If you’re over the age of 40, I would bet my entire vintage collection of Baby-Sitters Club books that you spent nearly every weekend night of your early teen years babysitting someone else’s kids. And as much as you’d like to never admit it, I also bet you loved every second of it. (And the quick, easy cash in your pocket you made doing so you promptly be spent on jelly shoes and Wham! cassette tapes).
Sadly, when teens these days want money for music downloads and new shoes, they go straight to mom or dad- completely bypassing any notion of earning it on their own. And just the thought that an earning option out there existed-but which required watching someone else’s kids)-sends today’s teens into a total panic. Why is that exactly? What happened to the throngs of available teenagers happily babysitting as a way to earn spending money? They have all but disappeared.
I know this because when I was knee deep in little kids, I had one helluva time trying to find a babysitter of my own. It seemed when I asked other mothers around the neighborhood, nobody actually had a dependable babysitter they could recommend to me. Like, at all. I was dumbfounded.
Were these moms and dads never able to go out to dinner?
Who were they getting to watch their kids when they had something to do together and couldn’t take their kids?
Or was it something else entirely?
I finally found a babysitter, but to my surprise she preferred to not be left alone with my kids. Um, isn’t that the point of having a babysitter? She said she took jobs as a “mother’s helper,” and would come to my house to play with and/or entertain my kids so I could get housework done. Wait, what? As wonderful as that kinda sounded (and who wouldn’t want a break from entertaining kids all day) I craved time away from my home without my kids, and wanted a babysitter to completely take over.
And by takeover, I mean I fully expected them to do what I did when I babysat in the 80s- take care of the kids and do light housekeeping things like clean up the toys, clean up after any meals made for the kids, and tidy up the house after the kids went to bed. To my dismay, teenagers not only rarely babysat alone anymore, but if and when they did, all of those things are no longer in the job description. What is in there however, is something like, “Will play with and keep kids alive, and that is all.” Lovely. And let’s not even talk about how much teenagers expect to be paid per hour for that kind of “just keeping the kids alive” work.
Out of a combination of exhaustion and desperation, I ended up hiring the mother’s helper. She came over a few afternoons a week to give me a “break,” though still hearing my kids fight and make messes in the house while I did housework- just in another room- did little to provide me with a real break.
I wondered why this very capable, smart, and responsible teenage girl would not only want to babysit alone, but why she isn’t doing so for a hefty charge that many are more than willing pay? Does she not know she could be getting herself booked out for months at a time and smiling all the way to the shoe store?
And then it hit me.
She wasn’t the problem.
We all were.
All of us helicoptering, lawn mowing, hovering, anxiety-ridden parents who gave birth to our first babies sometime in the late 90s and early 2000s were the problem. Why? Because not a single one of us trusted anyone with our precious babies, not our even our relatives, and especially not your average teenager. We were raising babies in the information age-where every horrific and scary story about childhood dangers, abductions, and accidents produced yet another set of what ifs in our already exhausted modern attachment parenting minds. All of which inevitably forced us to never relinquish control of our childcare to pretty much anybody.
The real problem wasn’t that my mother’s helper was doing enough to find steady babysitting jobs. The real problem was that nobody was actually hiring. I was that non hiring nervous first time mother years ago when I although I was desperate for a night out with my husband, there was no way in hell I was leaving my two and three-year-old boys with a 13-year-old. And yet when I was 13 years old, I was watching babies and toddlers like it was no big deal- changing diapers, heating up bottles, rocking, and soothing like a pro.
It’s a sad thing to realize we have taken away those kinds of experiences (and potential income) from today’s teenagers. It’s no wonder they get to adulthood with a laundry list of things they can’t do (like laundry) and now we can add basic infant and childcare to that list of adulting skills they lack. But I think given more chances (and the release of over parenting on the part of today’s young moms) our teens would be open to more babysitting jobs. I know mine would. And I bet they’d even do some laundry for that tired mom while they were at it.
But I’m not gonna lie. It’s gonna cost you, new moms. Have you seen the price of Nike’s these days?
Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.