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Paying a teenage babysitter is a lot more trouble than it’s worth

Can I just say upfront how much of a pain in the butt finding a babysitter has become? Recently, my mother (and my main babysitter) moved a little over two hours away from my home. Since then, I have been on the hunt for a decent babysitter to help with the occasional date night or come play with my kids for a while so I can retreat to my office to work for a few hours.

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I began with the most obvious course of action: I started asking my friends and family if they had anyone they could recommend. We have a lot of homeschooling families in my area, and we live near a community college, so I was sure it would be easy to find a student who was too busy for a “real job” but still wanted to earn a little extra cash.

No such luck. In fact, I learned that most of my friends’ babysitters were either too busy or way too expensive for our budget. When I got online and started browsing a website that matches caregivers, petsitters and babysitters with families based on location and preference, the choices were just as bad.

I was frustrated to find that there was a fee for joining the website, and I was shocked to learn just how much babysitters are charging these days.

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As a teenager, I watched two toddlers for $4.75 an hour. Of course, I completely expected to spend more than that, but I anticipated paying somewhere right above minimum wage or maybe $10 an hour. Instead, I found that the starting rate for one child was actually between $15 and $20 an hour. Ironically enough, this is more than I was making just last year, working in a profession that required a college degree.

I can’t really express my frustration over this without getting a little… ragey. I get it; watching kids can be hard work. Especially young kids who require constant supervision and diaper changes and who cannot feed themselves. But is it hard enough to warrant charging an hourly rate that exceeds what many parents are making at their day job? Eh, I’m not so sure.

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First of all, most of these babysitters are only being paid to keep my kids safe. I am not asking for housework, and most of the time the people I do hire don’t even clean up after themselves if they get my kids snacks or make them lunch. If I want any extra help, for them to do the dishes or pick up the living room after play time, that stuff is usually considered “light housework” and comes with an extra fee.

Second, I just haven’t been impressed with the people we have hired when we haven’t been able to talk a family member into helping us out.

If I am going to pay $20 an hour for someone to watch my children, I am expecting some Mary Poppins type of shit. I want my kids to be entertained, to get some exercise, and I definitely don’t want to have to pick up after my sitter when they leave. Instead, I suspect the people I have hired are flipping on the TV and pulling out their smartphone the second I walk out the door. My home is messier than when I left, and my kids excitedly tell me they got to watch Daniel Tiger, and My Little Pony, and Little Einsteinsand Princess Sofia while I was gone.

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Finally — as old as this makes me sound — I think that setting a high bar for pay is creating unrealistic expectations for what it is like to work in the real world. If a high school student can find parents who are willing to pay $20 hour so they can eat their snacks and watch TV while their kids sleep, they will be sorely disappointed to find that many people aren’t even making $20 an hour after college graduation and they are working in more demanding fields than childcare.

I’m not about to give up. As a work-at-home mom with a third baby on the way, I am in desperate need of some help and a little time away. For now, we rely heavily on my husband’s parents on the weekends, but we’ll keep on searching for someone who won’t charge us an arm and a leg for a night away.

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Image: MakiEni’s Photos/Getty Images

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