Dating is SUPER important to us as a couple. It doesn’t have to be just Friday or Saturday nights. We love day dates, lunch dates, adventure dates, even overnights and trips! We’ve used sitters for them all.
Since I’ve been getting lots of questions on this, I’m going to give you some of my babysitting hacks both when I was based in the US and as we’ve traveled for over 2 years full-time. These are my go-to tips and tricks for handling dating around the world and at home!
Table of Contents
Babysitting Ground Rules
Before we get to the tricks and tips, however, we need some ground rules about babysitting in general.
Excuses About Getting a Babysitter
Here are the common excuses I hear about not getting babysitting…..
- You want to use family instead. Most parents want to use their parents (the grandparents) or family to babysit. You trust them the most, after yourself (usually), and they are usually free! However, at least in our families, this babysitting comes with an emotional price tag. It has to fit into their schedule, it can’t be asked for TOO much (not nearly as much as we would like it) and I always feel like it is a little tricky to navigate. After a while, I just got sick of trying to navigate it and realized I would pay good money to have no emotional baggage around leaving the kids. Once I took that plunge and started using babysitters regularly, it was like a new world opened up!
- It is too expensive! If you are unsure about using babysitters regularly or justifying the cost, I encourage you just to try it. Sure, it takes a portion of your budget. It may mean you have to limit the budget on what you do when you are actually out together. However, coming home to someone who is happy to have been with your kids, who cleaned up your house (a must for me in a sitter!), who you’ve helped by paying them, and who actually WANTS to come back and do it again? It makes my night so much better! I’m not as stressed if the kids are a pain or if someone throws up. Yeah, it’s a real bummer, but this is a paid gig people! That sitter isn’t the poor picked-on relative. They are your employee, in a sense, and it’s OK if the job didn’t go perfectly.
- But It’s REALLY too expensive! Ok, babysitting can be expensive. However, it depends on how you quantify it, right? Is this an “extra” or a “luxury”? It’s easy to see it that way, but in reality, let’s thing about it. Is it more expensive than couples therapy? Personal counseling? Anti-depressants? Divorce? Sure, that’s an extreme, but if you don’t invest in your relationship, you won’t make it. If you don’t get some “off-time” as a mom, you’ll break down. We all grow into different people, we get busy, life gets in the way, we want to be with the kids. Life is messy. Once Chris and I started to see babysitting as an investment into US and one that was quite vital to our relationship, it wasn’t expensive. It was quite cheap.
- My kids don’t like it. Honestly, find another sitter! I got picky enough in the last few years (and had lots of available babysitters with a college really close by) that I would tell the sitters that I wanted to do a “trial run” on their first time. I would still pay them, but it was understood that this was to see if everyone meshed together. My kids LOVE having sitters come because they are fun! They tend to have more energy than mom and dad, they know they are only there for a set amount of time and they usually come in with fun ideas and ready to really wear the kids out. Lots of games of hide-and-seek, tag, playing outside… these are things I ask my sitters to do. You know you’ve found the right sitter when the kids ask you to go out again!
- It’s hard having someone else in my personal “mom” space. I agree. It’s weird having someone see my dirty house, my dishes, my laundry. My advice? Just get over it. They don’t care. In fact, ask them to help! I started just asking the sitter to fold the laundry on her downtime or match the socks. I promise you will love it when you come home and it’s one less task for you.
Benefits of Getting a Babysitter
Dating doesn’t always need to be for a date night.
Other purposes for a babysitter to consider:
- Volunteering in your older child’s classroom. I found the connection with the teacher so valuable. I love showing my kids that they were important enough to me that I would make the effort to come and work in their classroom for an hour.
- A “big kid” date. We try to do one-on-one dates with each of our kids monthly, but I love sometimes getting a sitter for just the littles and taking the big kids somewhere. We’ve done hikes, skiing, movies, adventure sports, etc.
- Mother’s Helper. You don’t even need to leave your home.. have a sitter come over just to be a second set of hands. When you have a newborn, this can be wonderful. Snooze while a sitter holds the baby or do homework with your other kids.
- Creative project. Want to paint a picture? Write a blog post? 🙂 Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to invest in your mental help for a few hours.
Money is Tight. What Do I Do?
Sometimes the budget just doesn’t have any more room. We’ve all been there.
You don’t have to just use the traditional method of a certain dollar amount per hour. Get creative about how you can get some time off!
- Find a friend with similar kids and do a babysitting swap. It’s like a playdate for the kids every other week (or whatever frequency) and you have a guaranteed outing the next time.
- The same thing applies if you want to volunteer at the kid’s school. Find another mom that wants that too and share the burden with the younger kids together.
- Find someone who wants to help. Go to church? See if there is anyone that might enjoy some kids for a couple of hours. Many older people would delight in hosting a baby or toddler for a few hours, especially when it helps you out. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Use family! If visiting family is the only option, use them when they come! Ask beforehand what night might be good.
Babysitters Are Worth It
The new freedom you will find can’t really be measured. Even if you just hire a mothers-helper to start and can actually fold the laundry or pay a bill while you are home… it will go a long way.
