So, the time has come. It's either your first time leaving your baby with a baby sitter or perhaps it is the first time with a new baby sitter. All of the families I have sat for over the course of my life have either been neighbors, people I worked with at the daycare center where I was a teen, or friends/coworkers of my parents. In that case, you and your child(ren) might be familiar with this person already. Even so, I highly recommend having a "get to know you" night BEFORE the night you're going out. Have your sitter come over, play some games, read some books, watch the bedtime routine, etc.
Here are a few different categories and scenarios that should be talked about/made known between parent and sitter.
1) How to prepare their bottle. Whether you formula feed or breastfeed, show your sitter how you make the bottles. If you breastfeed, feel comfortable enough to leave frozen milk with the instructions to just hold the baggie of milk under hot water until it begins to thaw and warm up. I've found this is helpful for moms who feed directly from the source and only pump occasionally to have backup for when they do want to go out. The first baby I ever watched who was breastfed was like this - she rarely took bottles so mom rarely pumped. Since breast milk lasts upwards of six months in the freezer, it was easier for her to pump whenever she had time and freeze it rather than worry about having to pump that day.
If you formula feed, either prepare a few bottles ahead of time to be left in the fridge or show your sitter how to make the formula. With my niece, they used room temperature nursery water mixed with formula so her bottles were made at every feeding as they didn't need to be warmed up. It's also a good idea for your sitter to know formula making instructions on the off chance they need to make a bottle or two should the need arise.
2) Know what solids to feed. Under six months, babies usually aren't on any kind of solid schedule that a baby sitter would need to know, but if your child is on solids and will need them, jot down a quick set of instructions for your sitter to refer to when the time comes to heat it up!
3) Lovies. These. Are. Huge. If your child has a special blanket or animal-blanket head, make sure your sitter knows how important this is. Lovies will come in handy when baby is over tired or ready for bed or just wants a cuddle. If your baby uses a pacifier, do your best to make sure there are a couple of spare ones lying around. Trust me, I KNOW how hard this is. Especially when you get babies who like to participate in the Pacifier Throwing Olympics. As long as there is one spare paci that your sitter can lay their hand on in a moment of need, you're good.
4) Bedtime routine. This one is important for a couple of reasons - sometimes, babies (and toddlers) don't want the same routine their parents use from someone who isn't mommy or daddy. I've run into this a few times. Any attempt to put them down the way mom or dad does results in fussing, back arching, arm waving annoyance. In my experience, the parents I sit for have always been lenient about this. With one little one, who didn't have a sitter until she was 7 months old, I used to have to lay on her parents' bed with her and snuggle her up close to me with her pacifier like she was side-lying to nurse (which is what she did with mama in the middle of the night). Her face had to be smushed into my arm or my chest while she sucked on her pacifier while I rocked her back and forth sideways on the bed. If I didn't do it this way, bedtime was a nightmare. Said child is now 3 and as long as I tuck her in tightly and give her lots of face kisses, she'll happily go down. Heck, she even ASKS for bed when she's tired now! However, at seven and eight months old, while dad could happily plop her in her crib with her favorite blanket and pacifier, she never accepted that from me. And I was okay with that, as was mom.
If you are a proponent of any type of crying it out, understand that this might be unsettling for your sitter. It's not that your sitter doesn't trust you or is questioning your parenting abilities. Trust me. I'm all for parenting the best or most effective way for your child. After all, you know them best. But sometimes, depending on the cry, I physically get anxious listening to a child cry. It's like I'm not sure if this is how they sound for mom and dad and I'm worried that they're crying a different cry and I worry that I'm doing it wrong. In cases like these (and depending on how well I know the parents/how comfortable I am with knowing their boundaries) I'll either sit in the room and rock the crib or I'll sit next to their bed and sing quiet lullabies. I do my best to never take them out of their bed once they are in it if that's not what mom and dad do, but I also know that they might be feeling anxious because mom and dad didn't put them down and I want them to know that everything is okay and they are okay. If your child is older and this is an issue of terrible twos or threes and it's become something of a power struggle, make sure to let your sitter know. For me, personally, when I know this is a boundaries pushing issue on the part of the child, I'm more at ease with listening to them voice their displeasure. Sometimes, depending on their language skill, you hear some pretty hilarious things come out of their mouths!
5) Boundaries within the house. A friend pointed out, when I asked for ideas for this post, that her bedroom is off limits even to her own kids. This is important to know. As referenced back in the bedtime category, a lot of bedtime routines often take place on mom or dad's bed. Whether it's story reading or rocking a baby to sleep, sometimes mom and dad's room offers an extra level of comfort when they're not there. Same with animals. If you have animals that don't like random people in the house and are more comfortable being kept in a room by themselves, make sure to alert your sitter to the fact that the cats are in the bedroom and prefer to stay in there. Also, don't be afraid to add a pet task on to your sitter's list of tasks for an evening! If an animal needs to be fed or watered or let out, your sitter should have no issue with this. Especially if the kids can help and it turns into an activity that kills a few minutes in those "will it ever be time for bed?" moments when kids start to get overtired and cranky. Most parents give their sitters free reign of the kitchen and pantry. However, if there is something you have that is needed for the next night's dinner or lunch the next day, just stick a post it note on it or tell the sitter what it's for. This also helps when little fingers know what's in the green bowl in the fridge and try to get inside of it!
