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With nearly ten years of babysitting under my belt, it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all. The boy who played with his poop while I put his sister to bed, the two girls who always hid my shoes and then forgot where they put them, the game of “war” that went way too far, and the list goes on. But somehow by the end of the night, no matter what sort of shenanigans had gone on, the parents always came home to sleeping children and a tidy kitchen—and for those facts alone, I was a damn good babysitter.
When I first started babysitting, the going rate was $8/hour. By the time my babysitting days came to an end, the average rate had nearly doubled. I asked a handful of mothers if today’s rates seemed reasonable and they all said “yes.” This was actually not the response I had anticipated. Now, I understand that it would be nearly impossible to hire a babysitter today at the rates that prevailed when today’s mothers were tots themselves (an estimated $1-2/hour), but paying a 16-year-old double the price of today’s minimum wage seems worth a second thought, no? Is it that children are becoming increasingly more difficult with each passing decade? Do parents expect more out of today’s babysitters? Or has inflation somehow affected this age-old, under-the-table, cash-preferred job?
When I asked a group of mothers from my own community in New Jersey what their top requirement for a babysitter was, they all said something along the lines of “be attentive to the children.” Now, from what I’ve gathered over the years, all children generally require the same amount of attention in order to keep them alive and well. Sure, the list of not-to-dos may have increased, but the general requirements seem to remain the same. Erica T., a New Jersey mom, summed it up well. “Stay off internet devices in the house, no alcohol or cigarettes, no phone use in the car, never invite anyone over or let anyone in, limit personal calls and texting, do not touch anything in my room unless asked to, please engage my kids, and inform me immediately if my kids are behaving out of control,” she says.
Like I mentioned, the list of not-to-dos have increased, seeing as there weren’t internet devices in the common household before the turn of the century, but okay, so really one just has to play with the kids then, right? Well, no. See what made me a go-to sitter for many families was actually my impressive ability to put dishes in a dishwasher. There was one mother who specifically asked me to do this, but for the most part, I always just did it as a nice gesture—something I would want done for me when my time came to hire a sitter. However, apparently, according to these mothers, this “nice gesture” is actually expected. One mother gave the very enthusiastic response of: “Yes!” While another said: “[I’m] shocked at how some sitters leave the house when I come home.”
Perhaps then, the increase in wage price is a combination of the three. Because the classic let’s-watch-a-movie cop-out can now be extended to any device starting with the letter “i” there are more opportunities for babysitters not to engage with the children. Also, engaging children is arguably more difficult these days because the plethora of devices they’re exposed to are highly addictive and taking them away can feel like you’re just asking for a tantrum. Finally, if babysitters are actually expected to do more than just watch the children, then maybe the prices are fair.
By the time I have children of my own, the prices will inevitably be even higher. I might have to call my mom to watch the kids for me. But hey, maybe she’ll straighten up my kitchen, you know, as a “nice gesture.”
Jodi Silberstein is a former babysitter-extraordinaire, a current student at Ithaca College student, and a writer & blogger for New York Family and Seventeen.