year, the last of my four children started school. I had been
looking forward to having more free time during the day to work on
various projects and goals.
a week before school started, I got a call from a sister in my ward.
She explained that she was starting a new job, and that she needed
someone to watch her baby two mornings a week. She then said that
since I would be home all day with no children around, she thought
I’d be perfect to watch her baby. I thought it would be nice to
help her out, and I thought it would be nice to have a little extra
money, so I said yes.
the first week of this arrangement, it became clear that she did not
intend to pay me for watching her baby. I didn’t want to earn a
lot of money, but I did expect she would give me something for my
now find myself in an awkward position: I have made a commitment to
watch her baby, and she is relying on me, but I don’t want to
watch her baby for free! She has a big house and really nice cars and
lots of other things, so this is not a situation where I’m
helping a needy sister support her family’s basic needs. I feel
like she is taking advantage of me.
do I get out of this unpaid babysitting gig?
If you don’t want to watch the baby anymore, you give notice
are perfectly justified if you do. People whose children go to school
during the day are not sitting around, pining for someone else’s
preschoolers and babies to tend, and they should not be treated as
such. If you have a swapping-favors relationship with someone, you
can by all means swap babysitting for something else. But it is not
right to ask someone to provide free babysitting unless you are
offering something in return and both parties are satisfied with the
you might say, “I need to talk to you about watching Mimi. I’m
sorry, but I’m afraid it’s not working out. I can watch
her for one more day if you need it, but after that I can’t
watch her any more while you’re at work.”
might push back: “But Betty, you said you’d watch her. I
don’t know who else I can ask. I just started this job, and I
can’t take time off to find another sitter!”
sorry,” you will reply. “I can watch her one more time if
you need it, but not after that.”
might try to discover the problem. “But why?” she may
ask. “Is she fussy for you? Does she cry? Is there a problem?”
obvious problem is that she is asking you to work for free. But you
will not say that. “No,” you will say. “I just
can’t do it after Friday.” Avoid the urge to explain any
further or justify your decision. Say only, “I’m sorry.
Mimi is darling, but I just can’t.”
might give you a sad story: “Betty, I didn’t want to
mention it, but I’m really in a tight spot and need the money.
We have a lot of debt and things aren’t going well with Matt
and me, and I just can’t afford to pay you. Can’t you
please just watch Mimi for me?”
sad story may make you feel bad for her (which is certainly the
intention), but don’t back down and tell her you’ll keep
watching the baby. Her request for two mornings every
free babysitting is unreasonable. Even people with loads of debt have
to pay for babysitters, and your time is valuable no matter what.
So you will reply, “I'm
sorry. That sounds really hard, but I just can’t keep watching
This is the way to end
your unpaid babysitting job.
But let’s imagine
for a moment that you still wanted to watch the baby, and you wanted
to be paid for your work. In that case, you would approach the
conversation a little differently.
you’d say. “I need to talk to you about something. When I
agreed to watch Mimi, I thought you meant you wanted to hire
me to watch her. I love Mimi, and I’d like to keep tending her
for you if you’d like to hire me. But if you hire me, we need
to discuss the actual terms of the job.”
Then look at her until
she says something. If she says she needs to think about it, say,
“That’s fine, but I’ll need to know by tomorrow. I
was thinking that such-and-such per hour would be a fair price.”
If she acts embarrassed (which she should), be gracious, but stick to
your guns about agreeing — within the next day — on
actual hours and pay. If she gets huffy, follow the script for
Be aware that if you do
business with this sister, you are doing business with a person who
obviously thinks she is entitled to treat you as a free babysitter,
which is a red flag. Therefore, you should be very careful to agree
upon and write down all of the terms of your agreement.
Write up an agreement in
plain English (never attempt legalese — it doesn’t mean
anything to anyone anyway) that is specific about, for example, when
and how much you will be paid, what you will be paid for the work you
have already done, what will happen if she does not pay you on time,
what will happen if she cancels or is late for drop-off or pick-up,
and what hours and services she expects from you.
You may feel awkward
having a conversation about money, but remember that this is a
business relationship and should be treated as such. You should both
be satisfied with the agreement you reach. Also, realize that this
employment will have tax implications, so keep good records of what
and when you are paid and any expenses you may incur.
you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life?
Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to
answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!
Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her
adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She
graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from
Duke University with a law degree.
She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap
dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in
Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.
Cyndie serves as first counselor in her ward Relief Society organization.