Category Archives: babysitting

Babysitting experiment so far: pretty great, and working on making it even better

We’ve had twenty babysitting sessions so far. We started weekly experiments in May 2018, when A- was a little over two years old. She asked me to stop after eight sessions, since she wanted to play with me instead. We resumed in April 2019 because A- wanted to give it another try. I wanted to quickly reflect on how that experiment has been going and think about how we can build on it.

What have we been doing?

We scaled up from 4 hours a session to 7 hours a session. This works really well for me because it gives me one or two chunks of focused time long enough to dig into and solve reasonable problems. It probably works out even better than a half-day preschool program, since transitions chew up so much time.

I increased it to 2 sessions during the week because we might be away for a trip, so I wanted to front-load some consulting and personal time.

We started booking Saturday sessions as well so that W- and I can work on house projects together. I think it’s worth investing the time and money in developing my DIY skills, and I want A- to grow up seeing us do that kind of stuff.

What have I learned from having all these different babysitters?

A- gets along well with lots of different people. She switches over to focusing on the new babysitter within a few minutes, and she seems comfortable heading out to the park with them even if it’s just the first time they’ve met. She’s good at communicating what she wants and can be easily understood. She generally likes to take the lead, but she’s willing to accept suggestions and reminders.

There’s one babysitter that A- loves, a few she’s okay with, and a few she’s less keen on. A- seems to respond well to energy and engagement. Even when A- and the babysitter don’t click as well, I learn something from what I think might be missing. It inspires me to be more engaged, too. It’s great having such a variety of people. It’s like being able to experiment with different parenting styles and personalities while keeping A- constant.

A- likes the crafts and games they suggest, and often asks to repeat them. The babysitters often introduce things I wouldn’t have thought of trying with A- just yet, so I’m pleasantly surprised by her capabilities. They’ve made it out to playgrounds a few times, although A- often prefers to stay close to home.

A- really likes helping me pay for the babysitter, too. She’s learning to recognize different numbers and bills. Hmm… If the sitters don’t mind, I might switch to paying mostly in 10s so that she can get used to hearing that sequence of numbers. I talk to her about withdrawing cash from my savings, how I earn that money by working, and how the babysitters earn their money by working too. We even talk about receipts and taxes in the process.

What did I do with the time?

  • Consulting: 25.5 hours, or a little less than 50% of the hours since we resumed the experiment in April. Lots of SQL and Javascript. Working during the daytime is much, much nicer than staying up late. I make faster progress and feel happier, and I can talk to my clients as needed. Also, if I remember to go to bed early, I have more energy when I’m with A-.
  • Coding: I worked on a bunch of little tweaks for Emacs and my phone so that I can update Emacs News and my journal more easily. I also organized my files, updated my blog, and did lots of little kaizen projects.
  • House stuff: I painted the cabinets, and I’m looking forward to doing more house things.
  • Organization: I tidied up my basement workspace and organized my files.
  • Errands: I took two hours to go to the Philippine consulate. It was nice not worrying about whether A- would get bored or need to go to the bathroom.
  • What didn’t I do? Drawing, sewing, batch-cooking, and self-care still felt lower-priority than other things I could do with that time. Writing is pretty sporadic too, although I turned a few Emacs tweaks into blog posts.
  • ECE: I’ve only done a little bit of early childhood education reading and preparation. I could spend more time and energy doing this, since enriching our days together will likely pay off more than incremental tweaks to my computer or phone setup.

What concerned me before?

How would the sitters interact with A-? I see a lot of parents and caregivers focused on their phones or other adults while their kids play fairly independently, and I can be like that too unless I make an effort. So far, most of the babysitters we’ve gotten have seemed pretty engaging, though. Seeing them in action helps me appreciate the kind of play skills I want to develop myself. At some point, A- will be more interested in playing by herself or with other kids. At the moment, though, she wants lots of interaction, and it’s amazing what she can learn with someone’s help and appreciation. I think my ideal at the moment is for A- to have a supportive and appreciative play partner who expands her vocabulary and understanding, occasionally asks questions or suggests things that challenge her, and sometimes models new techniques. It’s hard to do that sort of stuff, so I’m glad I can pay for role models.

