© 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.