Dear Boston Mamas: Finding Babysitters

babysitting.jpgToday's Dear Boston Mamas question comes from Elizabeth via e-mail:

Hi Christine, I recently started looking for a babysitter for my 9-month-old daughter. I tried Craigslist with mixed results, and signed up for a free trial with Sittercity and I have been SO disappointed! Sittercity never made it clear that while I could post a job, I would not be able to contact any of the applicants without paying a membership fee of $50-100.'s free membership was slightly more clear, but I still did not understand that I would have to pay their monthly membership fee to contact any applicants as well. I understand that this is partly my fault for misreading; however, I can't help feeling that these websites are taking advantage of me. Now I either lose out on the 8 applications I already received, and go back to slogging through Craigslist, or I have to pay for a membership to a website that I have lost trust in. I'm wondering if this happens to a lot of moms, and if people in your community have suggestions for other ways to find a good sitter!

+ + + + +

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for writing in; I'm so sorry to hear about your sitter struggles. This is an issue many families wrestle with -- indeed, we did as well this past summer. Below are my thoughts about various options for finding babysitters. I also queried about this topic at the Boston Mamas Facebook community page, my personal Facebook page, and on Twitter. I've added comments from the community below, in cases where people shared new ideas, twists on ideas I already had, or detailed commentary.

Professional Services. I was sorry to hear about your frustration with Sittercity and In the spirit of full disclosure, I run affiliate banners for these two companies on this site because they are relevant services for families and because I have heard positive reports from users on both services (indeed, several people on Facebook and Twitter responded as having terrific experiences with both Sittercity and Also, a couple of months ago I agreed to sit on an advisory board for and am really impressed with their team. All of that said, I always think companies can stand for improvement; financial details should be laid out clearly to the user.

If you are willing to revisit professional services, obviously a huge advantage is that you can search for and view profiles en masse and have background checks done for you. If you are short on time then it may be worth paying the registration fee for one of these companies.

Also, I personally have not used these services, but Seeking Sitters has a straightforward membership policy. And locally, Personally Paired is an organization that hosts events to connect sitters with families. They are part of the Boston Mamas mamapreneur network and when I floated my sitter query over Twitter, @PersonallyPrd shared that: "We pre-screen, reference check and interview for you. We also do our meet-ups."

Craigslist. Craigslist obviously is a big resource for childcare but it's also loaded with unknowns. If you are willing to do more work, Craigslist might be worth revisiting. Via Facebook, my friend Elise responded: "We found two amazing nannies through Craigslist. Since we didn't know the people we paid for a background check separately. We were truly blessed to have had some great people care for our kids." And earlier this summer when our camp plans fell apart and we were scrambling for sitters, I put up a Craigslist ad and received about two dozen responses within a day. We set up interviews with the ones who seemed the most reputable via e-mail and met a couple of really wonderful people. Though we ended up opting for a different babysitter (more on that below), we did tap one of the sitters we met on Craigslist to come sit for Laurel one day (where I was home the entire time but needed to work) and she was fantastic.

Day Cares. If your daughter is not yet in day care, you won't have this built in community, but it's still an option. I have many friends who rely on day care teachers for babysitting (my understanding is that in general, the pay is not stellar so they are looking for extra income). Indeed, several folks commented in at Facebook and Twitter about hiring their kid's day care teachers to babysit on evenings, weekends, or days off. The familiarity factor is there and you know they know how to take care of kids. If you aren't already enrolled with a day care, you could call some local ones and ask whether any of the teachers in the infant rooms have teachers who are looking for babysitting gigs on the side. Via Facebook, my friends Kristin, Anne, and Stacie also suggested that they connect with caregivers from the gym day cares they use.

Camp Counselors/Teachers. We stumbled on our babysitting solution this summer via Laurel's camp. Laurel attended a two-week camp and fell in love with one of her camp teachers, a 17-year-old high school student named Victoria. We discovered this affectionate relationship while we were in the midst of interviewing Craigslist babysitters and asked Victoria is she was available. Ultimately, Laurel really wanted Victoria (plus, Victoria had experience both in the camp and individual family settings) and it turned out to be the best thing ever this summer. And now Jon and I finally have a solid babysitting option if we want to go out for date night! I'd say that if your daughter is enrolled in a class of some kind -- mommy and me music, baby yoga, etc. -- and seems to click with a certain teacher, it would be worth asking if there's any chance they babysit on the side.

Word of Mouth. Word of mouth is always a powerful means for recommendations, and many people on Facebook and Twitter chimed up in support of this method. A few examples: on Facebook, Esther mentioned family and other moms from her playgroups as resources while Danielle shared that talking to nannies about potential nanny friends is a good idea. She said, "[Nannies] always seem to have a friend who is looking for work. For example, I found our first nanny in NJ through the local mom's group (Mothers & More which has 500+ members) who then referred me to our second who then found us her replacement when she went on maternity leave. The third one tried to hook me up with two others but we're flying without help now." And on Twitter, @ClumberKim shared that her usual sitter is someone she works with.

Neighbors. We live next door to a family that has teenage girls. On one occasion during the school year we had one of the girls (who is 14 years old) come babysit after discussing with the mother that the mother would be right next door and available in case of emergency. Though Laurel is now devoted to Victoria as her regular babysitter, the next door neighbors are a great back up plan. Also, on Twitter, @ameliasprout shared, "I am grooming the neighbor girl for when she can legally babysit, and a coworker just moved in two houses down with his daughter." And on Facebook, Cynthia mentioned getting "picked up" by a neighbor who was interested in babysitting.

Local Schools. Via Facebook and Twitter, several folks suggested tapping local schools. On Facebook, Elizabeth said, "My first sitter was a Tufts student, via a friend who coaches the women's rugby team. My most recent was from the local high school, I basically sent a flyer to the guidance office!" Emily shared via Facebook that, "We used the BU career center and found incredible students...even if you're not an alumni, you can use it." On Twitter, @ClumberKim shared that a friend swears by her local nursing school. Via Facebook Stacie recommended checking the local high school and local colleges for students enrolled in early childhood/education courses. And in the school vein, Heather shared via Facebook that she's had luck with

Local Neighborhood Lists. Via the Boston Mamas Facebook page, Jessica suggested Boston neighborhood lists, such as the North End/Waterfront Mothers' Association. On Twitter, @Rhoosting shared that SouthEnd Graden Moms and JP moms have been the most helpful to her. (Check out my directory of family resource lists by town for options near you.)

Other Creative Community Ideas. Via Twitter, @jpippert shared that she has found sitters via "a neighborhood babysitter mixer every Spring, where new and experienced sitters come, meet moms, & trade info." My friend Cara shared via Facebook that she joined a babysitting co-op of over 30 families and it has been "fab.u.lous."

I hope these ideas are helpful Elizabeth. Best of luck in your search for a sitter!

+ + + + +

Image credit:

+ + + + +

Have a question for Christine? Drop her a line! And of course feel free to comment in if you have recommendations beyond those made above.