Babysitters 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 babysitter provides two things that parents value the most: time and peace of mind.
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 babysitter is watching two children.
So how can you find and keep an outstanding babysitter? Here are a few ideas:
Broaden your research: While your initial instinct may be to look for a babysitter at a local high school or middle school, try a local college instead. 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 babysitter to do his or her laundry after the kids are asleep.
Put a babysitter 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 call her. Or reserve her for a specific evening every week. Make sure that the arrangement allows either of you to
make changes with sufficient notice.
Get involved in your babysitter's life if she feels comfortable with that.
Go to her school performances and sporting competitions. 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" babysitters. 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 babysitter 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.