There are few things more exciting than imagining some much-needed “me-time” after you have a baby.
But sadly, there are few things more horrifying than the thought of leaving your child with a “stranger”.
I’m constantly asked how I found care I trust in a town I just moved to with no family or friends.
Nevertheless, despite the above circumstances (or perhaps because of them) I’ve found a sizable pool of women I love and trust to take care of my son at home as well as in places I travel frequently.
At first, it was a matter of survival. I was new to town when I had my son. I knew almost nobody. And my husband worked a ton. If I didn’t get really good at finding sitters on Care.com, I would have lost my mind!
Over the past 18 months I’ve found:
- A hip, playful young woman from Argentina who speaks English, Spanish, and Toddler quite fluently due to her time back home spent with over a dozen nieces and nephews.
- A joyful, excitable recent college graduate in Encinitas who spent two months playing with Hunter in the warm California sunshine while I got pedicures, some exercise, and had a few date nights with my husband.
- The effervescent Elizabeth, a former actress and horse trainer who spent mornings with Hunter while I wrote my book Go Baby Go and taught him buckets of sign language; not to mention a love for music!
- My current babysitter. She loves my son so much that we sometimes plan our week around times when her and her children can all play with him together. We even adjusted times so that instead of watching the baby Fridays, she watches him Saturdays so her adorable little girls can play with him. She has become not just a trusted sitter for Hunter, but a dear friend to me. More on great mommy-sitter relationships in tip #3…
But I’ll be honest, it hasn’t always been all Disney Princesses and baby sign language gurus while finding sitters on Care.com. In fact, I’ve had a LOT of misses. When Elizabeth moved, we spent over two months finding a replacement; somebody who could come into my home two or three mornings a week and watch Hunter while I built up my book and blog. And before we found Elizabeth, I interviewed at least one dozen women in-person and almost gave up forever.
However, for a traveling mommy, it was critical for me to use Care.com to find babysitters while traveling; or I’d have never spent a moment away from my sweet but demanding little one.
Here the most critical lessons I’ve learned to find trustworthy sitters on Care.com, from coast to coast.
1. Take Your Job Seriously
Making a stranger a sitter is a huge leap of faith. If you make it your job for a few weeks, you’ll be rewarded greatly. If you slack off or put in poor effort, poor results is what you and your child will reap.
When searching for a sitter on Care.com, it’s important to plan ahead… unless you’re fine leaving your child with a relative stranger.
You begin by posting your request for a sitter. Care.com recommends requesting a “part-time nanny” to get higher quality responses. In my experience: this is overwhelmingly true!
Once you get applicants, you can begin emailing back and forth on the Care.com website or in the Care.com app. Once you narrow down your request to a few good candidates, you can meet them in person. I always request references and a background check *before* I meet them in person. If they can’t provide these simple pieces of information, they’re not the sitter for me.
Call references before you meet the sitter.
You will know if somebody is giving you the name of their sister, their best friend, or an actual family for whom they sat. If the person is too eager to give you stories and take time with you on the phone, it’s probably a family member or friend. If they want to help but don’t have a lot of time; it’s probably a real, live mother or father.
Use your intuition in every single step of the process of hiring sitters with Care.com; especially when calling references.
When you’ve emailed, requested a background check, and called references, you’re now ready to meet in person.
But wait! Be sure that before you invest the time to meet in person that your sitter has completed a CPR certification and/or babysitter course. This is a must for younger sitters who haven’t had a lot of real life experience with kids.
If, like me, you’re hiring sitters in foreign towns or cities, see if you can do a Skype interview. I’ve had Skype interviews with sitters as far away as Sweden. It may seem like a pain for everybody, but you can tell so much more about a person while you’re, well, in-person as opposed to on the phone. You can see if they have an attention span or if they’re checking Facebook while they’re talking to you. You can see whether or not they’re engaged. And you can even introduce them to your little one.
