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How to successfully have babysitters or nannies in your home

Parenting Resources
by Elise Bowerman

Why do you have a babysitter when you are a stay-at-home mom? Where do you find your babysitters? How do you know if they are right for your family? How do you get them to do what you want? Why don't you just have your family members watch your kids for free?

These are just a few of the common questions I get asked about our family helpers. We are so blessed to have dedicated and loving caregivers. What I found interesting reflecting on this topic is that we've had about two handfuls of caregivers - in just four years! Since everyone's life fluctuates with various opportunities that arise, we have rotated through caregivers every few months, while some have stayed for a year or more. At any one time I have between one to three that regularly watch the kids. Below are my answers, and helpful ideas to begin connecting with a sitter so you may breath easier and be a happier parent. Afterall, if mom or dad isn't happy, then no one is happy.

Why do you have a babysitter when you're a stay-at-home mom? 

More often than not, this question is not asked verbally, but shown as a "look" of questioning, or not understanding. Seeing this "question" in whomever I'm talking with, I take it upon myself to help clear up any confusion. 

Yes, I stay at home with the kids, regularly teach three yoga classes per week, and periodically mentor new yoga teachers, and meet with other moms to help them make changes in their lives whether it's de-cluttering (feng shui), introducing them to the Homemade Baby Formula, or any other reason that us moms need to support one another. Outside of those "working" efforts outside the home, it takes a village to run a family. 

Through the practice of self-study (svadhyaya) I know the point where I get overwhelmed; especially when it comes to caring for my children. Therefore, I am able to make all our lives flow a little smoother with assistance from others. The following are the major reasons we have babysitters on a regular basis:

  • Weekly date night 
  • Allows me time to:
    • further my interests
    • connect with friends/family without ignoring my children
    • run errands quickly - especially multiple errand days
    • simply rest. Sometimes I'll take an hour to watch one of my "shows" or do some reading or whatever the heck I want! hahaha... it's so nice to put my feet up in my own home.
  • Benefits the kids by:
    • building trust with someone other than parents or family members
    • learning to listen and respect an adults instruction when parents are not around
    • teaches them to speak up more often. (I'm in-tune with my kids, so rarely do they tell me they're hungry, tired, thirsty, etc., so when someone else is around, they get to explore their voices more and be expressive of their needs and wants.)
    • make/share memories different than family's traditions
    • doing projects or activities that typically mom or dad don't do, or enjoy doing
  • Support on family trips or vacations... so that it is a vacation for Jon and I, too.
  • When a caregiver is not at our house, I am more in tune with the kids and ready to be a mom
  • I am not wipped out or exhausted all the time. (Granted children are the greatest at draining energy!)
  • lastly, I am ready to be a wife! We often let our partnerships slowly sink into an abyss once children enter our lives, but it is our job as parents to show our children what it takes to maintain a full-filling relationship and that we are each individuals with our own needs, too. 

Where do you find your babysitters?

Anywhere and everywhere. Staying open to finding a sitter where or when you least expect it has worked well for us. It's important if you like someone, whether it's the girl who works behind the reception desk at an office you regularly visit, a server at your favorite restaurant, or a neighbor to ask if they are interested in babysitting or if they know someone who is. Typically, who we surround ourselves with (friends/family) gives a good reflection on who we are. So if the person you know isn't available, ask them about who they know.

Some other resources are child care centers (which means you may be "stealing" their employee),,, churches, preschools/schools - ask the teachers if they know anyone, etc.

How do you know if they are right for your family?

Trust. Trust your gut (intuition.) I'm going to paraphrase a quote from Dr. Phil, "the amount you trust others, is a direct reflection on the amount you trust yourself." Yeah, it's a doozy. Let that slowly seep in while we move on...

Outside of trust you have every right to interview and do background checks. This will take time and great effort on your part, but do whatever brings you peace of mind. Afterall, you are about to leave your precious angel children with someone you barely know.

When I chat with a potential sitter I have my handful of values/ideals I review with them. Based on their reaction, I make a decision if we are a good fit for one another. These include, but certainly not limited to:

  • Are they able to take initiative to basically be like a third parent - especially if they're babysitting 30+ hours per week?
  • What is their approach to correcting behaviors like yelling, hitting, pulling, taking items away from someone else, etc.
  • Are they able to make simple foods/meals?
  • Will they clean up and make our house look the same or better than when they arrived?
  • Will they follow our daily routine?
  • When I am home working, are they able to pretend I am not there? They are in charge, I'm "not home."
  • I also allow them to ask questions, and observe them interacting with the kids if we are in person.
    • My main interest when someone comes to our house to meet is how they greet and interact with the kids.
      • Does the sitter ask the kids questions?
      • Do the kids already like the sitter? Are they showing the sitter their rooms or toys? OR are they glued to my side?

When a new sitter comes over to watch the kids for first time (or maybe a few times) I stay home for about an hour or so before leaving. I let the sitter know I'm cleaning, organizing, or working on the computer, so I have stuff to do, but I keep an extra eye and ear open. It makes me feel better about leaving, and I get a nice perspective of how the kids are getting along with the sitter. Are they apprehensive? Are they exicted, is the sitter excited? And the list goes on...

Everything you notice is a clue to hiring or passing on a potential sitter. Be aware and trust yourself.

How do you get the sitter to do what you want? Why don't you just have your family members watch your kids for free?

These two questions go together. More often than not, the parents who ask how do I get our sitters to respect our lifestyle are the ones who have family members (i.e. grandparents) watching their children for free. While this is the greatest gift family members can give, it can also backfire quickly if they do not respect the lifestyle of the family. It puts the parents in an awkward spot if they are not being heard about their wishes for their children.

I use the word "respect" because it is just that. Whether you have a sitter for free or with pay, it is critical that they respect how your household operates. Essentially they are there to make your life easier; not harder.

Through my experience a babysitter who is "employed" by us will listen and respect our wishes for our children. Family members listen a little, but overall are spoiling the kids and just having a good time. For us, since we have regular paying babysitters, when the kids have time with family members watching them I don't care as much. I want everyone to relax and have fun. So what if the dishes aren't done, they ate foods I would never serve them, and there's toys everywhere when I come home? BUT if that happened regularly, then I may not be such a happy camper.

Another thing that can happen with free family watching the kids is they may begin to feel taken advantage of. So, if you have a free sitter whom you like, ask them if there's anything you can do to make it smoother for them, having an official meeting once in a while to revisit the operations of the home/children to see if both of your needs are being met, or give periodic "thank you" gifts, or whatever else you know they'd appreciate.

For the various phases of development and flow of the day routine the kids are on, it is written down for the sitter to see every time they are in our home. I also include anything from teachers, like how to write/hold a pencil. From their health care providers, sometimes they give a nice cheat sheet on what's age appropriate for the kids, developmentally and such, which is all stapled together; or create your own.

Writing down your expectations significantly helps the caregivers ability to follow through. Verbally explaining all the little nuances of your family and house is just overwhelming for anyone. (And I have yet to meet a sitter or nanny who shows up ready to take notes. If you find that unicorn - they are probably a keeper!) Be specific in your priorities and also be open to things not going as planned... just like when you are with your kids.