Monday, September 29, 2008

a discussion with my conscience

For the past several years, our families have been encouraging us to hire a mother's helper.

Whenever my mother comes to visit us in California, it is her mission to find us help. When mom was recently in town, she stopped everyone who had a pulse made eye contact and asked "Do you know of someone who might be available to babysit?"

For years and years, mom has been telling me to go to the local high school and talk to the Principal. Or one of the guidance counselors. Or post a flier at a local Junior College.

"The flier could be simple" she said. "Just post that you need a Mother's Helper. But..." she added, "I wouldn't mention how many children you have - or how old they are - in the ad."

I'm sure any potential babysitter would love to have it sprung on them, the first day of work that there are one! two! three! FOUR! children. And by the way, they're all under the age of four. I suspect there wouldn't be a first day of work. They'd ditch their black umbrella and bag of tricks and take off running down the street, never to be seen or heard from again.

To our credit, we did once post a flier at a local JC and never received any response. And when I was first returning to work in 2005, we ran an ad in a local newspaper - interviewed several people - and then decided that hiring help wasn't our cup of tea.

Charlie and I could make this work, just the two of us.

And we did.

And we have.

And wow - look at that.

Almost four years have passed and we're still relatively sane.

"All you need is someone to come over and play with the children for a few hours in the afternoon so you can get some things done"
, mom would stress. "Think of how nice it would be to have a little time to do some laundry or cook dinner. Wouldn't that be nice?"

Theoretically? Yes.

Realistically? I'm not sure.

But after enough people have been pressuring telling me how liberating it will be to have another set of hands to help in the afternoon, for a few hours a day, I have finally decided to give it a go.

My concession is that either Charlie and I would be here - folding laundry, participating in a conference call, preparing dinner. Maybe we would take one or two of the children and visit the grocery store. The babysitter's responsibilities would be to play with the children, read them stories, paint, string beads, push them on the swing.

Although, I really enjoy doing ALL of those things with the children. Why should I pay someone to come and do that? And really, we've managed for FOUR years with just the two of us, why do I really need to bring someone in, NOW? If anything, I'm away from the children for three hours a day in the morning - why do I need to be away from them in the afternoon, too?

Dear God, are you there?

Can you hear me? Is this thing on??

Today, one of the people that my mother talked to at church, many Sundays ago, came over. She is 18-years old and a Freshman in College. She has a very busy schedule, but is available a few afternoons a week to help with the children.

My initial impression was that she was very nice, but very shy. What I didn't notice (because I was chasing after Henry), but Charlie pointed out, is that she didn't talk to the children at all. While my husband walked her around the house and pointed out their various play areas and toys, and discussed what we were looking for and her availability, she clutched her bottle of water and nodded, "Oh, OK. Um. OK."

Maybe she was just overly shy and will be more engaging with the children when we're not standing right next to her. But so far, we're not off to a good start.

See, here's the thing. If I am going to have someone come to watch our children, they better do just as good of a job - if not better - than me. Better, I would expect, because they are going to be here for a short period of time and they will be paid. They need to be energetic and fun, resourceful and imaginative, carefree and disciplined, loving, kind and patient.

Extremely patient.

And they sure as heck better TALK with the children.

Once she left, Charlie and I were discussing compensation. When Charlie had asked her what her expectation was, she replied, "Whatever you are comfortable with." I remember giving that exact same empty response when I was a teenager. Perhaps 18-year-olds just haven't yet developed the self confidence to assertively declare what they want, or feel that they deserve.

Back in the 80's when I would babysit, I would make around $3.00 an hour. So I really have no idea what the "going" rate is. In talking with several of my friends, they have told me that depending upon where you live (i.e. Northern California Bay Area), the going rate for a sitter is $25.00 an hour and each additional child is $10.00 per hour.

To which I asked, what comes with that?? Will they also sanitize the house and teach our children Italian?? Because seriously, if I could be pulling in $55.00 an hour to babysit, graduate school was a bad investment.

Charlie called our sister-in-law, Kathy, this afternoon and according to her (mother of two teens both of whom babysit), a fair salary would be $10.00 an hour, assuming Charlie and I are here and the babysitter can come and ask us questions. Charlie assumed then, that if we pay $15.00 an hour, we should be left COMPLETELY alone.

