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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?

next: Pregnant Women Are Smug
52 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous March 17, 2010, 10:36 AM

I agree with the article to a point… Let me explain. My sister is a well-off “SAHM” (I use the term loosely in her case). Her children are in school full time and yet she can NEVER even do me a favor and sit for me in a bind becaue her schedule is “hectic” - she doesn’t work, doesn’t clean (paiys a house cleaner) doesn’t cook (her husband does) and does not rise out of bed prior to 9:30am each day (not allowed to call the house before 10am). Yet, she calls me each and every friday night looking for a free sitter because “she needs a break”. Um really? Try working full time and taking care of toddlers/kids full time and talk about needing a break! SO overall no one should expect free childcare, but doing a favor for sibling once in a while would be nice in my case.

Trudi March 17, 2010, 1:42 PM

So true, Anonymous. She seems sort of rude to call on you like that. Why do people not return the favor when someone sits for them? In your case, she is wrong if she is a SAHM with that sort of freeing schedule with cleaners and a hubby who cooks and can never help you out just once in awhile. For me, I am the only one doing favors for my neighbor and I’m sick of it. Just because I’m home it does not mean I need to be available to you a few times a week! Pay a sitter and leave me the heck alone for once is how I feel. Favors here and there are fine in my book for friends and maybe you do a little extra for family. Constantly calling me, setting up nail appointments without consulting me and thinking you can just have me get your kids, etc. is disgusting behavior for an adult.

Laura March 18, 2010, 8:48 AM

I don’t think anyone ever has to do you a favor, whether they’re family, a close friend, ect. But, in turn, you also don’t have to do them favors. I don’t have very many Mom friends (I have four friends who have kids. One is across the country, another across the state, and of the two in town, one is a stay at home Mom, and the other’s husband stays at home.) So it’s been rare that I’ve been asked to sit, and when I have sat, the Mom always says “Well let me know when I can return the favor” and she does. My big issue is my family thinking that because I stay at home, I don’t have anything else to do but run errands for them, or better yet, that because I stay at home, I don’t work (I have heard SO many times “Cut your husband a break, he works all day” HELLO! I work all day, and I’m on call all night with a baby who STILL isn’t sleeping through the night!) It’s hard because we’re a close family, and I’m willing to help out on occasion (they sit for me on occasion) but all the time? No thanks.

Morgan March 18, 2010, 8:59 AM

I’m a SAHM, but I’m also pretty busy. I have a 3 year old and almost 2 year old who are home with me all day. Plus my 7 year old has football practice 3 afternoons a week and a game every Saturday, and my 9 year old has special needs that require therapy exercises and extra attention with homework and such. So I’ve gotten very good at saying “sorry, I’m just too busy.” There are times I don’t mind helping a friend out, but honestly most of the time there’s just too much going on in my life to take on babysitting duties.

Kat March 18, 2010, 12:11 PM

I’m not a SAHM, but I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that. I thought of asking another mom to watch my kids for what I would pay daycare if they wanted to…

I do childcare swap every now and again, but nothing free.

Mama Badger March 18, 2010, 12:42 PM

Wow, as a working Mom, all I can say is, Wow. I never considered any of the stay at home moms in my life as “free” daycare. Ever. When I found out that I had to go to work before there was an available opening at our daycare, my SIL offered to watch him. I immediately figured out what I would have paid for daycare, and assumed I would just give that to her. Then I researched all my other options to avoid burdening her with my kid, on top of hers. In the end, the day care had an opening sooner than they expected, so we didn’t need her at all.

When we have a day off, I take a vacation day. If I can’t, I do ask if she can watch my boys, but I bring snacks for her kids, and usually offer to pay admission for any outing she might want to take.

Why would anyone assume that a SAHM is available to them on a regular basis for free? That’s bizarre to me.

Jakie March 18, 2010, 6:02 PM

I am a stay at home mom and I agreed to watch my friends three kids (8, 7, and 4) last summer cause her and her hubby work. Well I asked for $25 bucks a week. Then her kids started to eat like pigs and clean out my cupboards like their parents never bought food. So I asked for one snack or meal contribution a week too. Suddenly, the dad was home at lunch time to feed only his kids. What the hell is that? I only have one income, I sacrifice alot to stay home. I can’t afford breakfast, snack, lunch, and snack five days a week for 3 extra kids. I don’t understand how people think.

