How do we go about choosing the best person to care for our children when we're away from home? My spouse and I desperately need to get some time away from the kids and start "dating" each other again, at least every other week or so. But we're not sure how to find a suitable babysitter. Can you suggest any guidelines?
You're right to be taking the time and trouble to give this question some serious thought. It's no light matter to entrust your child to another person's care. While it's important to be diligent regarding the choice of a long-term caregiver, it's equally vital to be careful in your selection of babysitters, even though the time your child spends in their care may be much shorter.
A great deal depends upon the age of your child. During the first six months of life, it's best to leave them in the hands of experienced relatives or other adults. Later on you can consider using younger babysitters. In fact, some of the best babysitters in the market may turn out to be high school or middle school students. Just be certain that you've done your homework before leaving anyone in charge of your kids. If the sitter is a teenager, make sure that you're thoroughly acquainted with her, her family and her personal background before arranging anything. If possible, have her watch your child while you're at home doing some other work. This will give you a chance to observe how she interacts with your child. You may also find some excellent sitters and have an opportunity to see them in action in the church nursery or Sunday school.
It's a good idea to build a roster of trustworthy babysitters before you actually need one. Find out if the individuals you have in mind are trained and equipped to handle emergencies. In many communities, hospitals or other organizations offer short courses (including CPR training) for babysitters. Those who have completed such a program would be excellent candidates for you to consider.
We should note that some experts have advised against using adolescent boys as babysitters. The idea here is that the many sexual and hormonal changes occurring during the teen years may get the better of young males and lead to sexually inappropriate behavior with children while parents are out of the house. We agree that there may be room for special concern where boys are concerned, but we would quick to point out that in this day and age, given the prevalence of Internet pornography and other sexually addictive materials, girls and older adults may also have problems in this area. Caution is always appropriate. As indicated above, the key is to be thoroughly acquainted with the person you're engaging to care for your kids - whoever he or she may be.
Many couples are avoiding some of these difficult questions and decisions - and saving money at the same time - by sharing babysitting responsibilities with other young parents. One couple goes out for an evening on the town while the other cares for both sets of kids; then, the following week, they trade places. This is just one of the ways you might get creative about finding child care so as to free yourselves up for regular "dates."
When you do leave your child with a sitter, always write down where you are going and how you can be reached. This will usually include your cell phone number, the location and phone number(s) of your destination(s) and (if you carry one) your pager number. You should also provide the phone number of your doctor, the local hospital and another relative or friend who will be home in case you can't be reached. Let the babysitter know when you expect to be home and what you expect to happen while you're gone - including feeding, bathing and bedtime routines. If you happen to be in the neighborhood, don't hesitate to "drop in" unexpectedly so as to keep the sitter on her toes and make sure that all is going according to plan. If a child needs medication, make sure the babysitter knows exactly how much and when to give it.
The sitter should also know any other family rules, such as those applying to TV or videos, as well as any reliable ways to comfort your child when you leave. The babysitter should allow no visitors into your home unless you have made prior arrangements. If your child is old enough to understand, tell him or her that you are leaving and that you will be back. Don't try to sneak out when he or she isn't looking, and don't be pulled into a long, emotional parting scene. Your child will survive and, with rare exceptions, will calm down shortly after you depart.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss this subject at greater length with a member of our staff, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department at your convenience.