"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
August 16, 2012
Quitting An Unpaid Job
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


This 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.

About 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.

After 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 time.

I 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.

How do I get out of this unpaid babysitting gig?


Easy. If you don’t want to watch the baby anymore, you give notice and quit.

You 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 arrangement.

“Carol,” 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.”

She 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!”

“I’m sorry,” you will reply. “I can watch her one more time if you need it, but not after that.”

She might try to discover the problem. “But why?” she may ask. “Is she fussy for you? Does she cry? Is there a problem?”

The 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.”

She 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?”

The 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 week of 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 her.”

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.

“Carol,” 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 quitting outright.

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.

Do 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!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

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 the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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