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Thursday, 23 January 2014 08:00

What to Pay the Babysitter

A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to this post about what to pay the babysitter.  This friend likes to forward me links to particular parenting topics that she finds interesting or particularly provocative and I couldn't help but respond to this one. 

To summarize, the controversial post argues that teenaged babysitters shouldn't be paid as much as minimum wage because overpaying teenagers is creating a sense of entitlement in kids today, as well as making it impossible for lower income households to get out for an evening which is bad for families and relationships. The comments to this post were mostly against her - saying that babysitting is one of the most important jobs and should be rewarded, and many parents said that they intended to pay well for a good babysitter to ensure that the babysitter would return. 

I pride myself in trying to see both sides of an issue, and this one was easy.  

On the one hand, I completely agree with her. Teenagers today are given too much money - from my experience, teenagers are less and less likely to work for something because their parents give them everything they could possibly want, and there is less motivation for hard work.  I also agree that it is tragic when a couple counts the cost of going out for dinner and a movie without their children and finds the extra cost of babysitting to be too high to make this evening possible. I believe that parents NEED this time alone - the lack of 'adult time' in a family can result in extra stress and frustration and I'm sure it is the cause of many family breakdowns and even abuse. When young families don't have family or friends nearby who can fill in for them when they need this time away, they are forced to rely on too-expensive babysitters. I also agree that over-paying babysitters has partially caused this problem, because when one parent pays more than minimum wage to a fourteen year old, and all of their less-than-minimum-wage-earning friends find out, suddenly their measly $5/hour seems dismall and they are probably more likely to seek out jobs that pay higher. 

However - I also agree that watching children is an extremely important job - the teenager is responsible for the lives of little people, after all - and that the financial value of this is huge.  As a parent whose budget allows for the cost of occasional babysitters, I also try to pay babysitters well - because if we find a good babysitter, I'd like them to want to come back. 

My first reaction to her article was that although her statements were not incorrect (in my opinion), her viewpoint was inappropriate to be making these statements. If she had been the parent of teenagers, who was discussing the values she was intending to teach her babysitting children in order to make them more responsible and hard-working people who are compassionate to low-income people, I would have a lot of respect for her methods, and I absolutely think I would like to follow these principles myself when I am teaching my own teenaged girls.

However, since she is the parent of young children, her approach came across as a bit less noble, and more like a complaint. 

Some of the comments, however, were just downright silly. One comment stated that how much you pay a babysitter comes down to how much you value your children. I wouldn't state the value of MY children in terms of money, so I wouldn't worry about calculating that into a babysitters fee... 

I also wouldn't pay a babysitter more or less depending on how much cleaning he/she did - because who knows how easy/difficult my children decided to be on that particular day? Some days I can't get my own dishes done because my kids are so much trouble to get into bed and some days I can clean the whole house.  Odds are, if a babysitter did my dishes, she probably had LESS work to do that evening since my kids were probably amiable.  And we all know that doing dishes is MUCH easier than handling difficult kids. 

Those are my two cents. I have my own formula for what I pay a babysitter, and I think that it's relatively high based on what babysitters have told me - but it's still less than minimum wage around here. I try to strike a balance between paying well and still keeping it affordable enough that we can go out occasionally. Considering that dinner and a movie can take at least 4 hours - probably more, considering transportation time and the fact that many movies today are 2.5 hours or longer - and can cost at least $30 for a  cheap meal plus $20 if you don't get popcorn at the theatre, paying a babysitter can pretty much double that cost if you're determined to pay minimum wage.  For a semi-nice meal that includes a glass of wine and if you spring for popcorn at the movies, you could be looking at $150 for a date night that doesn't even include a fancy restaurant or dessert.  I feel for families who can't fit this into their budget - because time away from the kids is, like I said earlier, so important for a relationship. 

When my daughters are older, I'll try to teach them the ideals that Jan Francisco discusses in her controversial blog post

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