Lavinia March 18, 2010, 8:27 PM

I don’t mind doing the occasional favor. I’m a SAHM because that is what my husband and I decided to do for OUR family, not someone else’s. I wish someone would try to pressure me into watching their kids full-time or frequently (paid or not). Maybe I just give that, “don’t even try it” vibe; which could be a bad thing.

Melinda March 19, 2010, 8:17 AM

I am a mom of two young kids (and one on the way) who works full-time outside of the home. I wouldn’t dream of just asking friends to watch my kids, period, unless we’d agreed to that kind of arrangement, and it was mutual. My mother is our full-time nanny at the moment, and we pay her for that. If I’d pay my mom for watching my kids, I’d definitely pay other mothers!

Being a parent means being responsible for your own kids.

Lisa March 19, 2010, 12:23 PM

My mom offered to care for my baby for a couple months before I was ready to start daycare. I paid my mom, the baby’s grandma! Some think family should just do, do, do but not me. A baby is not a walk in the park and sometimes neither are people’s bigger kids for that matter. She refused the money but I told her to just stick it somewhere for a rainy day. I know she’s my family and loves her grandchild, but that doesn’t mean I can’t show appreciation for her help. Family members sometimes expect free help but I couldn’t imagine not paying someone watching my kids for like 7 or 8 hours a day, Monday through Friday, blood relative or not. Now imagine if it’s a friend annoying you constantly for free babysitting just because you stay home!
I have a friend who frequently finds the need to call on me. Why don’t people understand that favors are something done on occasion, not two and three times a week? I have my own kids and household to tackle, I don’t need yours all the time, even if it’s a short period of time from my day. It’s inconsiderate especially when they call last minute, which is what my so-called friend does. It’s always “oh I forgot I had to do this.” That really burns me. She didn’t forget, she just feels if she comes to me rushing all in a huff it’ll come off as an emergency, and who wouldn’t help a friend in an emergency? She thinks she’s clever but I’m on to her conniving ways. She’s not forgetting her daily schedules or appointments two or three times a week! She’s lying and using me because I am home with my own kids. I’m so sick of her. A nice lady, but she’s pissing me off. I now believe our friendship is based on the fact I can help her out when she’s in a bind. She’s overly nice in a time of need. How sad is that?

Anonymous March 20, 2010, 9:14 AM

I would ask for more than $25.00 a week for watching 3 kids. I’d want at least $100.00

annoyed March 21, 2010, 5:40 PM

I have a friend who lives a few houses down from me who decided to start working this past holiday season. she has 3 children (her youngest being 2). she never set up a sitter or daycare and would call me everyday asking me to watch her kids so that she could go to work. no way. i have 2 little one’s of my own and i’m pregnant. i never did it once b/c i knew she would continue to ask me everyday and that she would never pay me. its not my problem that she decided to take on a job and its not my problem that she never set up daycare. i stopped answering the phone when she called and so she started asking other neighbors who were unable to tell her no at first but soon learned to. it drives me nuts. she’s been working for 5 or 6 months now and still has yet to set up a daycare or sitter. she’s still passing her kids off to other people for free daycare. unreal.

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jeneric April 23, 2010, 8:31 AM

I constantly feel abused working moms. Ironically - I do work, but from home. Working from home doesn’t count to many people…. esp. people who need afternoon child care, rides for their children, and also the PTA. I kindly remind them,”well, I do work,” and they’ll actually reply, “yeah, but you make your own hours.” I hardly have enough hours to do laundry (3 kids) and buy food! So, if I squeeze in 4 hours of work a day, it is a miracle. I know the moms to avoid. The ones who ask, “what are you doing tomorrow afternoon?” I’ve learned to either not answer, or to have a ready-reply….. “we’re busy busy!” I think I am mostly hurt because I know they are not truly my friend. We don’t hang out, go to lunch, or even ask “how ya doin?” So back to my first point, I feel used. If moms want to work, they should FIND PAID SITTERS!

