The New Babysitting Rules

Allow me to admit something that may seem obvious to other parents out there, but which surprised me and may make you laugh at / mock me.

As I’ve mentioned many times over the years, child care has never been an issue for us. S. comes from a large family, many of whom have lived near us, and thus we’ve pretty much always had access to free-to-cheap and readily available sitters on the rare occasions when we actually go out and engage in adult social activities. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and even “honorary” aunts – friends of their blood relatives that the girls already knew and were comfortable with – have always been there for us.

There have been exactly two exceptions in 10 years.[1]

Once, when visiting friends in Michigan about two months before C. was born we had a sitter come over to watch M. and our hosts’ kids. But we made sure M. was in bed and asleep before we left, at the expense of showing up late for our dinner reservation. She never saw the sitter.

Then, last spring, when we were headed out for an evening with our neighbors, we collectively hired the college freshman from two houses down to watch our five girls. She walked over when it was time for us to leave, and walked home after we returned. Even though the girls didn’t really know her, they had seen her around for years and were excited to hang out with someone new. Easy.

Our girls actually look forward to nights when we go out, knowing an aunt or Mimi and Ampa are coming over to spend the evening with them.

We may, though, have entered a brave new world.

Last month we actually had an eighth grader from St. P’s come over and watch the girls for a few hours so we could go to happy hour/dinner with some other St. P’s parents.

When we told the girls that A. was coming over to watch them, they freaked out. In a good way. They were crazy excited. L. knew A. a little, as her eighth-grade buddy is best friends with A, and A’s kindergarten buddy is one of L.’s best friends. And A’s mom is a part-time teacher at St. P’s, so M. and C. knew who she was.

Anyway, we picked A. up, brought her over, I had a list of all pertinent information on the counter for her, pizza was set to be delivered shortly, and the girls had a stack of games and movies they couldn’t wait to share with her. Off we went.

We had a great evening; good food, good beer, good company. I checked in with A. via text a couple times and it sounded like the girls were having fun, too. A’s mom was with our group, and she showed me texts that confirmed all was going well. I think she was as excited because A. just began babysitting and she was glad she was starting with an easy group of kids.

At one point in the evening, another dad in our group asked a very important question.

“Who is driving A. home?”

“Umm, me,” I said, not having really thought of it.

He laughed and shook his head, “No, no, no, no!”

This is probably old news to the other dads out there who have used sitters who can’t drive before, but I was truly shocked to find out that dads are not supposed to drive babysitters home anymore. Or at least not without someone else in the car. By this point in the evening, it was a requirement that I drive rather than S., so we couldn’t make that adjustment in plans for who got A. home.

Fortunately we got around it. A’s mom had caught a ride to dinner, expecting her husband to join us later. He couldn’t make it, so we offered her a ride home. Whew, I wasn’t going to be alone in a car with a 13-year-old girl!

This whole thing bugged me, though. I mean, logically it made sense. But as a kid, it always seemed like it was the dad who drove my friends’ sitters home. I asked our neighbors what their rules were. They quickly agreed that dad never drives a sitter home alone. In fact, they said, their weekly church group even devoted a whole session to exactly that topic: making sure you don’t put yourself or a kid in a situation that could become inappropriate.

When I shared this with S., I was kind of fascinated by our reactions. She thought it was crazy and kind of stupid. I, on the other hand, after thinking about it more, thought about how many teenage girls have been driven home by semi- to completely drunk dads over the years. Even if nothing is attempted, said, or hinted at, the chances for the situation to quickly get creepy are pretty high. Kind of interesting that the woman thought these guidelines are weird and the dad thought they were reasonable.

So we’ve adjusted our plan for the next time we have A. over, or any other sitter over who needs a ride home at the end of the night. S. will drive them home. Or, if it’s not too late, one or more of the girls will ride with me if I’m the driver.

Anyway, I thought some of you might laugh at how our sheltered parenting experience means we’re just now figuring out some things that others of you discovered many years ago.

As a postscript, I should share that the girls indeed had a great time. They are all excited any time they see A. in the halls or in the parking lot at pickup and tell me all about it. At C.’s softball practice last week, M. and L. went to the restrooms. When they came back they were screaming, “Dad! We saw A. practicing soccer!” They keep asking when we’re going to have her over again.

I think we chose pretty wisely when we decided to finally bite the bullet and get someone who isn’t an adult relative, or near-relative, to watch the girls for us. Thank goodness our girls didn’t act like the lunatics they are around us for their new friend.

I think there have been a few times when the girls have hung with someone else’s grandmother for awhile. But I don’t really count that as hiring a sitter.  ↩

1 Comment

  1. Stace

    Nothing to mock…I really never thought much about it until a few months ago because our “go to” sitter was old enough to drive. When it came to take our younger sitter home, B immediately said I had to because when he taught tennis back in the day, he was told to never be alone with any of the jr. high girls. If a parent was late to pick a girl up, he had to make someone else was around to stay with her. Totally different than when we grew up, but it protects everyone.

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