I have some friends that are very uncomfortable leaving their kids with anyone outside of the family. One of them, after much encouragement from me, hired someone to come twice a week. She stayed home for months while the sitter would come and just do her projects.
Finally, she ventured out to volunteer at school and run an errand or two. It took nearly a year to get comfortable for date nights, but she’s there and she is LOVING life.
Finding a Good Babysitter in the US
Even if you are traveling in the USA, these tips will help find someone. You can read more about tips for finding a sitter internationally here.
- Have a number you are comfortable paying per hour. This is tricky because it totally depends on your number of kids AND where you live. When I was in CO with four kids, I could pay our favorite neighbor $10/15 per hour. That was in a fairly spendy neighborhood. In UT, which has a lower cost of living, we paid $15/hr for five and this was on the high side for sure. Lots of my friends paid closer to $10/hr for 3-4 kids. As we’ve traveled and paid in really expensive places, I’ve paid around $20/hr. Ouch, right?! But still so worth it. Just maximize quality over quantity. Get 2-3 good hours of time together, time it so kids are in bed, and continue the date at home! Eat cheap when you are out… even some fries and a milkshake with a walk in the park is lovely. Then head home and watch a movie.
- Start networking in your neighborhood. Our best sitters have been neighbors. We used Abby from age 12-18! We even flew her to UT when we moved out-of-state for a week-long trip. Your neighbors have the same demo as you, roughly. They can walk to you (the best!!). Their parents are close by if they need them. Plus, they grow with your kids. Teenagers are notoriously busy these days, so have a few. My neighborhood had a Facebook page, so I posted there inquiring about a sitter. I also had a larger neighborhood email group and posted there. I found a couple of awesome sitters.
- Use church groups. Ask the parents of teenagers. They know if their kid can babysit or would want to. Don’t be shy! Don’t be embarrassed to ask about a babysitter. It isn’t an admission that you can’t handle your kids. It’s an admission that your relationships are that important to you.
- Use Care.com. This is a great resource. It does cost money. You can pick from 1-month (my recommendation), 3-months, or a year membership. We’ve already determined we are OK to spend money on this, right?! Care.com is WONDERFUL. You post a job and start getting applicants.
Tips for Care.com
- If they don’t have a profile pic, move on.
- If the applicant addresses you by name versus just spamming out responses, bonus.
- I have to have proper grammar and email etiquette. These are just signs to me of a good upbringing and education, which I want around my kiddos
- Start by sending a few questions like, “What’s your schedule of availability?”, “What is your babysitting history”, etc. Sometimes they don’t even respond, so this is a good filter.
- Once you are interested, ask for at least two references. I ALWAYS reach out to the references. Because I’m not a big fan of getting on the phone personally (my kids freak out the second I pick it up and I have to hide in a closet), I usually just text the references. A sample message:
Hello _____! Babysitter X gave me your name as a babysitting reference. I’m considering using him/her to babysit part-time for me. I have five young kids, ages 13-3. Can you tell me about your experience with him/her? When did they babysit for you? How many kids do you have? How long did you use them? What would you say are their strengths and/or weaknesses, if any? Do YOU think he/she can handle five kids at a time?
Most other parents will respond to you asking about the babysitter. They won’t always answer all the questions, but I can get a good feel for the sitter from these responses. I also get a good feel for their past experience! If all the parents have one kid and I have five… well, that may not work.
- Once you’ve got references, you are feeling good, the sitter looks like a good fit… schedule a meet-up! I got to the point that I didn’t really need to do this anymore. However, I did it a lot at first. Have them come over and meet you and maybe see your kids. If you aren’t comfortable with your home, meet them at a coffee shop nearby. You can get SO much more info in person. A video call even goes a long way! You can see each other and feel out the fit.
- Still good to go? Tell them you want them to babysit for a test run (still paid) and you’ll probably stick around the house for the first time. We work from home, so there is plenty we can find to do with a sitter in the house. We just work! As I work, I can hear the meltdown occasionally and the response from the sitter. They are on their best behavior for the first couple of hours, but eventually, the personality shows through. Five kids will wear anyone down! I want them to be correcting the kids, standing firm against my oldest kids, even disciplining a bit (in my style).
- Once the babysitting gig is over, ask the sitter how it went. Ask if they are still interested! It’s OK if it isn’t a fit for them too. Be ready for an honest answer. You probably won’t get one at the moment, but maybe by asking they will feel more comfortable being honest with you later by text. You don’t want to go through all this effort to then have it fall apart a week later.
- Once they are gone, ask the kids how it went. Usually, if my kids LOVED them 100%, that isn’t always a good sign. That may mean they are a pushover or didn’t listen to the instructions I gave them. Maybe they let the kids watch TV the whole time or didn’t ask the kids to do the chores I asked. I want a mixed review… something like, “Well, she was really fun during hide-and-seek, but I didn’t like how she made me clean my room.” Perfection! That’s how they would probably describe me too and I am looking for my own fill-in.
