It's not often that I decide to take to this blog and write something I feel irritated about. The last time I did so I got a bit of a scolding (which was well-deserved) by a reader and am fully anticipating the same for this post as well. But I'm willing to woman up and take whatever responses I get.
In the last six months or so I've taken to doing occasional babysitting in my area using sites such as Care.com and Sittercity.com. These sites help parents find (hopefully) responsible sitters who meet their criteria for different jobs, both long- and short-term. If you haven't checked them out and are interested in either finding a sitter or doing some sitting, I highly recommend them. I've had background checks done on both sites, courtesy of interested parents, and have met some nice families.
In my area of the country, babysitting goes for all prices, but generally for one job, a skilled sitter gets paid between $10-$15 dollars an hour. A less experienced sitter might get paid between $5 and $10 an hour. Of course, every parent is open to set the price at whatever s/he feels as being reasonable and affordable. I've actually seen jobs as low as $3 an hour and nanny jobs even less than that. Because I have over twenty years of experience and a master's degree in education, I generally charge roughly $10 an hour. I let parents know that I'm usually negotiable with that price. I have also volunteered to watch children for next to nothing when I have seen families who are truly struggling and I have a free day. I don't want to get into justification of my price, but I paid $7 an hour to my sitters (college students) ten years ago when my children were young. We couldn't afford it often and consequently didn't go out much. We also lived in a different area of the country.
This morning I got an email in response to an ad I answered earlier in the week. I had told this parent, as I have in the past, that my rate is $10 an hour but I can be a bit negotiable with that. She said she had thought she was going to cancel her plans but then changed her mind. Then came the part of the email that I've seen becoming more and more common: "I've decided not to pay more than $8 an hour because my child will be sleeping and it's an easy job."
This excuse (and let's be honest, that's really what it is) is becoming more and more popular with parents. I've actually seen parents who want to split the time and the price between waking and sleeping hours. Here's the reason that doesn't work. Regardless of what your child is doing while a sitter is there, your sitter still has to be there and be responsible. Whether a sitter is playing with your child or monitoring his or her sleep, they are still responsible for your child. Not half-responsible, FULLY responsible. Your sitter still had to drive to your house (in our area sometimes fifteen to twenty miles) and commit to the care of your child. If your child awakens, your sitter isn't going to say, "Sorry, kid, I'm on half time now." If a, god forbid, fire or some other disaster were to happen, the sitter wouldn't leave your child, or do half a job because the child is now in bed. My point is that it really doesn't matter whether the child is asleep or not; my job as a sitter doesn't end until you walk through that door. I'm not allowed to run to 7-11, Redbox, my own house, or anything else. I'm going to monitor your child just as I would my own young one to ensure their health and safety are protected. Just because I'm not feeding your child or building a Lego tower doesn't mean I'm not working. Lots of other jobs have "down times" where workers are required to be on site for emergencies but not necessarily doing the same thing they are doing during other periods, but they don't get paid less during those hours.
I'll be the first person to say that this economy is horrible, and it's difficult to make ends meet. But if you can't afford to pay your sitter a respectable rate for a voluntary night out, then maybe it's time to pop some popcorn and stay in.
As for the parent who contacted me earlier today, I have chosen to turn down the job. She lives more than ten miles from me and I do consider that when I set my rate and my willingness to negotiate it. I'm sure she will find somebody who is willing to sit for $8 an hour. I wish her and her son the best. But in the meantime, I hope that parents everywhere will consider the implications of lowering pay for sleeping children. It's an insulting idea, if nothing else, and a dangerous precedent to imply a sitter is only partially working while children sleep. Personally, I always felt my children were particular vulnerable when they were sleeping. Just because the form of the job changes doesn't mean it isn't still a job.
Pay a sitter what you can afford, but don't insult them by implying they're somehow working less when your child goes to sleep.