Truthfully, I'm not too keen on any of this.

I definitely don't like having things forced upon me.

I feel like this whole "thing" of hiring a routine-sitter has been set in motion and I'm not too sure I want any of it to happen. My unwillingness has nothing to do with relinquishing control and allowing other people to care for my children because I already do that five days a week with school.

Instead, it has everything to do with the fact that I don't want to put an extra burden upon myself to find someone that I like and trust. I don't want to give up more time with my children, than I already do. I don't want to be committed to someone every week. It seems that bringing some one in is supposed to make my life easier, but from what I can see thus far, it seems like this is only going to complicate matters AND it will cost me money.

Why is that good??

Why do I have to try and fix something that isn't broken??

Although, right now, the kids are stirring from their nap and I am wishing that I had just a little more time to myself. Especially since I can hear William growling and screaming "ARGH!" and that never bodes well with my psyche.

Who knows. Maybe things would get better with time. Maybe this is just the kind of thing I need to try out for a while. Maybe this sitter will be the answer to prayers I didn't even know I was praying. Maybe everyone who has made the suggestion that I hire someone knows exactly what they are talking about, and I am clueless.

Or ... maybe not.


  1. I'm in the SF Bay Area and pay $15 per hour for 3 kids, when we are out. That seems to be the going rate for adult sitters, and generous for teen sitters (I think the going rate is more like $12 for teens).
    But... if you don't think you need it, don't do it... especially if you haven't found the right person. You might just have someone drop into your lives when you aren't looking. (And if you do need it, another
    route would be seeing if their preschool teachers ever sit outside of schooltime...)
    Good luck!

  2. I think it the gal did not make eye contact with MY BEAUTUFUL Grandchildren than you have the wrong person. She is only 18--and if you are not comfortable with her---do not do it. Use your sixth sense in this matter. Now, on the other hand, Kathleen has a great idea and a women in mind who is 23 and experienced with Multiples.
    Check her out.

  3. While reading your post, I kept thinking how hard it is to balance it all. You mentioned that the things you would ask the babysitter to do would be things you enjoy doing with the children. So why not turn the idea on its head and hire someone to come in a couple times a week and do the laundry, cook dinner, dishes... all the little soul-sucking things you have to do, but don't necessarily enjoy? You can always find someone to do laundry the way you like... but its harder to find someone to spend time with your children in the manner you like. Obviously this won't help for the times when you need a break from the kids or need to do work only you can accomplish. Just an observation...

  4. Jen,
    I rarely comment; however, I LOVE reading your blog. This time I have to comment. I have three children under three and I have had "help" a few hours in the afternoons.

    It does do wonders for my sanity, and my husband thinks it is so wonderful when I have help because he thinks I am a different person when I have had a sanity break for a few hours. Me, I dont think it changes me all that much, but whatever makes him happy.

    I will say that we have gone through a lot of sitters before we found the right one. Currently we have a college student that is every perfect adjective that you can describe. She plays games with them, she plays toys with them, she takes them outside to run around. She is way more fun than I am during those afternoon hours when I have already done every activity under the sun, and I just want to get some things done like cook dinner without three children whining on my leg.

    The bottom line is that I think that you will love the help as long as it is the right person. Go with your gut. Give her a chance, and perhaps she may be the one. If not there will be one out there. A great sitter is worth the time and effort that it takes to find the right one.

  5. What is it about moms? My mom will not let it go, telling me I should post an ad at the grocery store for a babysitter. THE GROCERY STORE?! Um. Yeah. She hasn't been to my grocery store. But she won't let it go, and is ready to pick any high school kid off the street. Can't wait until my mom arrives for a visit on Saturday. Guarantee she'll bring it up at least once a day.