- Ask for back-ups. One of my best tips is to have more than just one babysitter in your arsenal. You’ll have the main person that you love and always want, but they will get busy. When I interview, I usually interview and try out 3-4 at a time. I usually want more than one, in the end, so I’ll just be honest. I’ll go to the other candidate and say, “Hey, I really love you. However, this other person is a better fit with my schedule/my kids/my pay/whatever. Would you be willing to be a back-up sitter for me when you are available?” They usually say yes unless they are hurt you didn’t pick them. Either way, have a shortlist of those you can call and when they are roughly available. You can even ask them if they have friends that can sit for you.
- Be persistent. If you have an event come up and you are having a hard time finding someone, don’t give up! Ask all the people on your short list and them ask all of them if they have anyone they know that could babysit. Text your own friends if they have a sitter they like that might be available. You’ll end up extending your own list in the process.
Sadly, you’ll have to repeat this whole process a few times, maybe even about once per quarter. Because we were using college kids, we would have to change schedules each semester.
Warning: you’ll probably fall in love with your babysitter. They are like a second parent and will feel like family. You will be devastated when they leave you for any reason. I’ve cried many a time over my sitters moving onto marriage, school, whatever. They are now some of my good friends!
My Other Babysitting Tips
I hope, by this point, you are already scheming that next date night and having kid-free dreams floating through your head.
I have a few more tips about using babysitters in general:
- Be upfront with what you want. If you want them to do the dishes at the end of the night, tell them. If you like coming home to a clean house (like me), tell them! If I come home and the kids have been in bed for hours and the house is a mess, that sitter is done. I try to be fair and at least let them know I do expect it.
- Warn them about what your kids might do/might say/etc. You know your kids and they don’t! We’ve had our oldest convince a sitter to buy movies online because she said we always do that. What? Silly child. So now we warn the sitter! I tell them what naughty behavior to expect at bedtime. I tell them what to make for a dinner (usually a couple of suggestions and let them choose). You don’t want to scare them, but you do want to arm them with as much info as possible. All I want to do is run out the door when the sitter get there, but it’s good to think it though.
- Even better: Create a Babysitter Binder!! This was, by far, the best hack I ever found when using babysitters. I finally just created a binder. I sat down and typed up all the info I was having to give to sitters when they would come over and put it in a binder with page protectors. That way I could update each page when needed individually. Then, when the sitter would come, I’d just give them a few minutes to glance through or read the binder while I finished getting ready. If they had any questions after, we could discuss. However, they never really did. I was super thorough.
Want to make your own Babysitting Binder? Here are my sections:
- Intro to the kids: Introduce the kids! Include ages, food preferences, personalities, likes, favorites, strengths, difficulties, what works for them to motivate them and favorite activities.
- Important Info and Numbers: Include the grandparent info, your own address, poison control, insurance info (I actually got an extra health insurance card online and included it in case they ever had to run to a hospital), all your numbers, local family and friends that can step in to help with the kids.
- School Info: I had the address to the school, a copy of the daily schedule, teacher names, and all the phone numbers they might need.
- Daily Schedules: A little painful to write all out, but do a run-through, hour by hour, of what your typical day looks like. What time do they wake, when do they eat, when do they nap, how do you fill their time. I did a version for weekdays and weekends.
- Classes and extracurricular activities: Include day-specific info, like what activities are on which day, along with their address and appropriate phone numbers. Where is piano, from when to when, and what is the teacher’s name and phone number? All of this is incredibly helpful if you ever go on a trip with a sitter or even a family member! Mom’s brain is the storehouse for an incredible amount of info! Make sure to update this section when soccer if over or ski season starts or whatever. Also, remember to include any carpool info with that parent’s info.
- House Rules: My favorite section! Tell the sitter in this section what your rules are around TV, video games, etc. Tell them what you expect with them and their OWN devices. We were finding our kids weren’t watching TV, but they were on the sitter’s phone a bunch! That wasn’t cool with us. I included my thoughts around discipline and what was appropriate for them to do, how I want the kids to have water all day, about a cousin living in the basement, neighbor info, etc.
- Food: Here I listed out my go-to meals for each time of the day. We all have things we make all the time and the kids are used to. Give rules around any allergies, snacks, drinks, etc. If they want to go out to eat with the kids and you are cool with that, tell them where to go and what they can order for the kids.
- I’m Bored!: My other favorite section. We all know what we do when the kids tell us this, but the babysitter doesn’t. What do you tell the kids to do when they are bored? Color? Paint? Play outside? Play with puzzles? Do chores? (That is always my answer… if you are bored, I can give you something to do!).
- Extras: I always had a bit of extra cash in here for an emergency or if they wanted to. I had our insurance card. I had the member cards to the museum or our library card sometimes.
It’s a real labor of love to get babysitting going. This is a lot of work! Trust me, I know. However, I promise that it is 110% worth it. You will have better relationships. You will enjoy your time more, be it at home or on vacation. It will be time and money well spent. If you do it and I’m wrong, let me know!
I’d love to hear any of your tips too! Leave them in the comments below.