Thursday, November 09, 2006

Old Enough to Baby-Sit

I was just about eleven-years-old when I began babysitting for the first time. The family lived directly across the street from us and they had two little girls, ages two and four-years-old, and there was another baby on the way. I had seen these little girls nearly every day for the past few years so I was comfortable with them and they were comfortable with me. I was thrilled to be able to stay with them, play with them, and care for them, and earn money doing it at the same time! That first babysitting job led to many more for me during my teenaged years. There were some families for whom I babysat for many years, while there were a few with terribly untrained children; I was very selective about the children with whom I stayed. My mother was a great help to me during those few early jobs when I was very young and unsure about changing diapers, crying babies, and how to handle children who misbehaved. I was thankful that my mom was willing to walk across the street and assist me in changing a diaper, show me how to handle a baby who is colicky, and distract children who are misbehaving because they are tired or hungry. I learned much about being a parent from my years of babysitting, and I will never forget some of the dear children I cared for, many of whom are still near to my heart.

Now, my youngest daughter is nearly thirteen-years-old and she loves small children. She has been working in our church nursery for the past several years and she has been asking me when she will be old enough to baby-sit. Just this week, I made arrangements with a good friend for my daughter to baby-sit her two small boys, ages four and seven. My daughter is excited but just a bit nervous. She knows these little boys well, and knows how difficult they, like any small children, can be. She is unsure about how much to charge per hour, and I am no help to her as I charged $1.50 per hour back in the early 1980s. It seems that today, babysitters make much more money. She is also unsure about how to handle discipline. I explained to her that she should discuss this very thoroughly with the mother of these small boys; she should find out what is expected of them while she is in charge, and which consequences she may impose for misbehavior or disrespect. She has asked if I would accompany her during her first job, and we both decided that it would be best if she began the job alone, and I will pop in for a visit partway through, to make sure things are going well. Like my mom before me, I want to be available to help my daughter as she ventures into babysitting.

We did discuss several things she might do to make the babysitting jobs more fun for her and for the children. For ideas, we reminisced about some of her favorite babysitters that cared for her and her sister and brother when they were small children. She decided that she will take several videos of old-fashioned cartoons for the boys to watch. We have a set of old Woody Woodpecker cartoons and we are fairly sure these boys have not seen them. She will also take ideas for age-appropriate games for the children to play, such as checkers, I Spy, or tic-tac-toe. The idea is to keep the children entertained, busy, and happy, so they will not miss their parents and so they will not misbehave. For bedtime, she will take some soothing musical CDs to keep them calm, as well as several favorite bedtime books of her own from when she was a little girl.

This first babysitting job is a milestone for me and for my daughter. In a sense, it is an end to her childhood, and since she is my youngest, it is the end of my "child care" days. I am grooming her to become a mother or care-giver, herself, one day. I like this idea of passing the torch slowly. She is still in my care, but she can learn to care for others and I walk along side her and guide her as she goes.

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