Sonya May 5, 2010, 11:50 PM

I had a similar experience at the park. I was there with my almost 2-year old son. I was approached by a 7 year old boy who wanted to play with son’s sand toys. I thought it was ok, but the next thing you know I have another 2 year old and a 5ish year old kid all there and they are taking the toys from my son. I look around and no one is watching these kids. Then the 2 year old slips and bumps his head and starts crying. He is lying on the floor, I ask if he is ok- I look around and no one is responding. There are a bunch of moms/nannies around chatting or on their cells. The kid looked ok- though he was crying. I packed up and left. A couple of times, my son has played with other kid’s toys at the park, but I would always monitor him and make sure he is not doing what these kids did….

Kimberly May 23, 2010, 4:09 PM

Hi, I used to be a SAHM and I have a friend who is one too. I am not one at present, but either way she obviously feels that she should be able to leave her three kids with me whenever. She is nice about it and everything, but I usually stay away from her nowadays cause every time we hang out she ends up asking me to watch her kids. Though I love her and the kids, the kids are a handfull. She never pays me of course, they like to eat and they are pretty hardheaded. I don’t know how to tell her I don’t ever want to watch her kids without sounding selfish and mean, but there are plenty of kids I do like to watch. Anyways I know how you feel and I agree SAHM does not equal free babysitter. I rarely ever have anyone watch my babygirl and there’s only a select few I would let do it, the friend I mentioned is not one of them. When I have let someone watch my daughter outside of her daycare/preschool I’ve either bought food, gave money or something except maybe once or twice and she’s only been watched about 4 or 5 times. I’ve watched friends kids for free plenty of times, not on a regular basis or anything, but the friends that I’m talking about with the three kids that eat a lot are very well off. If I was in the position they are in, I would always give plenty of money,food or something, especially for 3 kids. I do it and I only have one baby. It started with one kid though, now they have 3. I don’t know, I have different beliefs or ways of handling things. Although we are friends, if the shoe was on the other foot my appreciation would be through compensation not just a “thank you” particularly because I would have the money, I have three kids you are watching and because I appreciate it so much. To eaches own.

Kimberly May 23, 2010, 4:13 PM

I forgot to mention that I can’t leave the house with the three kids, plus my daughter. My car does not fit all of them unless I put them in there illegally and I’m not endangering the life of any child.

Danielle June 7, 2010, 1:09 PM

Thank you for this article!

I am the go to gal for all of my so called friends. I work from my home and have given up a large income to be a full time mom. I have had to listen to my friends ask if they can leave their children with me for an appointment. Only to find out later it was to get their nails done or have a hair cut. I have had friends just stop by to drop off their child even if they had a fever! I felt guilty for no longer answering my phone or emails from my more abusive friends. Thank you for reminding me I am not alone!

Missy June 23, 2010, 5:17 AM

I have been a stay at home Mom for the past 6 years, & have been in the same situation. People don’t realize the sacrifices that are made to be a stay at home mom. We live on a tight budget to make this work & feeding extra kids breakfast, lunch & dinner really causes extra burdens, as I have up to 7 kids here on a daily basis. I have even had people “forget” their childs diapers at home & have had to use my childs diapers on theirs, and diapers aren’t cheap. My kids are ages 6 & 3 now. And I am involving them in more out side activities, so I am trying to keep busy so that I am not around to be the “free” babysitter. It has taking me a while, but I have finally put my foot down & started charging $2 an hour per kid, which is on the low end of the scale, and people don’t want to pay it so now I suddenly don’t babysit as much. Although I am still babysitting for one family with 3 kids, I still can’t seem to say no to everyone, but it is limited to 3 days a week….I need my life too.

Jenny July 9, 2010, 7:56 AM

I am so glad to see I am not alone. I feel that I receive weird requests because I am at home. I have put dinner in the oven for neighbors, watched neighbors dogs for over a week, babysat constantly, ran errands for others, etc. I have a hard time saying no. The requests I receive take no consideration for what I may have going on. I have watched children while my niece was in surgery, during a entire house carpet cleaning and when I had the flu. People seem to disregard a SAHM’s schedule because you are at home.

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