“What to Pay the Babysitter”: A Response

I am sure by now you have read the Huffington Post article titled, “What to Pay the Babysitter.”  In summary, Mother/Blogger Jan Franscico, mother of 4 under 6, wrote about her new method for establishing an hourly wage for her babysitters.

“This weekend, I tried a new approach to the guessing game of paying the babysitter. I told them how much I was willing to pay for her help ahead of time, and I outlined what I expected to happen while I was gone. It was a Take It or Leave It approach, and it worked. But there was a little bit of eye-rolling when I stated that my price for three hours with two kids was $15.”

While I agree that every family should strive for care that fits their budget, her new approach is unreasonable and her premise is oversimplified and unrealistic. That “little bit of eye-rolling” probably means that your babysitter regrets showing up, but is too polite to leave you hanging. Good luck getting her come over next time you have a date night or an emergency arises and you need someone to watch the kids.

Encouraging moms to pay below minimum wage isn’t the only thing wrong with Jan’s budget friendly method. She paints a wildly inaccurate picture of what parents should expect from their caregivers. Here are a few more quotes from her piece vs. the reality I’ve experienced as both a mother and caregiver:

“My position is that it is not a terribly hard job… I expect them to watch a movie with my kids and feed them a little pre-made dinner. Probably almost exactly what they would be doing at home for free.”

Does she also assume pilots are overpaid because they sit in a comfy leather seat and fiddle with a few controls? It’s not that much different than kicking back in a lazyboy and flipping between channels, right? In reality, caregivers, like pilots, aren’t simply paid for their help on a perfect night, you’re paying for their knowledge and experience in case an emergency does arise.

“To sit and and watch a show, leave the house a mess and put the baby to bed with a saggy diaper — they haven’t earned much.”

No matter your budget, you should expect more out of someone caring for your child that they not put them down with a saggy diaper. If your choice is between awful care for your children or paying a couple dollars more – get a babysitter less often! I can say with confidence I would never leave my child with a teenager at home alone unless they had some serious babysitting credentials. I would however have a teenager in a “mother’s helper” type situation (more on that later). You very much get what you pay for and caring for children is a huge responsibility.

“I know my budget, so I tell them that I don’t expect much extra and pray that it will go smoothly for them.”

Three hours of prayer-inducing anxiety isn’t exactly what I’d consider a relaxing date night. Why on earth would you have someone care for your children based on the premise that they aren’t capable of handling an emergency?

Jan also appears to operate under the assumption that there’s only one affordable option for childcare. In reality, there are many options when it comes to babysitting and caring for children. Here’s description of what you can expect from each level of care:

Mother’s Helper: They have minimal experience and education and really should only be caring for children when Mom is working around the home. If your children are ~7-8+ and need minimal supervision, this may be an option for you. You can negotiate fairly low rates for a Mother’s helper and there isn’t an industry standard for pay.

Babysitter: This level of care is typically your high school graduate, college student, etc. These caregivers are more experienced than a mother’s helper and have provided care for children of all ages. The rate for babysitting is anywhere from $8-15+ an hour but varies greatly depending on the age/number of children and where you live. Families in large metropolitan areas like Washington DC can expect to pay $12-20 an hour for single child care.

Nanny: This level of care is provided by someone with 5+ years of experience caring for children. They typically have a degree or certifications specializing in caring for children. It’s also common for a nanny to care for children as her profession. This would be a higher level of babysitting care and you can expect to pay $15-25 an hour for one child at this level. Rates are typically $20+ in larger metropolitan areas.

I completely understand the point Jan is trying to make about teenagers learning the value of a dollar, but taking one man’s lawn mowing wage and extrapolating it into millennial bashing just doesn’t make sense. Youth today face unprecedented gas, tuition, rent and food prices. Other economic factors like the influx of women in the workplace have increased the demand for childcare.

Jan is free to offer babysitters whatever she believes is fair, but all the moms who go forward taking her advice should prepare for disappointment. When it comes to quality of care and piece of mind – you get what you pay for.