6) Electronics. This one can be tricky, at times. Especially if a child has misbehaved during the week and has lost privileges. If that happens (and you think your child might try and get the sitter to let him or her use the device), it's best to put it away before the sitter arrives. Even if it's something that the sitter might use after the children go to bed (like the Wii or the television remote controls), if it's put away before the sitter arrives, they can play dumb when asked to use said device. Often times, I've had parents text me to let me know where they've hidden things after they've left so the kids don't know that I know where it is. This way, it ends the tantrums of "Please please please? We don't have to tell mommy!". And yes, this has happened more times than I can count. In fact, I remember trying it with my own sitters! Being able to say "Mom put it away before I got here! I don't know where it is!" is a really easy way to diffuse the situation.
If you have a limit on screen time for your children, make sure your sitter knows. Sometimes, allowances can be made on a Saturday night. During the holidays, I've often brought movies with me (like Charlie Brown, for example) for the kids and I to watch. I also usually bring popcorn and we snuggle on the couch and eat popcorn and watch the movie. But I always check with mom or dad first before I arrive with a treat.
As an example of a treat, (and I realize that this only applies to sitters who have been with your family for years and love your kids like part of the family), two Christmases ago, I went to Target and got P and C (who were 5 and 3) each a set of Santa forks and spoons, a Christmas themed bowl, and a Christmas cup from the bargain bin. Then I got a blank card and wrote to them as their Elf on the Shelf. I had talked to their mom earlier in the week who had said that they'd been having great behaviors lately so when I arrived with the presents, I told the kids that I had woken up that morning and their Elf had left them presents at my house. Later, while I was changing the baby for bed, I hear P whispering to the Elf, thanking him for her presents and telling him how much she loved him.
7) Illness & Medication. If your child is sick and needs antibiotics or pain relievers, write down the dosage on a piece of scrap paper for quick review. Also make sure your sitter knows the best way to get your child to take their medicine. From droppers, to spoons, to medicine pacis, to syringes ... each child has their own preference and it'll help your sitter out a lot to know each child's preference. While I never give medicine without permission, either before mom and dad leave or after they leave through text or call, it's good to know where things are in case the need arises. That way, when you're out, you don't have to try and remember where you left the Tylenol the last time somebody needed it.
Also make sure that your sitter knows where your thermometer is and how to use it. Some, like the ear ones, can be tricky. Chances are your sitter won't need it, but it's a good thing to know and have on hand just in case, especially in the winter months. If you have a child who is teething, give your sitter instructions for medication if you medicate for teething pain. For example if the child is just fussy, a popsicle or a teething toy will more than likely suffice. However, if you have a child who teethes badly and ends up in hysterical tears, chewing on their fists or anything else they can get into their mouth, let your sitter know what parameters you follow for giving Tylenol or Advil. In most cases, I'll text mom and say "T's been crying for the last ten minutes and the teething ring isn't working and she won't take the popsicle. I'm going to give her the Advil." This way, mom is up to speed and she can check back with you in twenty or thirty minutes to make sure the meds have worked and your child is comfortable again.
8) Communication. With the advent of cell phones, it's easier to keep in contact with your sitter. A quick text message and all is well. As a sitter, I try and remember to text mom or dad and let them know that I'm getting ready to put the kids to bed and my cell phone is downstairs on vibrate so if I don't reply right away, don't worry. Sometimes, though, if bedtime is hectic, I forget to text. If you text your sitter and don't hear back in about ten minutes, double check the time. If you know it's bedtime, you won't worry that you haven't heard back.
The other thing is phone calls from the kids. For some kids, a quick "good night, mommy, I love you!" is enough for them to go to bed without issue. For others, sometimes a phone call does more harm than good. If you have found that it does more harm than good, make sure to let your sitter know. That way, when a child asks to call, the sitter can pretend to call and then tell the child that mommy or daddy couldn't hear their phone and that you can try calling again in a little bit. Nine times out of ten, they're asleep before they remember we never tried calling again.
As a sitter who loves the children she sits for, know that I will do everything I can to make sure everyone is healthy and happy. Even if that means walking back and forth across the living room with a fussy four month old for an hour or more (been there, done that. Nick Carter helped me out of that jam!) or laying down in a teeny tiny toddler bed to rub a head or a back until they're calm enough for sleep ... if it's something they need to feel comfortable, and it's within reason, I'll do it for them. I've given nebulizer treatments, rocked sick babies for hours, patted backs and given sips of water, held hair while they've thrown up and cleaned up any sicked up mess ... I'm not mom, but I do everything I can the way I know mom would do it because I want them to enjoy their time with me. I want mom and dad to be able to go out and do things without worrying that the kids are freaking out or have tied the babysitter up.
Oh. One last bit of advice. This is more for the sitter than the parents - no matter how hard they beg, DO NOT AGREE TO PLAY HIDE AND SEEK! They know their house better than you and their little brains will think of spaces you wouldn't even begin to imagine hiding in. Hide and Seek is a surefire way to give yourself a heart attack when 20 minutes have elapsed and you still can't find the three year old and the five year old is laughing her butt off because she knows where he is, but she's not telling you because it's funnier to watch you scramble around trying to find her brother. Not to mention, nobody wants to break out the butter or Crisco to get little heads and hands and feet out of places they really don't fit.
Bridget Frazier is a twenty-something young woman who, over the years, has come to realize that hopes and dreams don't always coincide with reality. Take a journey through what it means to accept what life has given you, to be happy with the blessing bestowed, all while mourning the loss of dreams once passed. Find her at A Sainted Sinner.