State News

The Hunt for Babysitters Begins With The Holiday Season

Posted November 18, 2007 3:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 22, 2007 6:21 p.m. EST

— It's the time of year when holiday parties and shopping trips leave parents scrambling for someone to watch the kids - and babysitters are getting harder to find.

"It's like you're competing with every other parent in town just to get a night out," said Linda Robertson, a Greensboro mom who's still looking for a sitter so she and her husband can attend a Christmas party next month.

"It's been two months since we've gone out without kids somewhere, and it's not because we haven't tried," Robertson said.

It's a predicament that occurs with the approach of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. One explanation may be that there's an increase in children needing sitting as opposed to an unchanging population of teenagers. And parents say today's teenagers are busier now with their own jobs or after-school activities.

"Seems like every 15-year-old girl is playing soccer or gymnastics," Robertson said.

The pinch seems so acute, some parents admit they won't share babysitter knowledge, not even with their closest friends. They book sitters months in advance and bribe them with junk food and other perks.

It's a seller's market, with sitters earning up to $7 an hour in some neighborhoods, more if big brother has a little sister.

Nancy Lindemeyer spent weeks trying to get the name and phone number of a particular sitter from an acquaintance. After three weeks and several unreturned phone calls, Linedemeyer figured it out.

"She was avoiding me," Lindemeyer said. "I guess for some reason she didn't want me to have the (sitter's) number."

Before Lindemeyer and her husband, Tim Goetz, found a reliable list of sitters they just didn't go out.

"That was a scary part of our lives," she said.

In 1980, there were 33 million children younger than 10, while those ages 15 to 19 - prime baby sitting ages - numbered 21 million, according to U.S. Census data. In 2005, the most recent year available, the number of children younger than 10 had climbed by 20 percent to 40 million. But the number of older teenagers has stayed roughly the same.

One possible remedy is that boys are joining the baby-sitting pool. At a recent baby sitter's training class sponsored by the American Red Cross, nearly half of the 20 participants were boys, said Linda Royal, associate director of the Greensboro chapter.

For many families, finding a sitter is complicated further because parents are getting pickier. In today's more mobile society, parents say they worry that they don't know the local teenagers well enough. The last three baby sitters employed by Dave and Amy Dobbins, middle school music teachers, were familiar to the family. Two worked at the day care center the couple used, and the third is a former student.

"You have to be selective," Dave Dobbins said. "You want to be comfortable when you walk out that door."

Whitney Jones, a 17-year-old student, says she could work every weekend from now until New Year's Eve if she wanted. She's already booked a few December dates, and it's only going to get busier.

"After Thanksgiving, that's when the calls really start coming in," Jones said. "Most of my families, the parents just want to go to a party or go shopping and they don't want to take the kids. That's where I come in."

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