When I get an invitation to something, I am thrilled to be included, whether it's to a friend's birthday, a social gatherings or to hear live music.
But after the initial thrill, usually comes an overwhelming sense of panic. Panic because my ability to participate in the event is determined pretty much by one thing: getting a babysitter.
But how do you find a great babysitter? Where do you start? Who do you call?
It’s a question that I see pop up all the time on my mother’s club online forum. It gets thrown out there like the Hail Mary of all questions. Sometimes there aren’t too many people answering that question and I have often wondered if people would rather give up their checking account number than give out their babysitter’s contact. Because when you find a good babysitter, they can be like gold, a secret we don't want to share with others.
I've had luck securing a couple great babysitters, I thought I’d share some resources and some of the tactics that I have used to lessen the panic. Don't worry. Even if it sometimes may not seem like it, you will attend adult-only events again.
Word of Mouth:
Many mothers' clubs can serve as a great resource for sharing information on reliable sitters. If you are fortunate enough to be a part of a club that has a web forum, post a question asking if anyone has a great babysitter to share. Chances are if you may get one or two leads to follow-up on. Consider joining a mother’s club if you aren’t a member to take advantage of the great resources. The Petaluma Mothers’ Club is a great support for families with children ages five and under.
Neighbors can also be helpful. I found a great sitter who was referred to me by a neighbor. It turns out she lived two doors down from me and just happened to be coming home for the summer from college.
Additionally, teachers are a great resource as they know many families and often interact with other parents who have great sitters working for them. My daughter’s preschool teacher actually let me know that she was doing some babysitting during spring break to help her make some extra money. I was able to help spread the word to other parents in the class who needed help during the vacation.
There are a few great local and national websites to help families locate reliable babysitters in their area. Sittersplace.com is Sonoma County’s Babysitting & Nanny Network. Parents can post a job for free to see how much interest they get before paying the membership fee to retrieve the contact information from sitters. Monthly memberships are available at $22.99 for the first month and $7.99 thereafter. Yearly memberships are $69.99.
Sittercity.com, and Care.com are two national websites that allow sitters to post their resumes and job availability for prospective parents in their area. Users of this site will have access to sitters and have the option to have these sites conduct background screening of applicants. Memberships on both Care.com and Sittercity.com start at $35 per month.
Sittercity.com offers a 7-day free trial of their program but when you get people responding to your job posting for babysitting to see their information and/or contact them, you will need to upgrade your membership to have access. One of the great things about an online service is the regular tips they send you about interviewing babysitters. I’ve been emailed wonderful sample questions that have helped me interview candidates and whittle down whether or not someone was right for the job of watching my three girls.
Another great resource I have found is posting a nanny/babysitting job on the local college website. Sonoma State University has a job board online on which you can post a babysitting job and receive responses and resumes from interested students. I have interviewed several great college-age sitters who replied to my postings for occasional babysitting.
Many of the interviewees had previous babysitting experience, were obviously old enough to drive, had CPR certification, and were working on their Early Childhood Education degrees. The challenge with college students and students in general has always been their changing schedules, but I absolutely love the two gals working with my family currently.
Start a Co-op:
A great way to get reliable babysitting from people you know and trust is to start a babysitting co-op. Co-ops work by allowing members to use points or coupons in exchange for babysitting. Each member starts out with a certain number of points and then uses those points as they request someone to sit for them.
There are various methods of tracking usage and determining the value of points (i.e. sleeping child vs. awake child, holiday care, etc.). Co-ops can be started by a group of 3-4 people and have been known to grow in size to upwards of 45 members.
By conducting an initial meeting with group members, people can help decide group boundaries, home safety rules, and start the group off with a secretary and timekeeper, both roles usually shared by every member of the co-op at some point. Check out babysittingcoop.com for some ideas.
Co-ops can use paid online resources such as Babysitterexchange.com to track membership and points or free resources such as Googledocs. But the idea behind a co-op is wonderful because you will always find someone reliable to sit for you when you need it and by giving your time, you get time. Many co-ops do not allow members to not use their points or not sit for others for any extended period of time before being asked to leave the co-op.
Another option is hosting larger babysitting playgroups where two or more moms (or dads) in a playgroup (or group of friends) host regular popcorn and movie nights so several families can drop off their kids while the parents go out. By rotating hosting positions and pairing two parents together, not only do you get to know other people better, but you can accomplish allowing more parents to take advantage of time out. Smaller scale exchange babysitting can be done with another family you are close with, other parents from school, or friends or neighbors.
If you are still having trouble finding a sitter after employing some of the above tactics, but are dying for some time to yourself, joining a local gym like Petaluma Valley Athletic Club (PVAC) or Club One is a great way to get some healthy time for yourself as well as have some great care for your kids. Both gyms offer play/care options and the dues for membership can be very reasonable when considering the cost of an hourly rate for a babysitter, which can range anywhere from $8-20 per hour or more depending on how many kids are needing care. In addition to gyms, many local churches often offer drop-off care so parents can have a night out.
Sometimes finding someone to care for our children is a job in itself. But, we in Sonoma County, are blessed with many options and an extremely supportive community, so go on and take a look at the resources out there and start reclaiming your life.