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A good babysitter is the secret weapon of parenting. Having someone you trust (and your kids love) on call can do wonders for your sanity. Just follow our rules to get the relationship off to a smooth start.

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1. Don’t Cheap Out

You get what you pay for. If you think you’re lucking out by paying next-door-Nellie a lower-than-market-rate wage, just wait until she leaves you for someone willing to do better. And if you use the same sitter regularly (to the tune of $1,800 or more per year), don’t forget that the I.R.S. could come after you for not putting it on the books.

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2. Don’t Leave the Fridge Empty

Sure, some folks will pack their own lunch or dinner. But it’s considerate to make sure there’s food in the house and that the sitter knows it’s OK to eat it--especially if he or she will be there during a meal with the kiddos.

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3. Don’t Feel Bad About Calling References

Always ask for and call other parents before hiring a new person to watch after your little ones. It’s a job and it involves your kids’ safety.

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4. Don’t Rely on Just One Sitter

Found a high school student you love? Great. But she’s probably not going to be available every time you call (prom…college tours…college boyfriends), so it’s always best to have a backup. And beware of passing out your sitter’s number to all your friends. Next thing you know, they’ll be out on date night and you’ll be home wishing you’d booked her first.

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5. Don’t Forget to Communicate the Rules

It’s best if you write everything down: bedtime routines, rules for electronics use, where you’ll be, emergency numbers, what to do when Veronica insists she is allowed to eat caramel chips for dinner. Spell out all of your expectations and talk them through before you leave the house.

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6. Don’t Rush Out the Door

Take the time to show the sitter everything he or she might need to know: where the PJs are, how to lock the doors and set the alarm, how to use your TV, how to do a proper Curious George voice. In other words, build at least 20 minutes into the arrival time so you’re not in a hurry to get going.

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7. Don’t Text Her All Night Long

“Did Trevor eat his macaroni? Did June let you wash her hair?” Resist the urge to micromanage the evening and let yourself enjoy your time out of the house.

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8. Don’t Ignore Your Gut

Feeling hesitant for any reason? Go ahead and cancel. Just tell her there’s been a change of plans and you won’t be needing her services after all--and perhaps offer partial pay for her trouble. Maybe it’ll be a little awkward, but ultimately you’ll feel relieved you trusted your mama bear instincts.

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