6 Tips For Keeping the Holy Grail of Babysitters

Five years ago, I met the best babysitter on the planet. At the time, she was working at my gym's childcare center, and my then-18-month-old daughter bonded with her immediately. Over the next few months, I found myself looking for her every time I dropped my little one off before my yoga class, knowing that her presence would mean no tears, only smiles. Eventually, my husband had the genius idea of asking her if she'd sit for us outside of the gym (at the time, we'd never had a sitter who wasn't a family member). When she said yes, I had no idea that it was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, or how important she'd become to my own sanity.

Half a decade and a second child later, that sitter is still a regular part of our family life. She watches the kids at least once a week (my daughter is usually waiting for her with nail polish and plans for elaborate hair braids), has accompanied us on multiple family vacations, and recently saved the day at my brother's wedding, swooping in to take my melting-down 3-year-old mere minutes before the ceremony started. My brother might have been down a ring bearer, but for me, being able to enjoy my only sibling's wedding instead of dealing with a toddler temper tantrum . . . that was priceless. I doubled her hourly rate.

If you have found a similar superstar sitter, there's one thing that's for sure: you don't want to lose them. Sure, life happens; great sitters move away or decide they've aged out of watching small children, but if you want to keep your favorite one around for as long as possible, here's how.

  1. Pay well. This is the biggie. No sitter is going to stick around if you're paying her less than minimum wage. Discuss an hourly rate in advance, and if she's awesome, bump it up regularly . . . and always round up when you're multiplying her rate by the hours she's worked. Sure, it can get expensive, but remember: these are your kids we're talking about, and when they're happy and well cared for, what you're really paying for is your own peace of mind.
  2. Stick to your part of the schedule. If you say you'll be home at 7 p.m., unless there are some serious extenuating circumstances, you better be pulling onto your block at 6:58. And if something should come up that throws you off schedule, communicate early and often about it. This includes everything from canceling on her before she shows up to sit to being 10 minutes late while she's dealing with your kids.
  3. Make your expectations clear (and not too lofty). I always build in about five minutes to discuss the day's plan with my sitter before I have to be out the door. Maybe she needs to feed my kids an easy lunch, maybe one of them really needs a nap they're going to resist, or maybe I just want her to throw my laundry in the dryer. Whatever it is, I make sure I communicate my needs and expectations and keep the household chores at a minimum. She's there to watch your kids, not to act as a maid.
  4. Be flexible. Stuff comes up, and — inevitably — there will be times when even the best sitters have to bail on you or change their schedules at the last minute. Be understanding and flexible, knowing you'll probably do the same to them at some point.
  5. Realize she has a life, too, and ask her about it. If you really want to keep a sitter around for years, it's important that both your kids and you have a strong relationship with her. Don't be nosy or intrusive (follow her lead if she seems uncomfortable talking about herself), but if she's open, be sure to keep up on the latest in her life in terms of school, big milestones, etc. If it doesn't feel weird, follow her on social media to get extra intel.
  6. Reward her for a big job well done when appropriate. Maybe you have a wedding to attend and want her to stay super late or even overnight. Maybe you're hoping she'll come to the beach with your family to help with your baby or toddler. Maybe you need her every afternoon for a week. If and when you have a really big ask, make sure you follow up with an equally sized monetary reward, and she'll be much more likely to say yes to the next big babysitting event.