I want to learn more from how sitters interact with A- without disrupting them. I can hear them from the basement, and I come up for snacks and for transition time. (Then A- says, “Why did Mama come up?”, in a “I’m fine, I want to keep playing with the babysitter, Mama go back downstairs” sort of way.) Hmm… If the babysitter’s okay with it and if it doesn’t mess with my concentration too much, maybe I can listen on the baby monitor when I’m working on personal projects.

Less awareness of A-‘s interests and growing skills? As it turned out, I didn’t need to worry about this at all. When A- is interested in something, that interest runs through everything she does. I still feel in tune with what she’s curious about and what she’s working on.

Less exposure to household stuff? Not an issue at the moment. A-‘s still involved in getting groceries, cooking, cleaning, and other things we do around the house. I’d like to eventually involve her more in DIY, but that can wait until I have more skills and she has more self-control.

What’s the next step?

More time? A- often tells me that 7 hours is too short. She wants to try 8 hours, which means we need to:

  • get ready earlier in the day
  • do chores early afternoon so that we can have dinner and do bedtime soon after the sitter leaves
  • help her get the hang of either going out, playing, and napping in the stroller, or resting during quiet time.

Eight hours might make it easier to get an occasional babysitter outside the agency, if we decide to go that route. Summer is coming up, and it might be awesome to snag a teacher or early childhood educator on a summer break.

Do we want to consider a regular babysitter or daycare? I actually like the variety that comes from having different babysitters, and we don’t offer enough hours or commitment for someone else to commit to us for a longer term anyway. At the moment, A- is more interested in playing with a grown-up or by herself than with other kids. I’ll expose her to more group situations later on, but in the meantime, I think it’s worth having someone focus on her, help her answer her questions, read her tons of books, and so on.

How can I build on what A- does? Babysitters often come with one or two ideas and we have a lot of open-ended supplies, so they’re already doing pretty well. The table I made is a little too text-heavy for them to quickly glance at, but quick verbal instructions and one activity pouch might work. I can rely on their experience to figure out what level A- is at and come up with an appropriate challenge or spin. In fact, they generally do a better job at this than I do, so the less I get in their way, the better.

A- freely shares what she’s interested in (“I’m a firefighter!”), so I don’t need to brief them on that, since a good babysitter will pick up A-‘s cues and incorporate them into activity suggestions. I have plenty of days with A- for following up on those interests anyway. (We’ve been to the fire station four times in a little over a week…)

It might be interesting to build on techniques, which I can pick up by asking about crafts and displaying her work. For example, A- has been very interested in painting and then folding the paper or placing another piece of paper on top, and she repeated that technique with other sitters and with me. If I annotate her art with the date (and possibly sitter name), that also helps me cross-reference it with the babysitter when asking A- about her babysitter preferences.

Another level would be to build on concepts. If I systematically go through something like Playing Preschool, that might help me spot opportunities to sneak more learning into stuff A- wants to do. She can generally fill the whole day with things she wants to do, but she’s curious about new things in her environment, so that’s how I might be able to provoke her curiosity. I can work on getting the hang of this myself before figuring out how to get the babysitters on board with it too, since they’re already doing a great job of exposing A- to different kinds of activities. I don’t want too much structure, anyway – just a little to support more discovery and thought.

There’s something pretty interesting about this setup, and we’re very lucky to be able to do stuff like this. I’m curious about how to make the most of it.

Resuming our babysitter experiment

We experimented with babysitting last year. A- generally got along well with babysitters from the agency, although she eventually told me, “Stop babysitting experiment. Mama play with A-.” So we stopped. I relegated my consulting to the occasional late night, and sometimes went a month or two without logging in.

Once in a while, A- liked to pretend that I was a babysitter ringing the doorbell and coming to play with her. She also asked me to read books about babysitting, including the one I made for her.

