are slightly different, there are certain pieces of etiquette to follow. Specifically... try to limit (or better yet, eliminate) these things that annoy babysitters the most. Otherwise, you may just cause your favorite sitter to suddenly have very limited availability.
It's understandable why some of these things happen so frequently. Some parents were never babysitters themselves, and therefore can't really put themselves in their sitter's shoes. Other times, the babysitter has become such a part of the family that lines are blurred and awkward situations are created. In my own experience, I was proud to be understanding and easygoing with all my families, but my flexibility was taken advantage of a few times. Whether you think you're a dream to work for or know you have room for improvement, it never hurts to brush up on the things you shouldn't be doing.
1. Not telling them when you'll be home, or changing that time repeatedly.
Whenever I would babysit at night, I never made important plans for afterwards. After all, parents can't always plan how long a dinner date will take, and if they want to go out and have a few drinks, why shouldn't they? That said, don't tell the babysitter you'll be home around 10 p.m. if you're not going to remotely try and stick to that. Be upfront and either a) pick a time and hold yourself accountable or b) tell the babysitter it's going to be a wild night and to settle in for a late one.
I babysat for a family to pick up some extra cash while in college, and they would regularly change their plans while I was already at their home. They'd tell me they were just going to dinner and would be home "at a reasonable hour," then text me and ask, "Actually, is it OK if we're out until midnight?" A few hours later: "It might be closer to 2ish... is that OK?" It's a hard situation to put your babysitter in – I wanted to be flexible and accommodating, but I had an exam the next day!
2. Checking in (and expecting a prompt response) every 20 minutes.
I don't blame parents for wanting to check in and see how things are going. I'm currently pregnant with my first baby, and I can only imagine how anxiety-provoking it can be to leave your baby in the hands of a sitter. There is nothing wrong with a text or two asking how everything is going, but anything more than that is excessive.
When I babysat, I wanted to give my full attention to the kid(s). The second I turned my attention to a text message was, inevitably, the second they decided to make a mess or do something dangerous. When a parent was texting me asking for play-by-plays three times an hour, it was hard to devote my full attention to their little ones. In other words, by them being a doting, watchful parent it was harder for me to be a doting, watchful babysitter.
3. Asking, "Is it cool if I pay you next time?"
I picked up a nannying job during my senior year of college, and before my first day it was decided that I would be paid on Fridays. Despite mutually agreeing to that, the parents would ask me almost daily if I wanted to be paid earlier, or if I was still OK waiting until Friday. It always stuck with me, because it was such a kind gesture for a broke college student.
Unless you and your babysitter have agreed upon a certain pay schedule, please pay them every single time they babysit for you. Many babysitters are not rolling in cash, but at the same time don't feel comfortable saying, "No, that's not cool to delay my payment." Don't put them in the situation, and pay up!
4. Not being clear about the bedtime routine.
If you don't tell me what time your kid should go to bed, I guess I'll just defer to them (and spoiler alert: they're going to want to party all night with their cool babysitter). All families have different routines, so making the babysitter guess yours is just annoying.
Laid back parents are great sometimes, but there is such a thing as being too laid back. Kids thrive with a bit of structure, so help your sitter out by supplying some. They don't need a detailed instruction manual, but a general idea of your typical schedule is pretty helpful.
5. Coming home wasted and/or arguing with your spouse.
This happened more times than I could count, and I always felt so uncomfortable. Of course parents deserve to let loose, but it can go a bit too far. I had parents texting me the day after I babysat, admitting they didn't remember coming home and asking if they paid me the proper amount. Yikes! If you want to go full speed ahead, just make sure your partner is at least semi-sober to handle the babysitter when you get home.
Going hand-in-hand with the first point: Please save your arguing for once the babysitter has been sent on their merry way. I'm sorry the night didn't go as planned, but I really don't want to witness your booze-fueled squabble after a night of chasing around your toddler.
6. Nickel & diming the babysitter.
It's your money and I can respect if you're on a budget, but some parents go overboard. I briefly babysat for a family that would start the clock the moment they physically left the home (even if they asked me to arrive much earlier) and would whip out the calculator when they got home to pay me to the exact minute.
For example, if they paid me $12 an hour and arrived home at 8:56, they would literally pay me $11.20 for that final hour. Just round up, pay me for those extra four minutes, and save everyone some time — plus, that extra 80 cents would help me pay for the gas they never offered to pay for. This habit, combined with their horribly behaved child, made me end up leaving the job.
7. Staying home and hanging out with the babysitter.
Look, if you're paying the babysitter by the hour to watch your kids, technically you're allowed to do what you want. Stay in the house, hang out in the front yard, whatever... as long as they're getting paid, who cares, right? While that's true, it's pretty dang awkward if you're just chillin' in the same room while I'm playing with your child. If you're here... why am I here?
And if you're thinking, "Wait, other parents do that?" the answer is: yes, often. My girlfriends and I used to commiserate about the awkwardness that was a lurking parent. It always made things confusing for the child ("Who is actually in charge right now?") and I never felt totally comfortable going into full make-believe mode when there was a parent in the room, wanting to interrupt and talk about the news.
8. Planning outings, and not leaving enough money for them.
You want me to take your children out to lunch and then to the zoo? That sounds like great fun! Unfortunately you've only given me $7, so it looks like we're staying home.
If you want your babysitter to do something fun with your children, make sure you've given them enough cash upfront for everything. I can't tell you how frustrating it was when I overdrew my debit card in high school just trying to fulfill the itinerary a local mom had left me. Don't expect the babysitter to front the cost and pay them back later – instead, plan ahead and have cash at the ready.
9. Instructing the babysitter to enforce certain rules that you don't even use yourself.
Your babysitter is not the Super Nanny, and they will not be able to tackle disciplinary issues that you yourself cannot handle. Do not expect them to suddenly have your child doing chores and eating all their veggies if you can't manage it. Not only are you setting them up for failure, you're making them the bad guy with your children, too.
Be realistic with your expectations. If your kids are fed, happy, and safe when you arrive home, your babysitter has done a great job.
10. Not mentioning your friend's kids/kid's friends are there, too.
If you tell your babysitter that you have two children, there better only be two children at your home when the arrive. If your children want to have friends over, either say no or ask the babysitter if they're OK with it. If your friends want to dump their children at your place, tell them to get their own babysitter – that is, unless your babysitter has specifically approved it and it's clear who's paying for it.
There is nothing worse than preparing yourself for a night watching two kids you know and like, only to find yourself entertaining five sugar-fueled kids at a sleepover. Don't put your sitter in that position.
All in all, it's up to the sitter and parent to make sure there is a clear line of communication, but keep in mind that some sitters might not feel comfortable approaching their employer about any of the above or other things that bother them about the job. It's up to you to take the initiative to be considerate of the people who are working for you, especially those who are watching your kids.