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Stay-at-Home Mom Does Not Equal Free Babysitter

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I love kids. I just may not love watching your kids.

mom with baby

Guest blogger Sara: The first time it happened, it was a family member. I had two kids at home -- a brand new baby and a rambunctious toddler -- and a family member asked me to watch her son's baby (an infant who was just a few weeks older than my own) full-time.

I said no, politely and with kindness. For weeks afterward, I was pressured with phone calls and e-mails that were meant to make me feel guilty. I didn't.

Here's a newsflash that should be obvious but isn't: "Stay-at-home mom" isn't code for "free babysitting."

Before you call me selfish, let me explain. I'm not talking about swapping childcare with other parents, or helping out a friend or neighbor in an emergency, or even taking part in a babysitting co-op. I'm talking about parents who think that because I don't work outside the home, that means that I should be happy to watch their kid for them, or that they don't need to go to the trouble of actually hiring a babysitter.

The career that I put on hold to stay home with our children earned half of our household salary. We had to make serious financial sacrifices to make things work. We chose this lifestyle because it was important to us as a couple and as parents, not because we wanted to subsidize daycare for friends and family.

Stay-at-home moms do not have 48 hours in every day. We also don't have an endless well of patience. I love kids. I especially love my kids. But there are certain things I need in order to stay healthy and happy. Even when my kids were babies, we left the house every single day -- to go to the library, to the play scape at the mall, to scheduled playgroups. An afternoon nap, or rest time at a minimum, was a requirement in those days. Just because I chose to stay at home with my kids doesn't mean that I'm Mary Poppins.

Now that my kids are older, I get different kinds of requests. Two years ago, I agreed to help out a mom from my child's class with before- and after-school care a few days a week. For two years, I've fed her kids breakfast and kept them until dinner countless times. Not once has she invited my kids over to play.

I started working from home three years ago, but the requests haven't stopped. Last week, a couple I know and have swapped childcare with each separately drilled me about my summer plans, saying that they thought three months was "too long for their daughter to be in daycare," and that the additional cost would stress their finances. When I answered that I'd be busy working and spending time with my kids -- and didn't offer to let their daughter play at my house instead -- the conversation got awkward.

I'm a go-to girl and someone who naturally likes to help other people. If you ask me for a favor, I'm pretty likely to say yes. And we love having other kids around to play with. But I chose to stay home with my kids because I want to spend quality time with them, and because I crave a slower-paced life.

So here's a tip: If you suddenly notice that you can't get ahold of me, that I never seem to pick up the phone or answer e-mail or respond to your chat request on Facebook anymore, or that I even can't seem to hear you yelling at me from across the street -- it just might be because you're taking advantage of me.

If you're a stay-at-home mom, has this ever happened to you?


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52 comments so far | Post a comment now
PlumbLucky March 16, 2010, 5:23 AM

My sister nipped one such in the bud - she said very sweetly that her fee for daycare was “xxx”. Yes, she was staying home, but her time DID have value. Her value to her family wasn’t necessarily quantifiable, but she could put a value on it for others.

(I have asked her to give me a hand in a pinch. And you know what? When she’s been able to help out, I do pay her.)

cyndi March 16, 2010, 5:25 AM

This article could have been written by me. My sister and I have been stay at home mom’s our whole kids lives—like the author, with great sacrifices to do so. Both of us have been used and abused by moms who say things like “since you’re home all the time”. We had to learn to say no and mean it. A few years ago a friend had a baby and lived not far from me—both her husband and her had good paying jobs. She was due to go back to work in 2 weeks and mentioned that she hadn’t found daycare yet that she liked. I said that I had been thinking of earning some extra money, and I would consider babysitting for her, since my youngest was 4 and I missed having a baby. She jumped at it, and after babysitting for FIVE WEEKS, I asked if she was paying me by the month or week, and she astonishingly said, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant you wanted paid”. That was a friday, and I never saw the baby again—she miraculously found daycare over the weekend—she’d pay daycare, but not me. People!

