Sometimes we get questions from readers that really make me want to jump in and give my own two cents - like this one, which I find really annoying (the babysitter, that is, not the question). Chronically late people really get my goat, but I've never known how to deal with them. Rachel, as usual, has some great advice...
My husband and I recently hired my husband's sister to babysit our eight month old a few times a week. I am a nurse and work nights. When I get home in the mornings, my husband leaves for his job and his sister watches our baby while I sleep. Here is where I would like your advice--my husband's sister arrives late regularly (15-30 minutes) and has never had a legitimate excuse. This causes me to lose even more sleep after having been awake for (sometimes) over 24 hours. When I ask why she is late she says she lost track of time. We have even changed her start time thinking it might help her arrive on time, but this hasn't proven effective. We have thought about docking her late time off her paycheck, but she is family and we don't want to turn this into a big ordeal, we just want her to arrive on time. What should we do?
Thank you for your complex question! The first thing I would try with your sister-in-law/babysitter is to have a serious, candid conversation about both party’s expectations of the job. I hear your concern about making this “a big ordeal,” but it’s in everyone’s best interest to be open and honest about what’s going on, even if you’re family (and perhaps especially because you are family).
Before sitting down together, you and your husband should make a list of priorities that you require in a sitter and a clear weekly budget for outside childcare. Obviously being on time is high on your priority list, but what else do you need from your sitter. Outside playtime? A bath? If you are honest with yourselves about what you need out of this arrangement, all parties know where they stand and there’s no chance for ambiguity or resentment. While you are prepping for this talk, also brainstorm some ideas on how to manage your sitter if she does not fulfill the requirements of the job.
When you do speak to her, you and your husband can address the tricky, awkward nature of the situation by just naming it. “Thanks for chatting with us, I know these types of discussions can be awkward, but we just wanted a chance to speak with you about our experience and hear how things are going for you.” I would first ask her if she actually wants to be your babysitter. Personally, I know that when I’m consistently late for something, it means that I don’t care too much about the commitment and would rather not have it. She may not want this job but feels stuck because she is family. Give her the option of an out. Be open to hearing how this experience has been for her without being defensive. Listen to how this job affects her life.
If she confirms that she indeed does want and like this job, express how important her care has been to the smooth functioning of your family and your appreciation for her. Then explain your childcare priority list and ask her if she is willing and able to commit to it. Even if you already have a system in place, review when and how and how much she will be paid as well as a schedule for the week. Then brainstorm together fair options on how to enforce the commitment of being on time (you’re all adults after all). Make a plan to check in, in a week or two to review how the changes are playing out. If this doesn’t bring everyone onto the same page and you find yourself back at square one, it’s time to find a new babysitter. If and when it comes time to breaking the news, be kind but firm. Something like... "We really appreciate everything you've done for us, especially how you play with Jane. But because of the nature of our jobs, its crucial that our sitter start on time. We love you and this isn't personal, but this isn't working for us so we're going to look for a different sitter. Thanks for trying to work with us."
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