  6. Karen in Buffalo9/29/08, 8:19 PM

    Advice from a stranger...
    "don't do it!". At least not with this particular girl. You'll know when it's the right person.
    We've tried out three over the past year and the one we LOVED ended up getting a full time internship and had to quit (clue that she was good: she got right down on the floor w/ the kids and she sang to/with the girls without caring who was listening!!). The other two caused more stress for me and it was NOT worth it at all!
    We paid $10/hr here in the NE (that was with me there in the home w/ them~ 2 kids to play with).
    When it works and you're comfortable with the person, it is GREAT.
    Do you have a college/university around that would have students who are studying elementary education or pediatric nursing (most of them at least like kids!)? If so, check with the department. The students might be able to use their experience with you and your kids as a project.
    Go with your gut feeling. Good Luck!

  7. I would suggest trying out a sitter for a few times and see if it something that is for you or not. It might just taking a little getting used to for you to start reaping the benefits. It's obviously only worth the money if you feel that it is beneficial to you, though. I am a babysitter/part-time nanny and I would find it very awkward, not to mention in very bad taste for me to not say a single word to the children! While I'm sure your mother was only trying to help, having this girl be approached instead of her approaching you might have given her the attitude that she is doing you a favor and that she doesn't need to do her best. If you want to look for a babysitter that will be right for your family, here are a few of my suggestions:
    -Check out and/or These websites allow for parents to post jobs and for babysitters to post a profile. Parents and babysitters can message back and forth and parents can run background checks and check references of potential babysitters. I have used both of these sites and found my part-time nannying job this summer through
    -Interview a few people that you feel would be competent enough to watch your children and give them a test-run before you ask them to babysit regularly to make sure that they interact with your children how you want them to and actually talk to them! Also, make sure to prepare a list of questions for the people you interview so you don't forget to ask them anything.
    -Make sure to ask babysitters what they charge when you interview them so that there aren't any surprises when you pay them. There is a tool on that allows you to input your specific information and it gives you a suggested rate.

  8. we have a nanny, but also use sitters occasionally to play with two of our four while we are home or to help our nanny. that way the other two can get one on one attention from us. and the sitters i have found, although great can't manage our four alone.

    i agree with anon, maybe you just need a housekeeper or someone who would be happy doing either. you may not want to be doing dishes, laundry etc while someone else plays with your kids.

    and you will know when you find the right person, i agree it is not worth settling. your kids and you should be thrilled when they come over.


  9. I like the idea of hiring someone to do the cleaning, laundry, etc...instead of hiring someone to be with the kids. Also, have you looked into something like Dream Dinners? You go one Saturday a month and prepare a bunch of meals and bring them home and stick them in your freezer (I know they have something similar in the San Diego area because my SIL is in Carlsbad and she uses them). Even if you only use their dinners 2 or 3 nights a week it could free up some serious time on the hectic weekdays.

    I have been "urged" many times to hire some help and I have never done it. It has never felt right to me and I felt like they were away from me enough with Mother's Day Out and then Preschool. We have hired a babysitter MAYBE 5 times and our twins just turned 6 years old. Like you, we like doing it ourselves. It just seems easier and less complicated even when they are ALL driving us nuts!!!

    But, we do have a cleaning lady and a yard person and it frees up lots of time for me and my husband. I'd much rather spend the $$$$ on cleaning and yardwork and precooked meals and go have fun with my kiddos!!!

    Kelly (Houston)

  10. Here's my two cents. Why don't you hire someone to help with the housework that way you can do the things you want with your kids. I have always said if I could afford it, I would hire someone to clean! Good luck!


  11. Jenna, why don't you try and hire someone that can help around the house vs. playing with the kids. You can do that, it will give you quaility time while they do the folding of the laudry, dinner prep, change the sheets, etc. you can tell them that their main goal is to help with housework and your main goal is the children but there will be times you need for her to watch the kids or play with them while you do some work. you could even have them prep the kids lunch/snack for the next day. Not talking to the kids would be a flag in my book, no matter how shy. you need someone that is outgoing and can be in charge and not shy. The kids will pick up on that and walk all over the person and then the kids will be calling for you and the person is just there watching. Need someone personable and at least smiles at the kids. Good Luck! Jeanmarie

  12. From your fellow triplet mother in arms . . . who HAS had a LOT of different babysitters . . . you can tell the good ones right away. They love kids and are excited at the thought of getting to play with them. What you described is someone who is only doing this for $$ and likely doesn't really love kids . . . and will either really suck at the job or bail on you in short order.

