Sitter Debting (Guest post by Rahti)


© Rahti Gorfien 2009

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of grousing about lack of reciprocity when it comes to watching someone else’s kid(s).  ‘I take her kid, and as soon as I ask for coverage, there’s always some excuse…’  I call this Sitter-Debting.  Not to brag, but I seem to have the opposite ‘problem’.  People won’t take me up on reciprocating!  Is it just me?  Am I that pathetic?  Is my child so fabulous that people feel blessed just having him around?  Now I know THAT’S delusional.  A friend said recently it’s because I don’t exude neediness around the issue.  People sense that if they say no, I’ll be okay; in other words, I’ll manage perfectly well without their help.  Well, there may be some accuracy to that observation, but only because I approach child care as a numbers game.  I know a lot of parents.  I know several with kids who have the same schedule as my son, and with whom he gets along.  I won’t presume to say that we’re all so fortunate, but many of us are, even  the folks who feel isolated due to being a single parent, or are in the I’m-the-stay-at-home-parent-so-everybody-dumps-their-kids-with-me role. 

Now this is touchy.  In fact, I’m truly afraid of getting my ass kicked for saying this (metaphorically, of course).  But unless you are in a really extraordinary situation, you’re probably not utilizing your resources properly.  If you’re feeling like a pro-bono babysitter, you’re being a victim, so get off the cross.  ASK!  I am shameless about asking.  I really believe that if done tactfully and politely, it never hurts to ask.  It’s kind of like believing in the Parking Angels (I have a particularly good relationship with one of those, in fact.  Oh alright, I’ll drop a name: Frank Zappa is a parking angel, in case you were wondering.  Hey, Frank! )  Eventually, we always get a parking spot.  As for sitter-angels, I try to plan ahead, but even if I don’t have much notice to give, I email, I call, I text, I appeal to the class or neighborhood Yahoo group.  And it always works out.  On the rare (and I mean rare) occasion that it doesn’t, I dip into the emergency fund and call the ex-nanny.  Otherwise, guess who’s coming to that meeting with me?  And if anyone frowns upon that, they don’t tell me and life goes on.

If you find yourself dealing with a sitter-debter, move on and widen your net.  Start a babysitting coop; I hear they’re great for some people.  Shout out to those listserves.  But please don’t perpetuate the myth that you must sacrifice your self-care and sanity due to grandparents being out of state, single parenting or not being able to pay someone.  I just don’t buy it.

Here’s the thing (and this is key):  While I’m not taken up on it as often as I should be (up ‘til now), I’m eager to return the favor!  Unless it’s utterly impossible, I reciprocate upon request.  Some friends save up their solids for a big-time call in.  Once, one of my most reliable buds had a family emergency and needed me to pick her kids up from the hospital and take them overnight.  I felt buoyant about it, because it feels terrible to sitter-debt to friends.  Maybe it’s my Hinjew origins, I don’t know…I just see it as karmically incorrect.

(Post-script: if this post has you really pissed, well, use it.  Anger can be energizing.  But that’s another topic.)

Rahti Gorfien, of Creative Calling Coaching, is a Life Coach and Park Slope mom, specializing in mothers with universal and yet unique challenges to succeed both personally and professionally.  She is also a regular contributor to Hip Slope Mama.  Read and subscribe to her newsletter for additional tips and essays.