Look, it’s not going to be easy to find great sitters on Care.com. Finding sitters you trust is going to feel like a full-time job for a week or even a month; but if you put in the effort, you’ll find somebody you love and trust at a price that makes you both happy.
There are a lot of bad eggs out there. Keep reading and I’ll share some of my Care.com horror stories alongside my wins…
2. Meet Mindfully
I love to conduct meetings at parks or libraries. I NEVER conduct interviews at my house. If the person you’re considering for childcare is, in fact, mentally or recreationally unstable; it’s never a good idea to show them where you live.
It’s great to see whether or not the provider takes the time to play with your child in this environment. I once met with a girl who was scared to death of my baby; it showed me that she had almost no experience with babies. Another girl showed up inebriated to our interview. Another began cussing when my toddler tripped her as we walked around a park.
No, no, and no thank you.
However, another girl met us at a park and was 100% focused on my son; it was clear to me that she had spent lots of time with children and babies and knew their language.
Speaking of language, it’s important to spend time listening to and interviewing your potential sitter to make sure that if he or she is using English as a second language, that he or she nevertheless speaks enough to communicate well. Once I hired a woman from Argentina who, although was using English as a second language, communicated beautifully with me and the baby. I hired her over a year ago and although she has moved on with another job, we keep in touch frequently and I am grateful to have her in my repertoire of women I trust in case I’m in a bind.
Once when hiring a sitter in Encinitas, California, I conducted a Skype interview before I left Colorado and then a second interview once I arrived in town. For the next two months, she was a phenomenal sitter for my son. After a few weeks of seeing her two or three times a week while I worked from home, I even trusted her enough to have some date nights out with my husband.
3. Don’t Treat Your Sitters Like “The Help”
I’ve been diligent about treating my sitters like guests in my home. I prepare them dinner if they’re coming from another job and lend an ear if they’re having boyfriend problems. This has allowed me to grow close to sitters because I don’t just treat them like family: they are family. These women have been in charge of my most precious treasure and I love to get to know them off the clock, even if it’s just a 15 minute chat on their way out. We’re not going out having drinks together, but there’s mutual respect; which, in turns, means that my child is taken better care of. We all win when there’s love at the center of the relationship.
I’m diligent to pay an extra 5 or 10 dollars to sitters who stay late and chat; even though they don’t ever ask for it, it’s a way for me to show them that even though we’re chatting about boyfriends, restaurants, concerts, or college coursework: I value them. This also means that when two people call them at the same time: I’m the one they’re going to choose. They aren’t just getting paid an extra 5 or 10 dollars now and then, but they know that I value them as human beings; not just as employees.
However sweet it is to connect with my sitters, it’s also been enlightening in an ominous way. Once I had a sitter admit that she had been late several times due to hangovers. One sitter referred to the “job” as “at least paying better than Whole Foods” and referenced my son several times by the wrong name. It was her first and last time sitting! Another time while traveling I listened to a potential sitter describe her highly illegal and dangerous drug use in “oh, it isn’t that bad!” terms the second time she met my son.
It’s good to chat with your sitters about life as well as the job. Let them know you value them as your fellow women and sisters. It’s good to feel like the person who’ll be spending time with your son or daughter is a part of your extended family. This doesn’t mean you’re becoming best friends. It means you’re being a good leader.
Above all: remember that your babysitter is a person just like you as well as somebody you’re hiring for a job. A good leader is empathetic and reasonable. You’ll go far with empathy. Case in point…
My current #1 babysitter and I had a meeting at the library but my dog got sick (and ultimately died) that week… and I totally flaked on the appointment. I begged her to give me her address so I could send her $20 for her time (she waited an hour) but she refused. A few weeks later she saw my name on Facebook under one of her friend’s profiles and decided to give me another chance. I was elated because she’s an angel in my life and the life of my son now. I wonder if my contrition and offer of the $20 had something to do with it? I think so. It’s absolutely critical that you remember that sitters you hire on Care.com aren’t just faces and profile pictures; they’re real people just like you. They have their own lives, family, and children. It’s easy to commoditize them because of how impersonal the application process can me. However, if you commoditize your sitter or treat her like “the help”, you’re essentially setting your child up for a less personal, less warm, less loving environment. Treating your sitter like family makes it more likely that she will treat your child like her own; and you’ll all be safer and happier for it.
