I have 20 sitters in my phone. My friends sometimes wonder how I've acquired so many. I sometimes wonder why my friends don’t have more. Babysitters are everywhere—if your eyes are open. Here are some places to find your next sitter.
1. The Internet
I’m lucky to live in a college town, where the online university job board is free and available to the public. Other free ways to find childcare online include your local moms’ Facebook Group and Craigslist. One of my friends perused Craigslist’s childcare section on a whim and found one of the best nannies she’s ever hired.
For a fee, there are plenty of services available. Popular sites like Care.com and SitterCity.com offer access to sitters in your area for a monthly fee. The Sitter app lets you find new sitters, add sitters you already know to your network, schedule, and pay your sitter via credit card. While it’s free to search and book sitters, under three of Sitter’s four membership tiers, you’re charged a percentage of your payment to the sitter.
2. On-Site Services
Sometimes it’s easier to bring the kids to the childcare center, rather than bringing the childcare center to the kids. Services like Helpr can fill this need. Some races and triathlons even provide parents the convenience of dropping their children off by the start line, and the joy of seeing them cheer at the finish. Helpr can sometimes provide on-site childcare for special occasions, including weddings, corporate events, and conferences.
3. Through Friends
Finding a sitter is like dating. While many hunt online, some prefer their potential sitter (or date) to be vetted by a friend. One of my best sitters was a friend of a friend. Though she had zero childcare experience, she had a fantastic character reference. I didn’t need a baby whisperer. I needed someone I could trust to follow instructions, and to be punctual and kind. Because of her relationship with my friend, I was (relatively) relaxed about returning to work after my maternity leave.
4. In Your Neighborhood
Post a message in your neighborhood email list, Facebook group, on Nextdoor, or tack a “help wanted” note to a physical bulletin board. If those fail, take a walk in your neighborhood with your kiddo(s). If anyone so much as smiles in your direction, introduce yourself and ask if they or anyone they know would be interested and available to watch your little angels.
While you may have the Happy Hour menu at the forefront of your mind, the quest for potential sitters should always be in the back of it. Barring a creepy vibe, be ready to strike up a conversation with anyone who throws a peek-a-boo, a silly face, or a wink in your kids’ direction. Be open to anyone who offers a sympathetic smile when your kid throws food or a tantrum. If you’re shy, know you're doing this for yourself and for your children. One year, we found one of our best sitters sitting at the next table over, enjoying a margarita on Cinco de Mayo.
6. The Park
Be on the lookout for anyone with kids who appears well rested and patient; this should limit your chance of mistakenly targeting another parent instead of a sitter or nanny. While the person in question may already be employed as a nanny, you never know what her situation is. Perhaps her employer is about to relocate, or she needs a few extra hours. Wear dark sunglasses if you feel more comfortable eavesdropping behind them. If the nanny seems responsible, kind, and more interested in the little ones in her charge than her phone, go for the ask. Worst case, she turns you down.
7. Traveling? Ask the Hotel
Maybe you’re traveling with your kids for an adult-only wedding, or you want to enjoy dinner at a place with tablecloths on your vacation. You are not alone. Many resorts have a list of names to share with their guests. When our eldest was eight months old, we traveled to Aspen for our friends’ wedding, where we rented a VRBO. One quick phone call to the wedding venue (a hotel), yielded multiple phone numbers of local preschool teachers. The first one we called was available, and she turned out to be awesome.
Some hotels even offer centers within the hotels that allow you to drop off your children for a few hours while you go out.
8. Your Kid’s Preschool or Gym’s Childcare
The caregivers at the gym childcare or your child’s preschool may be looking for extra hours. A major plus is that you and your kids already know them. If you go this route, you save yourself the initial interview, in which you determine that the caregiver is neither sketchy nor flaky. As a bonus, the gym or childcare facility has probably already completed a background check on them.
9. Gymnastics Class
Music, dance, art, swimming lessons, and karate are also options. If your child is enrolled in an activity, consider asking the instructor if he or she is available for babysitting. Such instructors tend to be great with kids, and many are students who would love to earn extra income through babysitting. And if it doesn’t work out, keep an open mind. My daughter’s gymnastics instructor was happy to watch our kids, but she wasn’t available on the date I needed. She introduced me to her roommate, who ended up being a great fit for our family.
The world is full of babysitters. Your next sitter could be the hostess who chats up your preschooler as she sets the crayons and the kids’ menu down, or the friendly lady working the front desk of your gym. (True story: I have found sitters in both of these situations). They say when the student is ready, the master will appear. I say, when the parents need a few hours to themselves and start thinking outside the box, the sitters will appear. ■