A few years ago, my husband and I made a commitment that we would have regular date nights. I believe at the time we asserted something about once a week which, well, has remained an assertion and not much more. But we do take time for just ourselves regularly, and a bi-weekly night for an adult meal and conversation is common.
We needed a commitment to make these nights happen, and more practically speaking, some reliable babysitters which, as anyone who has tried to find them knows, are not always easy to come by. Which is why we were delighted when a neighbour mentioned his daughter was looking for babysitting work. She was enthusiastic, had experience with children, and lived a couple of blocks away. She was younger than our other sitters, but this had significant advantages too, as she was usually available for weekend evenings and on short notice. It seemed ideal.
And it was for awhile. Our boys loved her. They seemed to enjoy that she was young, as she played with them more than other sitters did. She was training to be a camp counsellor, which meant she knew all kinds of games and tricks to play with kids. We’d came home, the kids would be in bed, and she’d tell us the news.
Then something turned. I think it was our oldest son realizing that what made our new sitter really fun was that she quite distinct from an adult which led him to question precisely where her authority lay. He began to challenge it, and when he did, his younger brothers did too. The babysitting reports started to change colour – they once were funny and laden with antics, but now our sitter was tired and troubled by the constant battles with our boys.
We tried different things to modify the behaviour of the boys. We offered rewards, like dessert or extra time together, for good behaviour. We talked about empathy, and remembered that our beloved cousins were about our sitter’s age, and talked about how our cousin would feel if she were in our sitter’s shoes. We tried removing privileges – my oldest lost a treasured weekly soccer game due to tormenting the sitter. And still the bad reports from the beleaguered sitter continued.
Part of me thinks perhaps our sitter is just too youthful (she looks young too, unlike other young sitters we’ve had who looked more mature) for the task – our boys need boundaries and she may simply lack the authority to appropriately establish these. Children, like the rest of us, naturally test limits, and maybe the situation is inherently unfair to everybody. Maybe it’s time to let it go.
And maybe it is, except that it wasn’t like this at the beginning, we had some decent (if imperfect) sessions with her before they went downhill. And she is a lovely girl from a nice family, with courage and stamina to boot – she isn’t a quitter – and she wants the work. Plus she lives down the street and we need sitters! Back to the drawing board.
Our latest report from the sitter was plain discouraging. My husband had given the boys a heart-to-heart about the importance of respecting the sitter and still they were terrible. The next day found them around the table writing notes and cards of apology, and we later walked to the sitter’s house to deliver them. They made verbal apologies too, and although I was of course there for enforcement (which wasn’t necessary), I got the feeling that the boys genuinely felt contrite for treating her poorly. I’m hoping all of this will remind them that she’s a real person with real feelings, as well as showing her (and her parents, who were home) that these boys are not entirely raising themselves.
I’ve decided to try again. After letting things rest for a week, I took a deep breath and booked her for this coming weekend. Cross your fingers for me. Better yet, if you have any advice on how to make this babysitting relationship work, please dispense it. I’m all ears.