• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


In the Market for a 21st Century Mary Poppins

I’ve spent the last week constructing babysitting ads.

September 4, 2013

I’ve spent the last week constructing babysitting ads. We are losing our beloved sitter to a full-time graduate program and, while we only wish her the best, we are sad to see her go. She was the Mary Poppins of babysitters. She didn’t believe in screen time except on rare occasions and organized complicated scavenger hunts that would keep my children busy for hours. She embraced their quirks and thought about them even when she wasn’t sitting. Plus, she was a former EMT! It’s hard to find someone to live up to those standards.

We found our last sitter through “word of mouth,” which doesn’t seem to be working this time. We have sent pleading emails to everyone we know and others whom we have identified as hubs of the community. My husband’s latest idea was to head over to the local bagel shop (his reasoning being that the bagels are so good there, that only those with the most discriminating senses would frequent the shop).

Realizing my options were dwindling, I decided to head into the online babysitter matchmaking world. Writing up an ad for the caregiver of your children has become quite complicated for me.

Years ago, a mother advertised on Craigslist for a babysitter, describing exactly whom she didn’t want. She was both admired and ridiculed for her demands and opinionated tone. In my Motherhood courses, we have deconstructed her ad and the reaction to it, discussing how people judge and label her motherhood and what she defines as caregiver. For the first time, though, I see the mother’s desire to write a “real” ad from a new perspective. My ad is rather simple. It says, “Looking for babysitter for Mondays and Wednesdays from 2pm-7pm (sometimes later) for 3 children (9 yr old boy, 7 yr old girl, and 4 yr old girl). Must pick up from bus and start afternoon routines (snack, HW, dinner, etc). Requirements are own transportation, a love of children, and be a non-smoker.”

I placed the ad on Sitter City after much debate over whether I should choose that site or the newer Care.com. I based my decision on an article that explores whether Care.com inappropriately cribbed its business plan from its rivals. Ultimately, they are both legitimate businesses in my eyes, but since I was on the fence, I relied on the playground rule: go with whoever was first.

I posted my ad and was advised by the computer (I get lots of emails from their computer -- way more than I get from any potential babysitters) that I needed to show my family’s personality. I added two lines: “Willing to play Candyland (over and over again) and can convince children to shut off Sponge Bob and play outside.” I had some concerns (too snarky?) but they said to show my personality, no? However, the ad doesn’t reveal my true desires and misgivings about finding a babysitter. Basically, I’m really looking for someone to replace me for the hours when I can’t be there. This is my honest ad:

“Looking for babysitter for three children. I need someone to love them when I am not there and treat them as if they were your own children. Except, you have to remember that they aren’t your children, and you must completely follow all my rules. You need to be able to negotiate the fact that you have two masters. You work for me, but you also have to earn the respect and love of my children (although they can be bribed pretty easily with ice cream). The babysitter needs to be completely able to deal with medical or other emergencies but also have fun. You need to be authoritative but not so much so that the kids don’t look forward to your arrival. You need to let me leave for work while a child is screaming for me and reassure
me via text that said child stopped crying 30 seconds later. You need to know when to text me, but also understand there will be times I’m stuck in a meeting and you’ll need to deal with the crisis at hand. You can’t ever really call in sick (‘cause I can’t) but not spread any germs to the kids. You need to respect that their grandmother will stop by anytime she wants, and you will have to endure the sugar crash from a post-Nana visit. You need to be able to do 4th grade math (it’s really hard), help construct a book report on Egyptian periods, and discourage overly perfectionist writing samples from my 7 year old. And, most important, you have to have the perfect balance of doing a great enough job that I feel okay that the kids are with you but not so absolutely fabulous that they ask for you too often when I’m with them.”

My honest ad reveals my own insecurities as a mother and my conflicts about being a working mom. It acknowledges the complicated relationship that I know caregivers experience. It reflects my desire for my children to build long-lasting relationships with others while hoping I still have a primary influence in their lives. Or, maybe I should just let my husband go get his sesame bagel with cream cheese.



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