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Finding and Keeping a Babysitter

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Baby-sitters are like precious gems. We talk about them in excited but hushed tones, and are sometimes reluctant to share the best of them, even with our friends. A baby-sitter provides two things that parents value the most: time and peace of mind.

In many communities, a good baby-sitter finds herself (they are still mostly female) in a seller's market. She can pick and choose her clients, sometimes driving up the price but also letting clients know her preferences for gourmet pizza and premium ice cream.

It's a job that can take a surprising amount of maturity. Still, some 12-year-olds can cope with a crying toddler better than some college students. Having years of practice with younger siblings seems to provide a considerable advantage—especially if the baby-sitter is watching two children.

So how can you find and keep an outstanding baby-sitter? Here are a few ideas:

  • Look at alternative sources of supply. While your initial instinct may be to look for a baby-sitter at a local high school or middle school, try a local college instead. This is especially useful if you have more than one child, as this makes baby-sitting more challenging. You may find a student from out of town who misses the interactions of a family, and is more than willing to trade an evening at a college dorm for a paycheck plus some time in a comfortable home. You'll probably get bonus points if you allow the baby-sitter to do his or her laundry after the kids are asleep.
  • Put a baby-sitter on retainer. Work out a businesslike arrangement with a sitter in which you reserve her time for six months or a year, and promise to pay her for a minimum number of hours per week, even if you don't use her. For example, you might reserve the baby-sitter for six hours per week or for every Thursday evening. Make sure that the arrangement allows either of you to make changes with sufficient notice.
  • Get involved in your baby-sitter's life if she feels comfortable with that. Go to her school performances and sporting competitions. Invite her to your family's holiday party. Send her a birthday card or a small present. If your interest in her is sincere, she'll keep you at the top of her client list.
  • Contact training programs for referrals. Groups like the Red Cross and the Girl Scouts have formal programs that teach and "certify" baby-sitters. Being involved in such a program shows that she takes her job seriously.
  • Have a backup plan. School vacations, illness, and exams can wreak havoc on her schedule just when you need her.
Start with a dry run. Have a baby-sitter spend a few hours with your kids while you're also at home. Pay her for this time, of course. This way you can see how they interact, how she handles the conflicting demands of more than one child if that's what you have, and whether her style reflects your values.  

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