I’ve recently started having an issue with the neighbor girl who babysits my 3- and 5-year-old kids a few times a month. The last couple of times she’s watched them, they were still up when my husband and I got home, well past their bedtime. Not only that, but my 5-year-old mentioned how many movies they’ve watched and how much time the sitter spent either talking or texting on her phone. Since kids can exaggerate, I’ve asked numerous questions to gather the facts.
I don’t know if I should simply stop calling her to babysit, which is awkward since I know her mom. Or, should I say something and give her another chance?
-Who’s Watching the Kids?
Dear Who’s Watching,
If she had done something that put your kids in danger, it would be a no-brainer: Fire her on the spot. But the situation you’re describing isn’t atypical. If you’re paying current rates, it’s fair to ask that she follow through on your expectations. But, have those been communicated clearly? I believe it’s best to speak your truth rather than simply avoid using her again – especially given your friendship with her mother.
Before you need her to babysit again, have a conversation with her, explaining your expectations: “Lindsey, in the past you’ve done a great job taking care of the kids. When we would arrive home they’d be in bed and the next day they would tell me how much you interacted and played with them. Having said that, the last couple of times you’ve sat for us, they were up way past their bedtime and my son mentioned how many movies they watched.
“Listen, I know taking care of kids can be a handful and it’s exhausting, but I’m counting on you when I’m gone. Here’s what I would appreciate moving forward. Make sure they get to bed on time. If it’s an issue that they’re not listening to you, you’ve got to let me know so I can correct the situation. I’d also prefer that you play games or read books during your time together. Once they are ready for bed, it’s okay to put in a movie to slow down the pace. Also, can you refrain from texting or talking on your phone unless it’s an emergency until they go to sleep? Knowing they have your full attention will allow me to relax when I’m out.”
When you return that evening, if all looks good, reinforce her behavior by saying, “Thank you for taking action on what we talked about earlier. I knew I could count on you.”
Remember, this is probably one of her first jobs, so it’s a learning experience for her too. Enjoy your night out!