How Much Is a Babysitter Worth to Your Health & Marriage?

6 years ago

A small hint of silver lining to the Great Recession is that the national average for an hour of babysitting has decreased by 50 cents from $9.80 in 2008 to $9.30 in 2011, according to This rate, however, varies wildly by location, and many of us in major metropolitan areas pay between $12-$16 an hour for sitting. In Boston, the country’s most expensive childcare market, I’ll pay between $15-$17 an hour for an occasional sitter.

Credit Image: Hillary H on Flickr

This means on top of the tens of thousands a year my husband and I spend on daily care for our kids, a nice night out costs another $150. The Recession, as Rita Arens wrote in 2008 (and yes, we’re still in this dark place in 2011) has caused many of us to put discretionary babysitting on hold. For many, this means no more date night. We, too, cut back on date night. But it turned into a fight, and one that I must say my husband was on the right side of. He argued that by cutting out date night, you’re saying our marriage is worth skimping on, when so many other things are not. That cut like a knife, and I realized he was right.

I asked Lisa Levey, who is writing a book that helps couples become more integrated in work and life, how she handles it. She said:

“There are many ways to make time together that are not too expensive -– it’s much less about what you do and more about having the adult time together to stay connected. Secondly, at the risk of sounding crass -– if you think sitters are expensive, try divorce. In all candor, money that you spend to keep your relationship strong is truly, honestly, the best money you can spend for your kids and yourselves. Like preventative health care, it is so much less expensive than the alternative.”

Fair play. This is also really important in light of new data that show men are experiencing higher reported work-life conflict than ever before -- almost 60% of men in dual-income couples report significant work-life conflict according to Families and Work Institute.

Working dads are feeling pressure to be the breadwinner at home, a star at work, and also to be a good and present father and husband. Yes, I know this is how women have felt for years. But it’s being called the “new male mystique.”

Even though women now contribute more household income than ever, "men are experiencing what women experienced when they first entered the workforce in record number ... " a horrible sense of trade-offs when balancing home and work responsibilities. I’m sure I’m not alone in hoping that this pressure—- which I see clearly in my beloved and in myself -— doesn’t adversely affect our marriage. A date night every now and then seems like a small thing to ask if it relieves some pressure and allows us to have some fun.

Shannon Des Roches Rosa, who has a special needs son, shared her story: “We get babysitting every Friday night. It costs $25/hour. We budget it/suck it up because otherwise we get no time together. We cut out a lot, lot, lot of other things to keep our Friday nights sacred. And we are really lucky, because that's not a line item everyone with an intense kid like Leo can maintain.”

The lucky few who have parents or siblings nearby can usually wrangle time free away. If you don’t have family, what’s the option? Shannon suggests, “there's also publicly funded respite, including weekend centers like Raji's House here in the Bay Area, and Jill's House in the DC Area -- not everyone is aware of those options. Religious communities are often fantastic sources of community support for parents who need breaks.”

There are also increasing numbers of little kid friendly places to eat that aren’t Chuck E. Cheese. Here in Boston, Full Moon Café has an amazing play area in full view of parents, a lovely menu and a wine list. Heaven. Except that it also has a line out the door most evenings.

I’ve got to think the trend will increase. Life now is too expensive for a standing Saturday night sitter. 

Morra Aarons-Mele

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