It’s tough enough to find a babysitter who’s available when you want them to be, but to find someone whom you trust with your baby’s well-being and who’s dependable?
Well, that can feel practically impossible – as can figuring out how much money it should cost you.
Where to start
• Personal recommendations. Arguably, the best place to start is with a personal recommendation, says Leah Clarkson, co-founder of NannyTrack. Ask friends, family members, co-workers and your postnatal yoga pals which sitters they’ve used and liked, and you’re already on the right track for weeding out those who wouldn’t work.
Of course, just because someone recommends a sitter to you doesn’t mean they’re the right one for your family. For example, you might feel nervous about a 14-year-old caring for your preemie. So ask lots of questions about the potential sitter before you even call to scope them out. And don’t feel pressured to hire someone just because they were recommended by your mother-in-law.
• Organizations you trust. Moms say they often hire their babies’ day care teachers or the people who care for the kids during services at their places of worship. Why? Well, a lot of the time those organizations do background checks and require specific training, such as infant CPR. (Of course, you’ll want to ask the organization to be sure.) And your child already knows those people, so it can be a smooth transition when you head out for date night.
• Sitter websites and agencies. If you’re still not finding someone who’ll work, you might want to check out a sitter website such as Care.com or Sittercity.com. These sites connect parents to sitters, giving you the ability to browse online profiles to find potential picks. They also provide information about possible sitters, including specific experience such as having worked with special-needs children. Many of them also do basic background checks, if you’d like to have one performed. If you want to choose from a carefully vetted pool of sitters, another option is to hire a local nanny agency to do the legwork for you.
Finding a good one
Once you’ve found a few possible sitters, you’ll want to interview them to see who’s the best fit for your family’s needs. Check out our list of questions to ask a caregiver, which will help you figure out what to ask. During the interview (and after), look for these signs that a sitter would be a good hire:
• They have good references. This is your child’s safety we’re talking about – it’s OK to be paranoid. So, yes, you should ask the sitter for references, Clarkson says.
• They have training. "Anyone who has qualifications and knowledge about CPR and first aid – that’s a bonus for a part-time sitter," Clarkson says. After all, you want baby to be in the safest hands possible if there’s an emergency.
• They show up on time. "If somebody’s not on time, I think that’s a really big first sign that something’s wrong," Clarkson says. Obviously, the last thing you want to do on date night is wait around for the sitter. But the lateness also could be a sign of irresponsibility or lack of interest.
• They interact well with your kid. Some parents hire a babysitter after a short interview and maybe a brief meet-and-greet with baby, but if you have even a teeny bit of uncertainty, it’s worth the peace of mind to ask the sitter to do an "observation session." This means having her over for a short sitting session, which you partially observe and are partially absent during (go run a quick errand). And yes, you should pay her for this, maybe her hourly wage or a large percentage of it.
• The kid likes them. After the session, ask your child (if he’s old enough) how he felt about the sitter, because he should feel comfortable in her care.
What to pay
Once you find the right sitter, you’ll need to figure out the right pay. Clarkson says the typical rate for a sitter can be about $10 to $15 an hour ($10 for a student and $15 for a highly experienced sitter or nanny), But prices vary based on your location, the sitter’s experience and, of course, your personal finances.
You’ll probably want to discuss typical local rates with other parents in your area. Once you figure out an average rate range, Clarkson says to talk to the sitter about what they expect. "Then you can negotiate from there," she explains. Keep in mind that if you have more than one child, or require the sitter to do extra duties (like cooking dinner), they’ll likely expect higher pay.
• The ground rules. Before your sitter starts, be sure she knows your expectations, so everyone’s on the same page from the start. Popular ground rules include no guests in your home, no calling or texting friends on the job (there are, of course, reasonable exceptions) and no taking the kids away from home without your permission.
• The routine. Make sure your sitter knows your child’s routine, especially if she’ll be putting him to bed. Make sure the sitter knows when and how your baby is used to things being done, and where important items, like extra pacifiers and clean pajamas, are.
• Food and a ride. Also, depending on the time your sitter works, Clarkson says parents should provide food and some sort of transportation home. When it comes to meals, she says you should either "leave money for them to order food or stock something for them to eat, like frozen pizza."
• Emergency numbers. At the very least, the sitter should have your and your partner’s cellphone numbers, and know where you’ll be, in case of emergency. Set it out for her so she has all the important contacts all in one place.