By Lyz Lenz
So, when the time came for my husband and I to pony up and leave our kid for the evening, I thought I knew what I needed to do, call on a teenager, buy chili cheese Fritos and Coke for a snack and everything would work out. Not quite. First, my husband and I didn’t know any teenagers in town or any teenagers who didn’t already have a job and at least three other extra-curricular activities. Upon further research I discovered that the available teenagers in our area required bookings weeks in advance, also, my snack wasn’t going to cut it.
And don’t even get me started on payment. A quick poll of my mom friends revealed that they paid anywhere from $4 to $10 per hour. I balked. Add in dinner and a movie and we were looking at dropping between $90 to $150 on a date. Being frugal Midwesterners, my husband and I hadn’t spent that much on a night out since we went to a James Taylor concert seven years ago. Sweet baby James! I didn’t know if we would ever leave the house.
After much searching, bartering and bribing, we’ve been able to eek out a couple nights out on the town and here are some things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Get help from friends
Surely you know other cash-strapped new parents, am I right? Then, work out a babysitting swap with them. You watch their kid one night, they watch yours another. This deal was a lifesaver when we first tried to leave our daughter. Knowing that she was with someone who knew her and knew us gave us some peace of mind. Plus, we came back early with a bottle of wine and had some time with our friends while the babies slept.
2. Get to know your neighbors
During maternity leave, I spent a lot of time taking my baby for a walk and that’s when I started talking to neighbors. If I saw someone out watering their lawn, taking their kids to the park, I said “hi” and struck up small talk. Our neighborhood is a mix of families and retired couples who were all more than willing to share tips and leads on good babysitters. In fact, the fabulous girl, we now call “our babysitter” lives down the street, her mom offered her services and she’s been indispensible.
3. Know thy college students
I posted a call for babysitters on Facebook and received multiple offers from college students who were willing to work for laundry and a nice dinner, while their schedule and ours hasn’t quite synced, I’ve passed their names on to our friends. This brings me to my next point.
4. Post a “help wanted” ad on Facebook
If you are looking for a babysitter, ask Facebook. Your network of friends and family are indispensible for providing leads, recommendations, advice on payment and what makes a good snack. If you haven’t asked Facebook for help, you’re not doing this parenting 2.0-thing correctly. Here is a tip: Avoid asking through private message. Just put the call out in a status update. This allows people to volunteer, rather than feel like they’re being asked for a favor.
5. Let go
The hardest part of finding a sitter wasn’t coming up with the money or even finding someone to watch out child, it was letting go of all the anxieties and fears and controlling tendencies I have as a parent. Despite being 16, our sitter has put babies to bed before, a fact I had to remind myself of over and over when we first left the house.
I often hear my friends say, “Oh my child will never sleep for a sitter” or “My child won’t let anyone hold him except me”—all too these are excuses, not realities. And, as someone who’s watched children for friends who say those things, they are rarely true. A friend once assured me her daughter would never nap at my house, but after a snack and some stories, she slept for two hours. A naptime record. But even if it really is true that your child will sleep for no one except you, then just go out in the afternoon and come home before bedtime. Also, trust that if your child really is that upset that your sitter will call you and let you know. But usually, even the fussiest of babies will calm down after you leave the house.
Not every date night will be the nice relaxing break you dream of, but the practice of staying connected as a couple, without your kids as a conduit for every interaction, is important to keeping your marriage strong. And nothing makes better parents than a happy couple. Also, chili cheese Fritos and Coke is not a good snack.
About the Author:
Lyz Lenz is a writer, a mom and a midwesterner. Although, not in that order. She lives in Iowa and on the web at LyzLenz.com