OPINION: Babysitting: A mutualistic relationship


Rylee Holwager

Scarlett Kelemen, 18 months old, plays with some of her toys on Nov. 9, 2021, in Santa Clarita, Calif.

Rylee Holwager, Social Media Editor

Babysitting was once thought of as the easiest way for college students to make money — a stigma that a lot of people still believe in.

Babysitting isn’t easy. It has now become this level of mutual respect between hiree and babysitter. No longer is it just about the family paying the babysitter money to watch their kid, but rather building a relationship of trust, security and dependence.

“‘Babysitting, oh that’s easy. Anyone can do it,’” mockingly said Amanda Reyes, a nanny and junior at California State University, Channel Islands. “But that’s not true. Like there’s more that goes into babysitting and caring for children and it’s not just, you know, something we do because we need money. There’s more that goes into it.”

This job has evolved so much from years past, and a lot of that has to do with online services becoming readily available.

Care.com is an online website and application that allows for families to post local listings for needed care, including for senior citizens, children and pets. Nannies and babysitters can create profiles showcasing their experience and skill sets, and if it fits they can apply for the job listing.

Parents, guardians and others looking for care will post a price range on their job listing. More often than not, the hourly pay they are willing to give is the minimum amount they set.

When I wasn’t getting enough shifts as a food service worker to cover the costs for school, I turned to Care.com as a way to make more money. I had known about the website for some time from the endless TV commercials and YouTube ads.

I grew up watching my younger brother while our parents would go run errands. I also babysat a few times for younger cousins and family friends. I loved all of those experiences, so I thought: What better way is there to make some extra money than by watching kids? This will be easy!

I was quickly proven wrong.

Since 2019, I have babysat for nine families and a total of 19 children. Starting out, I was completely prepared to just go in, play with kids and heat up some pizza while we watched a Disney movie. Even with my first family I was already being asked to help with homework and to teach the kids math and English. It wasn’t really a problem, but at the end of the day I wasn’t a tutor. It put a lot of pressure on me to make sure that these kids were completing their homework, getting these problems right and doing their best.

I can confidently say that getting a kid to do their homework is the hardest task of all. They get easily distracted, try to distract you, lie about what needs to be done, give up, pretend that they don’t know what they are learning, wait until you give them the right answer, scream, cry, throw a fit, hit, throw things at you, and the list goes on. And yes, I have experienced all of those things.

Despite all of this, I continue to offer help. I want to see these kids grow. Teaching kids, and making learning not only easier but also fun, is a rewarding experience for me. It continues to blow my mind when these kids come up to me and ask me what a word means. I just feel honored to tell them. I am given the opportunity to teach them something they didn’t know.

Homework help is just one part of babysitting. It truly feels like a growing market. When I started, I would just show up and play games with the kids as long as they wanted, until eventually they would ask to watch TV. It is no longer that. It now involves tidying up spaces, taking kids to and from school and extracurricular activities, constantly engaging with them, and so much more.

These might seem like easy tasks for sitters, but only when the pay matches it. Most of the time, it doesn’t.

“The only thing I do think is a struggle is the pay that is offered in many of these jobs on Care.com,” said Norma Vargas, a nanny and sophomore at Santa Monica College. “Even with experience, a lot of families don’t really recognize, they don’t really know to match the charge with the amount of children or hours that are being asked.”

Babysitting rates are mostly predetermined by families, regardless of the amount of kids they have and what they are asking for. “How much can I afford to pay this person?” is their line of thought. This is, of course, not reflecting any of the experience a babysitter might have.

Photo Illustration: “The Demands Shift.” Photo by Rylee Holwager. (Kaitlyn Lavo)

The majority of listings will start at a minimum wage of $14 per hour, following California’s policy with employers having 25 or less employees. There are listings that start at less than minimum wage.

There is no legal obligation to pay babysitters minimum wage, but it is a job. Minimum wage is set to be the minimum amount of hourly pay a person can earn for performing a job. If babysitting is considered a job, then shouldn’t minimum wage apply here too?

How is this allowed? I don’t know.

Pay is unfortunately never a guarantee though.

The most universal experience all babysitters and nannies alike have is being canceled on with very short notice.

“Being a nanny and a babysitter, it can be unreliable because you never know when a family won’t need you anymore or hours change,” Vargas said.

Having commitment to a family becomes extremely challenging in these scenarios.

“You can’t really pick up hours in this job,” Reyes said.

Just like any other job out there, babysitters rely on these families for money.

“I rely on it for everything,” Reyes said. “For my gas, my car bills, my gas money, my car payments, my car insurance, all the things I pay for.”

If the roles were reversed, there would be an equal amount of frustration from the parent losing their access to care.

Sure, babysitters rely on the money provided from these families, but don’t families rely on them just as much for their children?

“[It’s] not always easy finding someone who is reliable and a good fit for your family,” said Gina Collins, a single mother and registered associate marriage and family therapist.

“There has to be a mutual respect and connection because this person, if they work with you in the long term, really becomes a part of your family. Especially with young children, they form attachments with all of their caregivers so in the child’s eye, the babysitter becomes almost like an extension of their family.”

Babysitting is a mutualistic relationship. It is a relationship that equally benefits both parties. However, babysitters are more often met with the short end of the stick.

“I think a lot of people should look at it that way more often because we often feel like it’s easy to get discouraged and feel powerless,” Vargas said.

“I feel like if you look at it with that perspective it gives you a lot more confidence in the field because you’re knowing your worth and you’re looking at it through that lense where it is like, ‘Hey, they need me as much as I need them.’”

If you would have told me back in 2019 when I started that I would constantly have these kids on my mind and be so genuinely interested in every little thing they do, I may not have believed you. More so, I could have never seen myself where I am today, slowly becoming a part of these families.