Finding the right babysitter is not so easy

We are 14 months into parenthood and still don’t have a babysitter. How is this possible?

We’ve managed to get by this far by relying on generous friends to watch our son, but that’s just not a sustainable model. First, it’s just kind of an awkward request. Do you insist on paying your friends? What if you want to go out with said friends, or, which is inevitably the case, your childless friends have better things to do than sit at your house on a Saturday night? And what if your friends have a mess of babies of their own — are you really going to add to the mix?

I fantasize about going to a restaurant after 7 p.m. and not asking for a high chair. I want to order a glass of wine and not worry about it being knocked over by a grabby toddler. I want to order something exotic that I won’t have to share with someone who needs his food cut into small pieces and eats with his hands. I want to wear make up and a dress and maybe even heels.

So it’s time to find a babysitter. I think we’ve been dragging our feet because it was feeling like a daunting task. You’d think we’d easily have a slew of recommendations from friends but none seemed to pan out. Either the nanny lived too far away for the spontaneous Saturday night visit, or she wasn’t comfortable with dogs (a major sticking point for a family with a pit bull), or our friends’ babysitter options were their own parents.

It’s the grown-up parental thing to find a babysitter. But where do you start?

First I checked neighborhood and new-moms listservs and message boards, where there were a few good leads, but way more overqualified nannies looking to get paid more than we were willing. I posted a notice to a parents’ group on Facebook.  I checked Craigslist.

A few friends had recommended and, two similar sites where you can post ads and browse profiles for nannies, babysitters, even adult care and pet sitters. You can enter specific criteria — hourly rate, nonsmoker, own transportation, OK with pets — and narrow down your search. There are pictures and background checks.

The catch? A $35 monthly fee.  That seemed excessive just for finding a young college student to come occasionally sit on our couch while our kid slept. But, after coming up short on a few leads —  and mainly after being completely dazzled by the wealth of stellar candidates and accessible background information —  I gave in. Plus, I found a promo code online and got $10 off.

I posted an ad on and got almost two dozen responses. Most of them were great candidates: students, part-time nannies, teachers looking to make a few extra bucks on the side. Now you’re talking. The desperation of my search seemed to wane as my inbox filled with responses. The site even lets me send a polite, stock “no, thank you” note to candidates that didn’t seem like a good match.

I emailed back and forth with a few of them. One seemed like a great fit, but she didn’t reply after I mentioned our dog is a pit bull. Another one inexplicably stopped the exchange, and yet another would have been great but was just home from college for the summer.

Meanwhile I had posted an ad to Craigslist, which I worried would only bring me creeps and child molesters. I was wrong.  I got two great responses: One from a master’s student working at a hospital and a second who just finished nursing school. Sure, I might not have access to a basic background check or reviews, but the responses were far more professional than I had expected. And the posting was free.

So now what? Am I supposed to interview them? Call references? This isn’t how I remember it as a kid. I just remember my parents leaving us in the care of the teenager down the block. Do people still do that? When did finding an occasional babysitter turn into such a formal hiring process?

The first candidate came over this morning. She’s a college student living about a 10-minute drive away. As she walked into our living room, I realized I had no idea what to ask her. What was I looking for? She seemed nice. Our dog loved her. My son was ready for a nap, so he just stared at her and grinned a little. She told us about her schooling, her job, where she’s from.

After she left, my husband said, “We should have asked if she had experience babysitting for 1-year-olds.” Oh yea. That would have been a good one to ask. Also, maybe I should have gotten a reading on how she’d react in certain situations, or a few examples of some activities she would do with our son (assuming she comes over during his waking hours).

For the next candidate, I thought I’d prepare a little better. Here are a few questions suggested we ask:

  • Tell me about your experience with children. (Duh. How did we not get into that?)
  • What activities do you like to do with kids? (Seriously, another no-brainer. That we forgot to ask.)
  • How do you comfort a crying child or handle discipline?
  • Are you comfortable with bedtime routines? Bath time? Preparing a meal?

The second candidate was also great, and we were ready with questions about her experience. It didn’t seem necessary to throw scenarios at her and see how she would handle them. She had babysat before. She was free on Saturday nights. Both dog and baby seemed comfortable with her. A perfect match.

I am sure I should be doing more, though. Am I bad mom if I don’t do a background check and interrogate references? Should I pay them to come babysit while I’m home so I can watch how they interact with him? Maybe we set up nanny-cams throughout the house to make sure she’s not stealing from us or spending the evening necking with her boyfriend on the couch. At least I should keep looking and interviewing until we find the perfect person, right?

Nah, none of that’s my style. Both of these candidates seemed kind and comfortable and responsible. That’s about what $10 an hour will get you.

Now we just have to actually use them. It stings to know that we’ll be tacking on another $30 or $40 to a night out (did I mention I’m cheap), but for the good of the marriage it’s time for an adult dinner with adult conversation.

How to find a good babysitter

To recap, here’s what I found in all my Googling:

  1. Ideally, get a recommendation from friends. If that falls short, go online to sites like and, or as we did, Craigslist. The paid sites give you background checks and tons of profile information, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll find Mary Poppins. And not everyone trolling Craigslist is a creep.
  2. Check references. Sure, they are provided by the caregiver, but it’s definitely worth a call or two.
  3. Interview the candidates in person. Remember to ask them relevant questions about babysitting, and get a sense of their priorities by the questions they ask you.
  4. Some folks recommend you pay the sitter to watch your child while you’re home so you can monitor their style. That seems excessive to me.
  5. Hire someone already and get the hell out of the house with your spouse.