4. Don’t Be Scared of Change
Just like waiters, insurance agents, and golf pros; babysitters often live a very nomadic, transient life. Some are newly graduated from High School or College, looking for a stop gap before they head into the next phase of life. Others are looking for cash to cover a temporary situation, like a vacation or house purchase. If you listen to your sitter during the interview process, she’ll most likely share with you her motives and timeline for babysitter services.
I’ve tried hard to find consistent, reliable people in my hometown but I’ve found that just as my life is somewhat transient and subject to change at a moment’s notice, so are the lives of my sitters. It’s critical that you don’t take it personally if your sitter finds a higher paying job and needs to move on. Maybe she will decide she has more nights and weekends free. Our sweet sitter from Argentina got a night job but is still committed to being available any time I need her for an early morning hike or phone call. We miss having her here in the evenings, but I’m grateful to have her at all.
We had another absolutely delightful 18 year-old girl who grew up in our town for a few months before she went to college. She had such awesome energy that we found ourselves inviting her to have dinner with us several times once she was done with her “sitting” for the day. The good thing is that she’ll be home and looking for cash during holidays and summer breaks, when other sitters we use want to celebrate and be with their own families.
If you’re eager for more consistency (as we all are), the most consistent people I’ve found are those who have their own kids; these women have largely been the most stable and reliable: after all, they’ve had to learn how to be reliable from being a mom! Plus, people don’t generally move around a lot if they have children; especially school-aged children.
When Elizabeth moved to Boulder, we both cried. I miss her every day and I’m sure Hunter misses her too. However, it opened the door for Diane to enter our lives. Her consistency, professionalism, and wise “been there done that” nature as an experienced mother of two and a genuinely authentic and honest person was exactly what Hunter and I needed this year, which has been rather tumultuous to say the least.
Most importantly, if you really want consistency in your life, it’s best to do this one very simple thing…
5. Hire Several Sitters At Once
I like to have four or five women I can call at a time to watch Hunter because even though I have basically no social life, I do actually have last minute things pop up on occasion.
This way, I can send a text to three or four people at once: “hey, do you have time to hang with the dude on Sunday for a couple hours?” or “ugh – teeth cleaning Monday. Are you available?” and generally get what I need.
This summer while I was in transition after we lost Elizabeth, I had three or four sitters that I rotated during the week for a couple hours here and there until I found somebody who fit effortlessly into my desired schedule, which is three or four mornings a week and periodic long days for a class, summer event, or seminar.
I’m pretty darn happy I hired all these women! You see, even with how diligently I interview and vet my sitters, I found that one had a recreational drug habit that I wasn’t comfortable with, another was marvelous… yet got drunk at a fourth of July party with my not-yet-walking child in her care, and another frankly just flaked out 70% of the time we needed her (even though she was fantastic that 30% of the time she actually did show up).
You’ll often find that even great babysitters find it too easy to call out of work. If you’re hiring for a morning shift, hire a morning person. If you’re hiring a date-night sitter, find a night owl. If you’re hiring somebody as a part-time nanny for several shifts a week, don’t hire somebody who’s a recent college graduate or heading to college soon.
It’s not the fault of Care.com that there are bad people out there. It’s your responsibility as a parent to take the job of finding a sitter seriously until you find the person who makes your life easy.
In the past two years that I’ve used Care.com, I’ve spent approximately four months in sitter “transition” and the rest of the time in an abundant heaven with tons of women I love and trust to call. If you put in the effort in the beginning, you’ll reap rewards for months and years to come.
If you want to read more about my travels with Hunter and tips for having the best vacation of your life (even with baby) go check out my book here.