Baby-sitter inflation

In the high-stakes game of hiring a baby sitter, the family that pays the most wins.

This situation has nothing to do with marketing on the sitter's part. It has everything to do with parents who (1) want to show how highly they value the sitter's time and (2) hope that by paying better than other families, they can count on a sitter's loyalty.

The effect, however, is to price baby-sitting out of the strato-sphere in many communities.

When I told a colleague that professional nannies in our area won't look at a job for under $15 an hour and that I routinely pay $12 an hour for an experienced baby sitter, his jaw dropped. "Pay me that much, and I'll watch your kid," he said, only half-joking.

I'm hardly among the guiltless. When our son was an infant, my husband and I justified the high cost of baby-sitting by saying that it was only on rare occasions. So when a prospective sitter gave her rate, we upped it a dollar or two.

Now that our son is 3, we're OK with the idea of recruiting a teenager for whose services we won't have to take out a second mortgage. The only problem is, we can't find one who doesn't have soccer or band practice, or who isn't starting a dotcom company in her spare time.

Parents guard baby-sitter contacts more zealously than nuclear secrets. If I ask a friend, "Have you found a sitter you like?" and I get an evasive, "Well, we have someone who comes now and then, but she's very expensive," I know not to ask further.

A neighbor asked recently if I could recommend a sitter. I empathized with her, and gave her a name and rate. "But she charges too much," my neighbor said.

Oh darn, I thought.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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