“Hey, you should bring the kids over and we’ll cook out. Later this week?” the new guy suggested to the family marching their toddlers through the church parking lot. He buckled his own toddler’s carseat and addressed me, “If you have a free evening sometime, Em and I would love to have you come over. . . [wait for it]. . . and babysit.”
I could honestly respond with an, “Oh, yeah. Let me know when you need someone. I’d love to!” before I slid into my car and added “Ouch!” All these parents of toddlers were my age, in my Bible study; I thought of us as peers. But in their minds, I was babysitter material and the contrast to friend material was just a little sharp.
There were other instances when this man blessed me with his graciousness; I’m glad I knew his sweet family. I’m highlighting this one story because it’s been repeated, in my life and many friends’ lives. A bare left hand means babysitting requests, whether you like babysitting or not, and a lot of those requests come from friends or could-be-friends. Relationship status seems like an odd factor to consider for a childcare provider. Singleness doesn’t actually make people better babysitters, or more likely to enjoy babysitting.
Somebody should say this, and since I actually do like babysitting, maybe it should be me. Parents, when you ask your single friends to babysit, they often feel weird. And by weird, I mean bad.
Sometimes, the request or even assumption that she’ll babysit tells a not-in-college-anymore woman:
- “I assume you have nothing better to do.”
- “I don’t think of you as a real grown-up.” (People don’t ask their thirty-something guy friends to come mow the lawn. Well, maybe someone does. But you see how that’s weird, right? Babysitting’s like that for most people- low-paying manual labor that we did back in high school.)
- “Too bad you don’t have any kids of your own, but you can borrow our kids as a consolation prize (while we go out with other couples).”
I’m sure nobody really wants to say those things, so here’s a simple criterium: would you ask her to babysit (or accompany your family to Chuck E. Cheese, or head up children’s care at the church gala, etc.) if she were married? You very well might- maybe she’s a natural with kids, or you know that she could use the money, or she’s simply the nearest safe person in an emergency. I think that means you should ask. But if you wouldn’t ask her married self, maybe you should find someone else to care for your children.
And- ahem- I have a babysitting opening this Saturday night.
(Major disclaimer: I genuinely enjoy babysitting and I’m honored when people ask. In this post, I’m advocating a change I don’t really want for myself. I think most people ask me to watch their children not because I’m single, but because they know I enjoy kids. By all means, keep having me babysit!)