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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
Guillermo Jansen August 14, 2010, 12:05 PM

I was thinking the same thing

sahm August 18, 2010, 2:51 AM

I am so glad I came across this article. Its really sad when you realise that some moms are only your friend for the convenience of leaving their children with someone to babysit for free! Its the worst. Its also really, really hard to just say no especially if you’re a SAHM. Everyone just assumes you have all the free time in the world. Then when need someone to babysit, they are always too busy. Why do some people feel its okay not to return the favor? Some moms can really be users!

Melinda September 7, 2010, 9:33 PM

I am disabled and have a lot of medical and out of the hospital…My divorced sister is currently mad with me because she called 9:30pm on the 4th of July for me to watch her 10 yr old daughter overnight because she has to work. I told her I had things to do in the morning and could not watch her child. She insisted and I stood my ground this time. She hung up on me mad and has not called me since. I have watched her child many times without pay, watched her for 2 weeks last March while she was in the hospital despite the toll on my own health and the financial responsibility(they make good money). Fed them without pay many times but I am sick of her calling or having my 10 yr old niece calling in a crying panic and dropping her daugher off whenever she pleases. Asks me to sit and does not drop her off without a call to tell me, she has me waiting here and never shows up! She really takes advantage. She feels because I am Disabled, I should be here for her day and night at her beckon call. She never watched my children when they were young. Would not be inconvenienced even when I was sick and had no care I too raised 2 children on my own, she threw it up to my face that my mother watched my kids when they were young, I said “and I paid her!” She does not care that I have a husband and family here to take care off and they need to be considered in this equation. Last summer she was mad because she wanted me to watch her dog all summer at her convenience. She has pulled my niece in and out of my families life several times, Once for 4 years from 3 to 7 she moved 45 mins away after my mother died with all her blood money. She calls out of the blue when she had noone left where she was at and moved back here a street up from me no less, just before her divorce which was a 2 year nightmare for my family. Expects my 19 year old to take up all the duties of her husband cutting her grass, shoveling her walks and driveway, and landscaping her lawn, so on and so forth the list goes on. My 19yr old son usually gets hurt over things as well, but we are so emotionally detached at this point he does not care anymore, he is sick of being used too. I would rather her stay out of our lives even though she is my sister she is an emotional, financial narcissistic vampire that sucks you dry at every turn. (A USER). This time their is no mending our relationship and I will not be used any more so she has no use for me! So be it!

Anonymous September 15, 2010, 2:56 PM

what about when its family members always assuming since your home, you can help them or take them places

Anonymous September 22, 2010, 7:59 PM

I also chose to be a stay at home mom so I could be with my children. Before I had children I majored in Childhood Education in College and was planning a career in childcare. After I had my 1st, I decided that this path was no longer my right choice, and I switched directions. But because we needed the money I took several babysitting jobs, all regular and for very good pay. Well I no longer do this because we don’t need the money like we used to. I have certain family members that are now coming out of the woodwork expecting me to help them out… “But you wanted to do this, I trust my kids with you more than anyone else”, and for awhile that was ok, till I realized they were calling me several times a week, not paying cause it was just an hour, (yea, an hour i wasn’t able to get anything done!), and telling me one time and showing up VERY late. We can’t afford any kind of sitter, so if I need to go to the dr or something, I have to leave them with someone, and they feel that my 2 hours once every few months means free favors any time.

I cut them off one day when I was in a pinch, I had to be somewhere the next morning, and when they said “you can’t just expect me to drop everything for you”, i laughed and said, yep, your right, hey, i’m no longer available, and oh yea, you owe me for the curtain your son ripped off my wall. I haven’t talked to her since. But because I still have other family asking, we have decided to move about a half hour away, where it is too inconvienent for them to just drop off their kids.

Ariel2216 September 27, 2010, 10:17 PM

Thank you for this article!!! I was actually stressing out for the past several month because I felt I was being rude and selfish to a neighbor who constantly asked me to take care of her children (I had two myself). Over the summer, I had to watch her infant/toddler because she wanted to take her older son to some club and she thought her baby was too loud to be there (which meant less summer time fun with my daughters because we were stuck at home babysitting) She asked nicely if I could babysit swap with her, but then she would constantly bring her kids every chance she got. She would take her husband with her to her prenatal appointments and leave the kids with me because she didn’t want them to be “bored”. Come on! She has her husband! It wasn’t even because she couldn’t handle it. She would want to leave her 1 yr old and 5 year with me so she could “run to the store”. After several months I was going to lose it!! In my head I was thinking “just take your F’n kids already!!!!” But because I wanted to “help out” I convinced myself that I was the one being selfish. Until I almost started going mad, and realized that it was probably the other way around.

love my kids November 13, 2010, 5:57 AM

I just wanted to say … how REFRESHING that someone else is in the SAME boat. I thought maybe I was being selfish. I stay at home with my kids and for the past 4 1/2 years, I have “helped out” my neighbor. I have taken her son COUNTLESS times. When she decided to “quit” daycare, I took him on every school day off (9 hour days), a day or two a week in the summertime, and a lot of days in between. A lot of this came at our family’s expense. I have tried to cut down on this by not answering the phone, texts, etc. I have never asked for a penny, and she has never offered to pay me. I really feel like she has completely taken advantage of me. It is hard because she lives right next door, so I can’t exactly ignore her. Thank you for your post. I admire your strength!

Colleen November 23, 2010, 4:52 PM

I have this same problem. However, it’s my sister who is taking advantage of me. I don’t know how to stop it, without hurting our relationship, any ideas?

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Mindi March 25, 2011, 1:56 PM

I am with you all the way on this one!!!!Our girls are eleven,five and three.My hands are never not full!I first started watching my friends three kids,who are the same age as mine.I didn’t mind at all because it worked out great.She would take my girls for me overnight and she paid me too.There was a break for a few months and then her husband ended up leaving.I start watching her kids again and then asks if i would start watching her friends two kids.I said no at first because six was plenty.Well,I ended up saying yes and I wish that I would have said no to the both of them.Eight kids is a lot to handle and then they never offer to return the favor.The one time that I did ask,she said sorry I have plans.Not only did I watch their kids while they were at work but also when they went out together!They both still owe me and one of them wants to pay me less!I go with 150 each payday because an hourly rate was too much for her!.There are some other issues too but I can’t take it anymore!I only watch two of the kids now but I’m done.I feel like I can’t even enjoy my own kids anymore and that makes me feel like crap.:(

Sarah March 30, 2011, 11:40 AM

Thanks you so much for this article. I could not agree more and shared it with my husband how was thrilled that someone was able to write what I have been feeling so well. I really hadn’t thought about it in terms of only having so much patience to go around vs. just the time commitment. In addition, I feel the needs of our husbands are a huge consideration. My husband works hard and truly values having me stay home to care for our family and kids. It’s simply not fair for him to come home to find a house full of other people kids and the house messed up because I was so busy caring for, not just my two kids, but the other kids Im watching. I finally realized how much my time should be valued when friend asked me to watch her young son while her nanny was out of town for a few days and offered me $100 a day. I will continue to watch the children of family and friends in a bind and scheduling pay dates (on my schedule) but promised my husband that I wont agree to watch other peoples kids this summer. It will be just our family!

Anonymous May 15, 2011, 1:09 PM

Excellent article - you said exactly what I feel and especially how I felt when I was a SAHM. My employer allows me to work for home on occasion - and before you ask - the answer is “NO” I will not watch your kid during my work from home days.

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