A Babysitting
Conundrum

When can older siblings babysit younger siblings? Finding good, responsible and dependable babysitters is hard enough, whether teenagers for local nights out or adult for every day or other situations. For a while I had it pretty good. I'd managed to establish relationships with the daughters of some local friends (if we were going to be nearby) and with young adult teachers at my childrens' preschool (if we needed to go further afield). We were pretty well set.

BabysittingBut then Alfs got older. He doesn't quite need a sitter anymore, but isn't quite old enough to be the sitter. And I have to be very careful with contracting sitters: many of the teenage girls who are active on the babysitting circuit right now have younger siblings in Alfs class (and that can be a weird dynamic), and that leaves me with only older sitters, but I don't always need them, or their expense.

Parents still need evenings out

This change in dynamic has led to my husband and I going out alone less often. We never did go out a lot, but tried to get out to dinner or a movie as grown ups at least once a month. Going out even less is not necessarily a good thing. Parents still need time to be plain old adults, to work on our connection. But this babysitting situation is a toughie.Alfs, at 13, is the age at which many of his female classmates are beginning to earn extra money by babysitting. Some male classmates, too. I'm not opposed to Alfs doing the same, but it's quite different when a child is looking after siblings. The dynamic is different. When a parent brings an outside person in to look after the kids, there's more of an inherent understanding that this person is in charge; with siblings, that's not always the case. I think you know what I mean.Still, at some point, there doesn't seem to be much other choice. My sister tells me of the time when her oldest was in 8th and 9th grade, and they had similar issues. Because of the family sibling dynamic, she'd pay her oldest to look after her youngest, and pay the middle child to stay out of the way. It worked. Sometimes, anyway. I think we might be headed down that path like that.

Easing into a new dynamic

In an effort to make the best of this new dynamic, we've decided to get Alfs some basic babysitter training. It's the same kind of training I'd want any sitter to have. The local hospital offers a class every couple of months that includes basic CPR training.After that, and after conversations about expectations with all the kids, we can start to leave him with his siblings for short periods of time. We'll build on successes from there.Just because he has the class and some success, though, won't mean he'll be our exclusive babysitter. There will still be other dynamics to consider. We've long held to the guideline that if we are local - in town or one town over, a teenage sitter is fine. Further than that, we need a college aged or adult sitter. We'll still hold to that guideline for a while longer. But when we do contract that older sitter (or older teenage sitter), we'll make sure we're clear that she's there to take care of the younger kids, and Alfs just needs to be friendly and respectful.

Earning money for babysitting

Then there's the payment issue. Do you pay your own child and how much? I say yes. If you would pay an outside sitter for the same work, you should pay your older child - though maybe you can expect to pay a discounted rate. I suspect the first few efforts will result in phone calls during the evening out; perhaps we can tie pay rate to the number of times we are interrupted.All this may or may not work. Time will tell. Whether and when your older child is able to care for younger siblings is a highly individual thing. I am hopeful that Alfs will demonstrate responsibility and Woody and Sunshine will be cooperative - and my husband and I will still get the rare night out.

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