$20 an hour makes it easier for college students to overlook the whining.
As a full-time student and Division 1 athlete, having a traditional job is nearly impossible. However, with my unique access to PCR testing twice a week, I became the golden candidate for babysitting jobs, despite a more competitive market and worried parents. Many local families in Evanston were so desperate for a caregiver they knew was COVID-safe that they were willing to work around my crazy schedule. The problem: despite having four younger brothers, I've never been a huge fan of little children. I don't smile at infants in grocery stores, I don't keep a phone list of baby names, and I don't think all toddlers are cute. Here’s how I learned to be a good nanny anyway.
Lesson 1: Disliking children often comes from inexperience.
“Some people lack confidence in their ability to take care of small children,” says Elizabeth Berger, author of “Raising Kids with Character.” She added that, for some people, the feeling of dislike is towards large groups of kids, such as bickering brothers or students in a classroom. These individuals might opt to babysit a single child if watching multiple children seems overwhelming. Once someone gets comfortable with caring for children, though, this dislike often fades away. I began babysitting three boys ages 3, 6 and 8 at the end of 2020. I realized that while it's not an easy job by any means, babysitting is extremely gratifying. Unlike a conventional job, you’re appreciated on a consistent basis. No ordinary boss tells you they missed you when you walk through the door in the morning or asks their parents if you can stay for dinner. My appreciation for kids changed with these small moments when I realized taking care of children is more than a job, and that I could impact their lives for the better.
Lesson 2: Understand what parents expect of you.
Unfortunately, most parents won't pay you to watch TikTok videos while their child stares at the TV screen. They might expect light housework, driving kids to and from soccer practice, cooking or helping with homework. Depending on the ages, you may also be asked to change diapers and bottle feed infants, potty train or give baths. The parents might expect you to make sure the kids don’t spend more than 30 minutes on their iPads or that you wash your hands after handling gluten because their son has celiac disease. These responsibilities can be draining and overwhelming with all of the trivial details to remember, so be sure to understand the families' expectations and set clear boundaries before taking a job.
Lesson 3: Pay attention to your employers’ parenting style.
“Parenting styles can be categorized as neglectful, authoritarian or authoritative”, says Julie Yonker, a professor of child psychology at Calvin College. Neglectful families may avoid showing affection, leave children unsupervised and expect little from a babysitter. Authoritarian and authoritative parenting, however, is much more common. The authoritarian parent uses “Because I said so” as an explanation and expects caretakers to follow instructions to a T. An authoritative parent, on the other hand, provides explanations behind their rules and is more lenient in their discipline. For example: I babysit for parents who asked me to try to keep their 3-year-old son from falling asleep mid-day so he wouldn’t be cranky later; however, if he did fall asleep, they said it wasn’t the end of the world. Being mindful of parenting style is also essential because it will dictate how you regulate child activities while you are in charge of them.
Lesson 4: Learn the family’s lifestyle.
Some parents place strict limits on screen time, while others believe more exposure to technology enhances their child’s learning. Some families are nutrition conscious while other parents don’t raise an eyebrow when their child is eating his fourth bag of pretzels at noon. Many households watch SpongeBob, but a few find it inappropriate for kids to watch (in general, it’s a good idea to be conscious of age limits for games and TV shows). It’s also important to learn the habits of every single child in the household. I learned the hard way that the 8-year-old is scared of Ursula in "The Little Mermaid" and that the 6-year-old screams if his food is touching on his dinner plate. Many things vary from family to family, so learning a family's habits and each child’s individual norms is important so you can understand what is and isn't tolerable.
Lesson 5: Build an attachment.
“A child forms a bond with a significant caregiver when that person meets his or her basic needs. Children need someone who will feed them, keep them safe, change a dirty diaper or give a hug after a fall,” says Yonker. In order for that secure attachment to develop, a child’s needs must be met consistently. This bond can take days, weeks, or months to build depending on a child’s personality and how much time a babysitter is spending with them. Keep in mind children can sometimes be a little evil: the 6-year-old that I currently babysit for told me that I was his least favorite babysitter for weeks. If he hurt himself by falling down, he would tell me he hated me. He would point across the room and tell me to fetch him toys because “that’s the reason his parents were paying me.” Many months later, he’s become more soft-hearted and wraps himself around my leg, begging me to play with him longer when I try to leave their house. At the beginning of my babysitting experience I would be running out the door, but now I hug the children goodbye and look forward to seeing them again.