    I vote No on her. Does my vote count?


  13. How about 3 days a week 9-3? Is that an option? That would mean less driving and more time in-between the 20min. commutes. I say this b/c it's one of the main reasons my crew on did T/TH preschool; I didn't want to make the drive 3days a week. Also, you would be putting the money toward someone you already trust. HOWEVER, (isn't there always a catch) would you be paying extra and they would be napping for a large portion of that time.?

    Things that make ya go hmmmm.....

  14. Well all I can do is give an opinion, but from both sides of the coin.

    Firstly as a mother's helper - I did this for 4 years, for a family of 4 kids (initially all under 7). They were homeschooled, so I did that, plus playing with them and did a bit of cooking when required. I ended up being their nanny, after a year or so. BUT. It only worked because I gelled very closely with the kids, and got on brilliantly with the mum. My sister did a bit of work with them when I was doing my university finals, and it just didn't work as the 'fit' wasn't right. It's all down to personality.

    The oldest daughter is now 24, and my daughter's godmother and namesake. It felt natural to me to be looking after them - it didn't feel like a job, they were like my little sisters and brothers (I am only 10 years older than the oldest child). I love those kids still as my own.

    Now from a mother's perspective. I also have been told to get a mothers help (and I only have 2 kids under 2!), mainly because I have some sort of M.E. But I haven't found anyone I like enough, and that is the crunch. As you said - if you are paying them, they have to be as good or better than you. And they have to slot into YOUR life. If you can find someone - great. If not, I personally wouldn't bother. And I'd nix the idea of more nursery at this age - it is very tempting (and how close I have come to it), but as you said they would be SHATTERED. I added another morning on to our current 2 morning nursery week - and stopped after 3 weeks. It was just too much. No point in having grouchy tired kids, as they won't appreciate the time they DO spend there. And they are only little once, and will be in school so soon. And you can sleep then ;)

    This is in no way prescriptive, just my 2 pence worth.

  15. Just to put a different spin on things...Whether you hire a full time sitter or not, perhaps it's a good idea to make sure there is somebody with whom your children are comfortable in case you and Charlie HAVE to leave them. I've seen a couple of families who never left their children with anybody and when an emergency hit and both parents had to be gone, the kids were extremely upset to be left, making a bad situation worse. If for no other reason than having somebody that you can call upon in a pinch - somebody whom your children really love - finding a sitter would be a good idea.
    Maybe you can start by having a sitter every week or so, in the evenings, while the kids are awake, and you and Charlie go out of an hour.
    If you don't already do this, a regular date night goes a long way in recharging a stressed out mommy.
    I think word of mouth is the best way to find a sitter. Start talking to your fellow preschool moms, and the young moms at church and in the neighborhood.
    And if you find one you love, pay generously. I overpaid our favorite sitter so she'd always make time for us.

  16. Another thing to consider...this is what helps me since I'm a working mother:

    Our little one is a miracle baby...a total surprise after more than a decade of infertility and pregnancy loss. He is a blessing to almost everyone he encounters. He's funny, he's smart, he's engaging, quick to smile. He's not like that around ME all the time, but he's ALWAYS like that when someone else has him. If he were home with just ME all the time, just think of the people that wouldn't be blessed by his sweet testimony!

    And who am I to prevent him from doing the only job he can do at his little age: bless!?

    Perhaps the fact that your children are away from you a portion of their day, is a good thing. Not just for you or for them, but for those around them. They are living testimonies to what amazing Miracles God conducts on a daily basis in our lives. Let them BE that testimony.

  17. I think it's a great idea to have someone around to help you with 2 or 3 or 4 of the kids! I don't think your recent find is a good fit though.

    It will be VERY nice for you to have someone you trust to leave a few kids with while you run a sick one to the Dr, etc.

    But I know, it's SO time consuming to find someone good. Take your time, when you find her, she'll be worth it. And you'll want to pay her well, so she comes back for more!

  18. Too bad I don't live in California. I would certainly talk to the kids.

    I already know their names, Fred, Karen, Bob ,and Uncle Larry.


    William, Carolyn (Gracie), Elizabeth, and Henry.