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Lose the anxiety, find a sitter
By Heidi Stevens
April 26, 2009
Whenever people ask why I chose a group day-care setting, rather than a nanny, when my daughter was an infant, I rattle off answers about socialization and lower costs and wanting my child to learn how to share and blah, blah, blah. The truth, of course, is much more embarrassing.
I conducted exactly two nanny interviews, and while both women were perfectly sweet and probably wonderful at their jobs, I couldn't shake the fear that I would return home from work one day to find my "nanny" had kidnapped my daughter and fled for the hills, never to be heard from again. In fact, I sort of worried about a mid-interview kidnapping. I know. Pathetic.
But finding a good baby-sitter (not necessarily a full-time nanny) does not have to be an exercise in anxiety and blind faith. It also doesn't have to mean hiring a blood relative or the neighbor next door, which seemed to be the dominant options a generation ago.
"The baby-sitting landscape has changed dramatically in the last 10 years," says Genevieve Thiers, founder and CEO of sittercity.com, a national online child-care service. "The Internet has become the place du jour to find a baby-sitter or a nanny."
Thiers says two major cultural shifts have changed the way we find sitters. "We've become much more transient, where we move from major city to major city, so we touch down and have no network. No family, no friends -- sort of a stranger-in-a-strange-land situation," she says. "In addition to that, the rise in extracurricular activities among high school students has led to the students becoming less and less available."
But Thiers contends that searching for a sitter today is actually safer and more reliable than ever provided you follow the correct steps. Whether you use a service like Sittercity, which has a database of more than 100,000 baby-sitters and nannies organized by ZIP code, or conduct your own search on- or offline, employ these tips for a worry-free hunt.
Know the lingo. Are you looking for a mother's helper (usually a younger sitter who comes over to tend to the kids while a parent is home), a baby-sitter (who comes to your house for fewer than 20 hours a week at an hourly rate) or a nanny (who spends 20 or more hours a week in your home and is paid like a full-time employee)? State your needs upfront.
Ask the right questions. Thiers says her big three are: "Do you know CPR, first aid and the Heimlich maneuver?" "What is your experience?" and "What are your theories on discipline?" You'll have a lot more questions about your specific needs, of course, but those three are critical.
Think about age. "The market trend is toward 18-plus sitters," Thiers says. "But the most important thing is for parents to have a clear picture of what they want before they jump in." Older sitters (meaning post-high school) are often more mature, have more experience and usually can drive. They also tend to charge more. Younger sitters may have a little more energy and engage your kids in more play. College-age sitters, once a rarity, according to Thiers, are quite prevalent now. And they tend to be available on weekends.
Know the going rate. You can find a rate calculator at but in general you should expect to pay $10-$14 an hour, depending on the sitter's age and experience, the number of children she/he will be watching and your proximity to a big city.
Talk money. Thiers recommends asking an interviewee about his/her preferred rate before making an offer. If it's much higher or lower than what you were planning to pay, you may want to reconsider your rate, assuming you like the candidate. Younger sitters will often answer, "I don't know," Thiers says, in which case you can throw out a number you're comfortable with and see how they react. The key is for you to go into the interview knowing what you plan to pay.
Screen them. Always ask for references and always check them out. Thiers recommends going a step further and conducting a statewide or national background check as well. You can use LexisNexis, backgroundchecks.com or just Google "background check" and find another outlet. Most checks cost between $10 and $80, depending on how far-reaching they are. All sitters listed on Sittercity have already been put through a national background check.
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