A- started asking me to get a babysitter recently. I figured we could give it a try again. She immediately got along with the sitter from the agency, and didn’t look for me at all. From my hideout in the basement, I could hear peals of laughter, loud conversation, and even the occasional made-up song.

I spent most of the session writing documentation and updating reports. Focused time! Awake focused time! It was nice to make real progress.

I asked A- if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she did. She even picked having a sitter over going to “school” or playing with me. The second time the babysitter came, she had just as much fun playing with her, and I had just as much fun coding and listening. I asked A- again if she wanted to have the same sitter the following week, and she said yes. After the sitter left, I asked her if she thought her playtime with the sitter was too short, too long, or just right. “Too short,” she said, so we’ll book the next one for five hours.

A- was extra clingy after the first session, but a bit more relaxed after the second one. She fell asleep on the walk to the library, which gave me a little time to write.

My goals for babysitting are:

  • Support A- as she practises independence: It’s good for her to practise asking other people for help, figuring out fun games together, and learning from other people’s styles. It also helps her learn she can do lots of things without me and be away from me for longer periods of time. I might even be pleasantly surprised by what she can do based on other people’s expectations.
  • Be inspired by other people’s interactions with A-: the kind of energy they bring to childcare, the interesting things they share or bring out in her, the games they come up with…
  • Create space for making things better or capturing and organizing my notes. Consulting increases my budget for experiments and resources. Reflection helps me remember things I’ve learned and decide what to do next.

So now that babysitting is back on the table, what does that change? How can I build on this?

  • I can schedule babysitting sessions once a week for as long as A- is up to it. I can fill that time with consulting or other tasks, so it’s worth it on my end. Although consulting is fun and easy to justify, I could also dedicate some time to continuous improvement, writing, drawing, organization, and personal projects.
  • Knowing that I’ll have some scheduled focused time should make it easier to get proper sleep at night, which should make it easier to focus on her during the day. Also, it’s really nice to just be able to sleep when we’re sleepy, instead of trying to stay awake while she’s falling asleep.
  • It would be good to gradually stretch it to six hours, to prepare her for being away from us for that long when she’s at kindergarten. It’s still good for her to have an afternoon nap, so we’ll probably move the starting time earlier.
  • The weather is warming up, so it might be good to figure out the logistics of going to other places like the playground or the drop-in centre.
  • In summer, the pool of available babysitters expands quite a bit. It might be interesting to experiment with independent sitters, especially ones with teaching experience. On the other hand, the agency is pretty convenient too.
  • A- hasn’t yet had a big meltdown that required comfort from a babysitter, so I’m not sure if she’s ready for that yet. We can work on emotional regulation when we’re together, since she’s not quite ready to do that on her own or with strangers yet.
  • Eventually, I can check how she does in a group situation. Parenting workshops with childminding and drop-in centres with parent relief programs might be good ways to test it out, or I can explore coworking spaces with childcare. The city also runs a few recreation programs for her age range, although most of those are too early in the morning for her current sleep rhythms. Kindergarten readiness programs can also help her get used to school routines and group interaction.

With that in mind, next week, I plan to:

  • Line up non-consulting tasks so that I can use my time well once I’m done with the SQL debugging I’ve scheduled,
  • Pay closer attention to the differences in the way we interact, and see what I can learn,
  • Experiment with 5 hours, with the option to cut it shorter if she’s tired or cranky, and
  • Ask the babysitter what she would need to be comfortable taking A- out to the backyard or to “school,” and offer it to A- as an option.

I’m glad A-‘s curious about this again!

Notes on the babysitting experiment

We’ve had 6 babysitting sessions so far: a month and a half of experimenting with one afternoon a week. A- has so far gotten along pretty well with everyone, switching over to playing with them almost immediately after they arrive. It’s reassuring to see how she enjoys playing with the babysitters and how she adapted to the variety of people we’ve had so far. I’ve picked up a few new ideas, and I’ve also come to a deeper understanding of the approach that we want to experiment with.

