Finding a reliable, trustworthy babysitter is going to come in quite handy over the next few years. This is the person upon whom you’ll rely when you need to get out during the day for, say, a gynecology appointment that you’d prefer to attend alone, or when you and your spouse need a night out together. At whatever point you begin leaving your children in the care of another, it can be challenging in the anxiety department.
Along with the usual list of emergency contact numbers and directions on dinner and bedtime routines, one mom I know leaves her and her husband’s will out on the counter! But still, the period of time between driving out of the driveway and pulling back into the garage can be a bit stressful the first few times. Many parents spend more time searching for someone to watch twins, or getting comfortable with someone watching twins, than they would (or did) a singleton.
It’s far easier to put a one-year-old in the care of a fifteen-year-old than to put twins in the care of the same person. After all, this person potentially has to be chasing kids who are getting into two different kinds of mischief.
Attempt a Dry Run
Have the sitter come the first time when you will be home, maybe even just for an hour or two. Use the time to clean or relax, but let it be an opportunity to get a feel for how comfortable the sitter is and how she handles the job. It will give her a chance to ask any questions she might have. Most important, it will give the kids an opportunity to meet and become familiar with her before you’ve gotten dressed up for the first time in months and are prepared to walk out that door, kids screaming or not.
Put Babies to Bed First
Another option is to have the sitter come after the kids are in bed. This way, at worst, she’ll have to go in to replace a pacifier or comfort a baby, but won’t be tasked with feeding them or putting them both down for the night. Some parents worry that if they put their children to bed and then a child awakens to Suzy Sitter at ten o’clock without warning, the child might flip. And she might. Or she might not. If you’re concerned, don’t take this approach the first time you use a particular sitter.
At a minimum, ensure that your children have met and spent time with any sitter who will begin her duties after the kids’ bedtime. That way, while not your face, it’s at least a familiar face your child will be met with if she needs something.
Find a Sitter You Feel Good About
We’ve had great luck with two sources for sitters: preschool and church. One day when I was picking up Grace from preschool (the boys were just over a year old), her preschool teacher said, “If you ever need a sitter . . . ” That was as far as she got. I lunged forward with pen and paper to get her number.
My husband asked the girl who helped run the toddler nursery at church if she ever babysat. She was seventeen, great with all the kids, and they knew and loved her. This girl was seriously amazing. She would come over for six hours in the middle of the day, and I’d pray the entire time that things weren’t going so poorly that she’d refuse to come back. Each time, I’d return home to the litany of games they played, stories she read, meals she prepared (without my even asking), and on and on. Oh, how I miss her (she didn’t quit; she went to college).
Another source for sitters: friends. Beware, however, that this can turn into a friendly (or not) bidding war at times. I remember New Year’s Eve 2000 when sitters in our neighborhood (fourteen-year-olds, mind you) were going for $100 an hour. At those rates, I almost took up babysitting for a night. Once you find a sitter you really like, be careful when you give out her name/number!
Set Your Expectations Appropriately
Remember, the sitter is not you, so don’t set your standards too high. Of course, if you have family living nearby, you may have an advantage that we don’t. Not that you have to use them every time, and not that they’ll be available or willing every time, but perhaps even once a month they’ll be available to lend a hand. Enjoy Your Time Away! Once you’ve left for the evening, especially the first few times, you’re bound to have some anxiety.
The first time our friend Stephanie and her husband, Kevin, left their daughter to go on a dinner date (the baby was about ten months old), she was in the care of Stephanie’s sister and brother-in-law who were visiting from out of town. Ava was already in bed asleep when they left, and Stephanie still had a hard time focusing. She kept the cell phone sitting on the table in front of her dinner plate anxiously awaiting its ring with the news that Ava was crying uncontrollably. She and Kevin devoured their food much too fast in an effort to get home as soon as possible. It was as though they were racing to beat the call that they knew would inevitably come.
It was the first time Stephanie felt as though she had deserted her responsibility of being “in charge” as the mom. They didn’t relax as they had promised each other they would, and upon returning home, she really wished they had. For although Ava did wake up, Stephanie’s sister rocked her back to sleep and not another peep was heard. Even though Stephanie and Kevin had just one baby to leave, this scenario is all-too-common whether you’re leaving one, two, three, or sixty children for the first time.
Leaving your children in the care of a caring, competent adult will get easier and easier each time you do it. Start slowly if you need to (or dive right in—in my case, the first time David and I got a night out together, it had been so long since we’d done it that I practically threw the contact-number sheet and pajamas at Stephanie as she was walking in the door and I was walking out).