So my last entry on this blog was about the interesting new pattern I was noticing of parents trying to pay less to sitters for times when their children were sleeping. I'm still annoyed thinking about that scenario, but there's another one that I've been seeing a lot lately too. This one is really common when men write ads.
"Not looking to pay very much—kids can basically take care of themselves. Just need someone here to make sure they're safe."
As an early childhood educator/mom/sitter/advocate, I initially found my mouth hitting my keyboard before I pulled it up slowly. After reading the same statement several times in different ads, I found my reaction settling in as one more of disgust than of shock. The latest ad I read with this statement was for a family that included three children between the ages of four and six.
I would have loved to believe my children, at four and six, were self-sufficient. And in many ways they were. They could put on their own clothes, make a peanut butter sandwich, and pour some milk. They could play independently in their rooms and (to some degree) pick them up. They could take a reasonable bath and dry themselves off and slip into jammies. However, I'm not sure I would trust them to do any of those things alone in the house.
And here's why: one of my children routinely dressed himself as though the Village People were his fashion model. Both children liked enough peanut butter on their sandwiches to break the bread. Milk routinely got left on the table instead of put away, or huge glasses were poured and never finished. Strange things showed up in our bathtub regularly, including a variety of character dolls with haircuts and missing feet. One of my children once emerged from the bathroom missing an eyebrow, and when questioned, admitted to shaving it off. Both children insisted on doing pirouettes on the bathtub ledge for the babysitter. And as everyone knows, there's nothing more fun than to run around naked when you're wet.
My children are now 12 and 14. I trust them mostly to be alone in the house for a couple of hours, but not usually together. See, my lack of trust stems from my own experiences with my brother, and our attempts to lock one another out of the house or cause other mischief and general misery. My brother thought there was nothing funnier than doing the Michael Jackson hip shake-crotch grab in my presence, which totally grossed me out. I'm sure I did plenty of horrible things, none of which I remember (I truly don't...selective memory is lovely!). The point is, if you can't trust a child who's twice the age to stay by him or herself alone and unsupervised, why in heaven's name would you make such a ridiculous statement that your preschooler is self-sufficient? Call me overprotective, but I'm hard pressed to think of any five year old I'd leave alone for an extended length of time.
So back to the original idea of "kids entertaining themselves". Well no shit, Sherlock. Kids have been doing that since the beginning of time. When my kids decided to do pirouettes on the bathtub ledge, they were doing it for entertainment, not because they truly thought they were ballerinas. When one of them threw out my brand new contact lenses down the sink, it was because it was fascinating to watch the water, not because they own stock in Acuvue. When one of them hid four sticks of butter in her room, it was to make sure she had food later, not because she really had a penchant for butter at six a.m.
That's why I HIRED a babysitter. I have never hired a sitter with the expectation that he or she "entertain" my kids. These aren't show people, folks. I hire them to keep my children safe and to guide them as needed. To make sure that peanut butter sandwiches aren't smearing on the floor and butter stays in the fridge and that you dry off, put on your jammies, and leave your eyebrows intact when you bathe. It's insulting to those people who are willing to come into your home and care for your children to pay them LESS because you think it will save you a few bucks by not having them play with your kids.
So if you're one of those parents who think you need to pay your sitter less because you don't expect grand entertainment, I have one thing to say to you—please. Your sitter is there to take your place, and ensure your children are safe and well-cared for. Don't punish him or her for doing the job well by paying half of what a good sitter is worth, just because you don't think your kids need a bedtime story.
Trust me. Your contacts will thank you.