A- was quick to learn people’s names, and solicitously offered them snacks and water whenever she ate. She liked showing them things. She was very clear about what she wanted to do. She was usually easy to settle by changing things up or by reading a book. She accepted comfort when she tripped.

I’ve been able to do about 20 hours of consulting, or a little over three hours each session. It’s a great way of self-funding it while tickling my brain and keeping my network warm. It’s much nicer to work in the afternoon than late at night. I can talk to my clients, and code doesn’t buzz around in my head and make it hard to sleep. I could generally get 2 hours of focused work if I went downstairs and started soon after the babysitter arrived, since the novelty of having a babysitter carried A- through for a while. Phone calls extended the time she can be away from me.

Eventually A- insists on reconnecting, and that’s cool. It’s part of the cycle of seeking comfort and then exploring. It felt like A-‘s usually okay if we snuggle for five minutes or so every thirty minutes to an hour, although I didn’t time it.

I asked A- how she felt about the experiment. She delights in her growing independence, and sometimes says “No, Mama, stay downstairs” and “I practise being away from Mama” from the book I made her about babysitting. Still, I think she feels happier about independence when she’s playfully rejecting me instead of when my attention is elsewhere. She said, “Stop babysitting experiment. Mama play with A-.” Perfectly understandable. I wonder what it would be like to go at her pace when it comes to developing independence. Based on my research, I think I don’t need to push her, and that she’ll probably be more confident if she can experiment with exploring with me as her safe haven.

I like spending time with A-. I don’t need the time for consulting, although it was nice to help my clients while learning a new skill. I think that at this point, she benefits more from time interacting with me or having me nearby than from practising independence with a babysitter. We’ll revisit it when it’s time to start preparing for preschool. Meanwhile, I’ll focus more on A- so that I can support her.

She gets decent social interaction with kids at the playground, but other adults rarely get involved. The drop-in centres are probably her best bet for interaction with non-family adults, if they’re not too busy. She likes the music teacher, and classes might be another way of expanding her range. I can see if any of my friends want to hang out in parks with bubbles and snacks. When she gets more curious about the world, I can take her to the museum and science centre so that she can ask volunteers questions. Librarians don’t mind talking to little kids, too.

How can I tell if she’s ready for more? We can practise with independent play, which she sometimes does while I’m taking care of chores. We’ll see if she goes back to preferring other people when they’re around. She’s starting to be more independent at the playground. Eventually, she’ll be interested in social play, and then that will naturally draw her away from me and towards other kids. That’s probably the perfect time for half-day preschool.

She’ll get the hang of it. Totally not worried. I’m curious about what we can do by trusting her and following her lead. Not many people get to do things like this!

Babysitting update: pretend play

Yesterday’s babysitting experiment was another success, making three for three. A- was looking forward to the babysitter’s visit and even postponed some of her morning play ideas. As soon as the babysitter walked in, A- switched to wanting to play with her instead of me. They built with Duplo, painted on paper, cut with scissors, and played with tape. Then they headed to the backyard to make sandcastles. They came back in for snacks, then played pretend. The babysitter guided A- through role-playing restaurant interactions, which she took to with much enthusiasm. Then A- wanted to go to the playground with both of us, so I wrapped up my consulting (2.2 hours, yay!) and headed out with them. While the babysitter pushed A- on the swing and helped her navigate the other parts of the playground, I worked on improving my phone workflows for tracking and drawing.

Having an agency babysitter come over one afternoon a week seems to be working out very well for both of us. A- likes the change in company and the one-on-one attention. I like overhearing how they’re playing so that I can pick up ideas. For example, it was great to see how quickly A- picked up a new scenario when the babysitter guided her, and how the babysitter nudged her to exchange roles in their pretend play.

I wonder what I can do to level up. I could send them my weekly review when I book so that the sitter can easily see what A- is interested in. I can make grab-and-go bags for going to the playground or other places. I can add a few dress-up items and props to enhance pretend play, and I can add paper and pens to support pre-literacy. I can line up questions to ask during downtime. Hmmm…