Still another way that things have changed since we were young: Baby-sitters are well-paid and in-demand. If you're hoping to have an adult night out while the grandchildren are visiting, you probably need to do more planning than you expect.
When you had your kids, there was probably a tween or teen down the street who was happy to baby-sit and always available. Today, especially in urban areas, we may not know our neighbors that well. Parents of teens are much more protective, so they may discourage their kids from talking to the neighbors. And today's teens are super-busy with after-school activities that may not leave them time for baby-sitting.
Here's what you need to know to hire a baby-sitter these days:
Begin to look early. It may take you weeks to find a sitter, so don't put this off. Depending on the demographics of where you live and your web of contacts, simply getting a couple of names and phone numbers may be tough. The parents in your neighborhood may be afraid if that if they refer you to their sitter, she won't be available when they need her. If you have a neighborhood email list, post your request there. You can also peruse the free parenting magazines available in many supermarkets and neighborhood bulletin boards, if you have them. Chat up everyone you know, even if they don't have kids themselves. Try to find out what the going rate is in your area.
Take a meeting: Once you've found a prospect, you'll need to interview him. Unless you're offering many hours' and even several days' worth of work, it may not be possible to lure prospective sitters to your home for a personal meeting. But you should at least conduct an interview over the phone. Ask about the sitter's experience, first aid and CPR training, and childcare philosophy. If you ask questions instead of stating your preferences, you'll get a better sense of the person. Don't forget to ask what he charges.
Do some detective work. Do a simple web search on your sitter's name and check Facebook. It's not a bad sign if you don't find a digital trail; in fact, it may be a good sign. The most important thing is not finding drunk or sexy party pictures of the prospective sitter.
Set your ground rules in advance. Of course, inform the sitter of rules for the kids, but don't forget to define the boundaries for him or her, as well. Is it okay for the baby-sitter to use your computer? The Wii? What about having a friend over?
Put it in writing. About.com offers printable information sheets you can fill out for your baby-sitter, listing your cell phone, emergency numbers and health information, such as whether any of the kids have allergies.
Be a good host. While the sitter's focus will be on the kids, there's no reason it shouldn't be a pleasant experience. Ask what snacks and beverages he'd like, and, if he politely says nothing is needed, go ahead and set out something yummy and wholesome anyway.
Be responsible yourself. Be home when you say you will.