Angela March 16, 2010, 6:05 AM

As a mom who works part-time I do understand how hard it can be to find a sitter that you trust, especially since most daycares in my area don’t do part-time or off-hours. I did approach SAHMs I know and ask if they knew of any moms that were looking to earn some money from sitting. I NEVER expected anyone to do it for free though. That’s just crazy. And Cyndi if you ever decide to do that again I would have the mom sign agreement spelling out when you get paid and how much. Every sitter (even friends) that I’ve worked with has done that and I wasn’t offended in the least. After all it protects me too from any kind of misunderstanding. If anyone balks at something like that they’re just trying to take advantage IMO.

Black Iris March 16, 2010, 7:38 AM

Amen!!!

The Well-Versed Mom March 16, 2010, 7:59 AM

I’m not a SAHM and I would never dare suggest any sort of kidcare arrangement to my friends who are without being prepared to return the favor in kind.

My kids are older now and I always try to make sure the sleepover/playdate ledger stays fairly balanced. Just seems to me that it’s the right thing to do.

Melanie March 16, 2010, 8:03 AM

I am a single mother who works full time, and I could not IMAGINE imposing my kids on any mother, particularly without giving a thought to compensation. One of my best friends kept my kids, and I paid her. Being a friend, or even just a good neighbor, means recognizing that no matter what, food, clothing, water and shelter aren’t free.

Jen March 16, 2010, 8:44 AM

I haven’t been asked to sit for free on a regular basis, but when my kids invite friends over, their parents send the toddlers along too! Just because your 8 year old is invited to play, does NOT mean I want to be followed around by your 3 year old and one year old!

I admit when I worked outside the home, I did ask family members to sit in emergency situations when my regular sitter canceled at the last minute. I hope that they didn’t feel I was taking advantage of them, and I hope they would have said no if they really didn’t want to. And I don’t mind occasionally pinch hitting when a working friend’s child care falls through for a day or two.

Jessica F March 16, 2010, 8:50 AM

It’s amazing to me what people take for granted or overlook. I’m lucky to have a sister-in-law who never took the fact that I’m a SAHM for granted, or thought that taking care of additional children wouldn’t be more work (ha). In our family, we have three toddlers, all born within a few months of each other almost 2 years ago. I take care of them most weekdays and a price and terms (i.e. payment schedule) was agreed upon beforehand. And that’s the key. Be upfront about the fact that you’re not willing to do it for free - then no one has a chance to take advantage of you. Sample Conversation:
(Mom 1): Hey Jane, there’s something I want to ask you. I’m really in a bind and need someone to take care of little Joey starting next week. I know you’re a stay at home mom and someone who I can trust, so I thought I’d ask you.
Jane SAHM: Well, I’d certainly be willing to do that, and I have a flexible schedule. It would be XXX a week with a schedule agreed upon between us beforehand and I can provide meals.

Freeloading nipped in the bud in one swift sentence.

Elizabeth March 16, 2010, 8:50 AM

YES!- This has been happening for years and I thought I must have some sign on my back or something. I had to cut the friendship. Something had to give. I had provided free childcare, easter baskets, swimsuits, babydolls, diaper bags, wipes, meals, etc. for the last time!

Mia March 16, 2010, 9:17 AM

I have this friend always calling (and at the last minute many times) for small favors at least twice a week and my husband and I are starting to think the only reason she befriended me was because I am a stay at home mom. She enjoys my company because I am friendly and fun, but what I think she really enjoys is knowing I am at home and she can call on me to step in when she’s not there for free. I’m getting sick and tired of being taken advantage of! I fear she will bother me even more during the summer and I think our friendship is about to get tested because I am through with being a built-in babysitter. Who do these people think they are? My job is my home and my kids, not your kids. My own family wouldn’t call on me as often as she does! Either find a babysitter or adjust your daily schedule. If you can’t afford a sitter, does that mean you should impose on someone else’s household and get mad if they can’t be at your beck and call 24/7? That’s completely unfair and not what a friendship is all about. We help a friend in need and I’m all for that but it’s clear she is taking advantage with the constant need for someone to watch her kids, especially when some of the time is for socializing. I don’t dump my kids on her. We make adjustments around my house so we don’t have to bother other tired parents. I understand we all will need favors in our life, but this is over and over and she thinks as friends I’m supposed to roll over for her whenever she snaps her fingers.

