As a high school student, I wasn't just the typical babysitter who occasionally watched kids on a random date night — I'd like to think I was a bit of a babysitting machine.
In addition to working part-time as an instructor at a paint-your-own-pottery studio, I had at least 10 families on babysitting rotation at all times. I prided myself on being responsible and reliable, I had experience with a wide range of ages and personalities, and plus, I had a long list of references to back me up.
Despite how seriously I took my high school business (I was saving every penny to buy my first car!) and how much I loved the families I worked with, there was one lie that I couldn't help but tell new families every single time.
On each occasion that I met a new family, one of two things always happened: either the parents asked how much I charged or they never mentioned an hourly rate and just slipped me an amount of money we hadn't agreed upon after my first session.
If a parent did inquire about my rate, my answer was always the same — and it was never the truth.
Parents: Do you have a number or a certain amount that you'd like to be paid per hour?
Me: Nope! Whatever you feel the most comfortable with!
Although this response wasn't necessarily a bad answer — I thought that parents should be able to get out of the house without it having to cost them a fortune — it still was a lie. Of course I had a certain amount that I wanted to be paid. I wasn't babysitting for my own entertainment and I was sacrificing valuable time being a kid myself to make sure their children were safely entertained. But still, I didn't feel comfortable speaking up about the coveted $10 an hour.
I understood that even though they were entrusting me with the life of their child, this truth was probably one they didn't particularly want to hear. Most parents already had a set rate they were going to pay, so bringing up a number was just a formality — or so I thought. At the time I didn't understand the importance of the discussion.
I understood that even though they were entrusting me with the life of their child, this truth was probably one they didn't particularly want to hear.
There were plenty of times I received my desired rate without having to ask, and I was always thrilled, but when the math shook out to be less at the end of the night, I knew it was my fault.
For a young girl, knowing your worth and having the confidence to be able to vocalize it is paramount. It's not that I would have turned down a job or walked out on a family because of what they were comfortable paying me, but when I knew that they were giving peers more — because they had the gall to ask — I had nobody to blame but myself.
This eager-to-please "lie" was something that followed me into my adult years, especially when it came to negotiating my first job. And even though I had learned from experience and was no longer the same insecure teen, some habits die hard, especially when you don't even recognize them for what they are.
Immediately after college, when my status changed from student to employed, I was still poor from trying to pay New York City rent and student loans, so I built a new clientele moonlighting as a babysitter once again. Although at this point in my life I now had a degree — I wasn't just CPR certified, but was also certified as an emergency medical technician — I still didn't name a price when I started babysitting again for supplemental income.
After continuing to be paid substantially less for working my ass off as a young adult, I wish someone would've told me how much more I could have gained in my youth by being brave enough to talk about money. These simple discussions as a teenager wouldn't have prevented parents from seeing me as the sweet girl who loved their children, which is what I feared. On the contrary, it would have helped me to realize the importance of valuing my worth as a woman and developing skills that are essential for success in any career, which is so much more valuable than a few extra dollars per hour.