Recently, I went on a bit of a rant regarding how much some of my friends and neighbors pay a babysitter to watch their children. After asking around to discover the “going rate” in town, I learned that sitters were charging $10, $15, even $20 an hour to watch kids – an amount that’s significantly higher than I made in my first adult job! But I didn’t actually delve into my radical new theory about how much we, as parents, should actually be paying a sitter… until now.

I don’t pay them anything.

That’s right – not a dime.

Now hear me out…

First of all, I don’t hire anybody I don’t know personally. My husband and I are youth group leaders are our church, so we literally have about 150 good kids on speed dial. These are teens who know my husband and me, who know my children, and who have been to my home on multiple occasions as invited guests of the family; I consider them to be extended members of my family.

But ok, ok, then why won’t I pay them to babysit my kids?

The first time some of my youth group teens (I always hire in pairs of the same gender), it was during dinner time, so I ordered pizza, wings, and cheese sticks for both them and my kids. When my husband and I came home from our date, wholly intending to pay our sitters, they refused. And that got the wheels in my head spinning…

The next time we “hired” a pair of teens to babysit, I told them right up front that I would order in dinner for them – anything they wanted – but that I wouldn’t otherwise pay them to watch my kids. And they were ok with that. One even gushed, “Oh good! That means I can count this toward my service hours for National Honor Society!” (He had me sign a form at the end of the night verifying he’d spent four hours at my house.)

Now, it’s a well-known fact among the teens that my husband and I don’t pay a sitter, but that hasn’t stopped them from volunteering. (Ok, ok, I’ll confess – part of it might be because of the 60″ TV, the air hockey table, and the foosball table set up in our basement.) And I feel like we do pay these sitters, but in ways far more valuable:

  • I can write a killer college recommendation
  • I’ve been a confirmation sponsor – which always comes with a sizable cash gift after they receive the Sacrament!
  • We always remember our sitters’ birthdays, and make sure to get them gas, Starbucks, or movie theater gift cards
  • When they graduate, we give them a little something extra
  • If they’re stranded at a friend’s house (read between the lines), we’ll go pick them up – and give them a motherly or fatherly lecture on the way home
  • We’ve brought the best of the best on vacation with us – again, two sitters of the same gender at a time – and pay for their entire trip just like they’re a member of our family, provided they watch our kids each night so my husband and I can enjoy dinner at less child-friendly restaurants

So you see, I do pay my sitters – just in a different way than you. I don’t treat them as business partners, or as one side of a client-customer partnership; I work to foster a real relationship, not only between myself and these teens, but between them and my entire family. In other words, I treat them like family. And in doing so, I know I can trust these teenage sitters – who are coming over to help me out because they want to, not because I’m paying them the “going rate” – far more than I could a neighbor girl who wants to charge me $15/hour.

Libby Balke

Libby Balke