Trudi March 16, 2010, 9:25 AM

What do you do when the person keeps using small portions of your time? It avoids the issue of having to pay you if it’s only things like half-an-hour a few times a week. I think this mom is trying to be slick with me. Since it’s just thirty minutes a pop, she can have me watch her kid repeatedly and think it’s okay just because I am at home all day. It’s short spans of time but I really think it’s a small form of taking advantage. She barely gives me any advance notice before she is handing her kid off to me. I find it annoying to say the least.
Is this also considered taking advantage of a SAHM as well?

tennmom March 16, 2010, 9:50 AM

Thank you!
I considered myself lucky to stay home with my daughters before they started school & consider myself lucky to be able to still do so.
I had another mom come to chat with me in school pick up line once. She looked at my book and said “So, that’s what you do during the day, read?” Hello? Funny, she is a stay home mom too. If I’d thought of it I would have said Sure, I read & you breed. She has 8 children and has been trying for a 9th.
My husband drives 90 miles to work and 90 miles back. Sure, he helps at home with homework & dinner during the week, tasks I can’t handle on weekends. But that leaves me to handle 90% of the management of our home, finances, errands, etc. etc. etc.
I love the days I actually get to stay home after dropping the kids at school & picking them up.

Trish March 16, 2010, 10:14 AM

Oh Wow I absolutely agree with this article. I quit work to stay at home with my kids but my neighbor thought that meant Id be watching her kids after school and during the summer. I said “No way” and now we don’t speak. I wonder how she’d feel if I asked for half her paycheck to compensate after school meals and a summer of free daycare. Now Im wary when anyone asks about my working situation. I actually had one working mom collecting numbers in the class in case of an emergency- never once did she offer her number. Enough is Enough, raise your own dang kids!

Jess March 16, 2010, 10:55 AM

I’m in the same boat Trish is in. My neighbor thinks because I stay at home I should pick up her slack. I can’t believe how nonchalantly she just calls me and considers me her bestie. I’m not her best friend and she’s just buttering me up with that label. I’ve said no occasionally because I was busy myself but she keeps on asking for “favors.” I’m sick of it. Unless I put my foot down, she will keep on the same path of considering me the neighbor with the open door.

Anonymous March 16, 2010, 11:11 AM

I am not a SAHM, but I work in the school district. I have had many of the same issues on school holidays, summer vacations, and Xmas and spring breaks. I chose my job so I could be with MY kids when they are out of school and be available for all activities, the biggest problem I have is people thinking I am a taxi service for their kids………Just because I am going there doesn’t mean I should have to take everyone. I enjoy the talks in the car afterschool about their days, and if others are there, I can’t focis on my child.

Barbara March 16, 2010, 3:10 PM

Kudos to you and stick to your guns. Your story sounds like mine, except my job was 2/3 of our gross income - but the sacrifice was worth it to us. And the same thing happened - other moms wanted to use me. I politely said no. I agreed willingly to trade-offs, and at times I agreed to after school care for pay, if my kids were agreeable…but not to being used…and especially not when it involved picking up someone’s sick child from school.
Again, good for you and don’t cave!

Anonymous March 16, 2010, 5:55 PM

Just say NO!!!!

Stephanie March 16, 2010, 7:03 PM

I have a friend who thinks it’s o.k. to stop by my house unannounced whenever she feels like it. I’ve explained to her repeatedly that just because I’m a SAHM doesn’t mean I’m always home and even if I am home it doesn’t mean I’m free to hang out with her. I have a schedule just like everyone else. One time she stopped by and I wasn’t home. She told me the next time we saw each other she just couldn’t figure out where in the world I was and why I wouldn’t be home. It was so insulting and I told her that. The next time she stopped by I told her I wasn’t available and shut the door. She finally got it.

Anonymous March 17, 2010, 12:39 AM

Great boundaries, Sara! Keep ‘em up!

Anonymous March 17, 2010, 9:37 AM

Well you are home


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