Is My Babysitter Doing a Better Job Than Me?

Though my sons’ caregivers can sometimes seem to be better role models than me, that doesn’t mean I’m a bad parent.

Work has been super busy lately, so we recently tried out some new babysitters. When I asked my sons afterward what they thought of the new recruits, they said they didn’t like any of them. I was worried: Were the babysitters doing something wrong? Were they being mean? Were they not parenting the way I would parent?

I asked my kids to give me examples of why they disliked those babysitters. My older son said that one babysitter “forced” him to eat his dinner. “How?” I asked. “Did she physically force open your mouth?” He thought about it, paused, and said, “Well, no, but she wouldn’t let me watch the rest of my TV show until I promised to finish half my fruit and veggies and eat three more bites of chicken.”

Other atrocities? “At bedtime,” my younger son chimed in, “she’s so mean.” Again, I asked for details. “She gave me a five-minute warning to go to the bathroom, get a glass of water, and find my favorite book. Then at exactly eight o’clock, she said lights out!” he exclaimed. “You always lay with us for a long time and when you tell us just one book you often read many, many more.”

So it turns out the “mean” babysitters were making my kids eat healthy, stick to rules I implemented, and were consistent. Hmmm, what does that say about me?

I started to feel bad, as if I wasn’t parenting correctly. Why were the babysitters able to get my kids to do things that I let slide? 

I think one of the biggest changes in parenting today is that we parents are so much more involved in our kids’ lives day to day. I grew up 1 of 6 kids, and my mom made sure we had a family dinner (homemade) each night at 6. But parents didn’t get as involved in every little detail in their kids’ lives.

I need a babysitter, because in addition to working, I’m full-on with the kids. That includes being class parent for both of my boys (planning class parties, organizing field trips and volunteers, and making sure everything runs smoothly). Then there are all of the extras, such as volunteering to be the pizza mom as well as the art appreciation mom at school. Plus, there’s the playdates, and after-school sports and activities. I also try to take my kids outside each day for fresh air and fun, and I need to help them with homework and reading each night. I love my mom and the way she raised me, but she wasn’t nearly as involved. (None of the moms were back then.)

I love being a big part of my kids’ lives, but it’s also exhausting. Come dinner and bedtime, I’m beat. So while the babysitter comes in fresh and ready to work, I’m ready to throw in the towel (having been up since 5am). She has the energy to negotiate three more bites, or a spoonful of broccoli, but I feel like I’ve been negotiating for hours. When it comes to bedtime, I admit, I’m terrible about being strict. Truth be told, I love reading stories to my boys. I love the extra snuggle time. I love telling them about when they were a baby, or a story about when I was their age.

So while I wish I had the energy to stick to a schedule and keep it consistent and structured, I also feel like I need to cut myself some slack. I don’t always make them finish their dinners (or eat their veggies and fruit), but I do make them three full meals a day. If they skimp on something at dinner, hopefully they make up for it at lunch. If I don’t always have the strong will to enforce bedtime, I hope they have happy memories of their mom telling them lots of bedtime stories about their childhood (and mine) and reading lots of books.

Maybe babysitters can be consistent and more structured because they watch my kids at most 20 percent of the time I do. If I had my kids 20 percent of the time, maybe I could strive for perfection or good modeling all that time. But I’m on 24/7, so even though I slip up and bend the rules quite a bit, I like to think it evens out in the end. And that I’m still a good mom.

Main image: The author and her children swim with the dolphins on a recent trip.
Judy Koutsky

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