When I was growing up in the 1970s, nobody asked me to babysit.
I tell myself that’s because I’m a late Baby Boomer; there weren’t any babies to watch by the time I reached my teens. More honestly, I probably just wasn’t babysitting material. Apparently, when parents were searching for a quiet, friendly girl who would fall asleep on the sofa around 10 p.m., my name wasn’t top of mind.
A generation ago, parents found their evening and weekend babysitters by talking to other mothers on the street, in the neighbourhood or at church. These teens were deemed qualified to watch the kids because all parents involved agreed they were responsible, friendly girls (or maybe boys) who would be happy with a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV for extra pocket money.
Today, I came across a flyer on an old telephone pole in my neighbourhood that seems to symbolize how much has changed in our communities. A simple 8.5×11 piece of white paper announces in big black letters: “Looking for an occasional babysitter in the area.” The flyer asks candidates to contact a generic email address to provide details about their babysitting qualifications, experience and rates.
Support networks missing
Is a guerilla marketing campaign now the best way – the only way, I wonder – to find a reliable teen to watch your children for an evening out? Whatever happened to Suzie talking to Karen who knows Paula down the road with three lovely teens in the prime of their babysitting careers? Or what about going through the church telephone directory to locate that smart kid who must be at least 14 by now and whose dad is on council?
Second, do teens now need to present formal qualifications and experience before they become eligible for a babysitting gig? And should they set the rates, not the parents who are kind enough to give them some extra cash for candy and comic books?
When I was a young mom myself, a conscientious family instructed their daughters that they could not accept money for babysitting on Sundays. They took Sabbath rest seriously. Their daughters were popular girls during Bible study nights. Most young parents slipped the kids some extra cash when they came around again on a Saturday evening.
There’s no sense in getting nostalgic about the good ol’ days. However, this simple babysitting sign on an average street in Toronto filled me with a sense of sadness. As Canada grows increasingly urban, secular and mobile, some of the most fundamental support families need to thrive seems to be eroding.
I don’t wish to point fingers at the parents who posted their flyer on the street lamp. I do feel an urge to contact them. I’d like to let them know that attending the local Manor Road United Church or my own Christian Reformed Church around the block could be a much more rewarding and long-lasting solution to finding community, babysitters and maybe lasting love.
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