When my three were younger my mum did the lion's share of our Saturday night childcare requirements. She'd pitch up happily, and not only require little attention on my part, but would even wash out the odd soaking saucepan, sew on a few name labels and empty the dishwasher.
This service was provided free, without strings attached and always with a smile on her face. She even drove herself home.
But as the years progressed and my children - and their nan - got older, I felt guilty asking her, so I dipped my toe in the world of babysitting circles. Believe me, it's a whole new world out there and I soon found it ain't pretty.
Mum-of-three Jilly is just about recovered from the terror of her first encounter with what is frankly the cut-throat arena of such circles. Yet it all seemed so simple at the start.
"I joined my street's group, whereby you exchanged milk bottle tops for one hour's worth of babysitting," she recalls. "You were given a "joining present" of ten tops and a list of the participating mums. But I soon found there were all sorts of caveats, which made the system virtually impossible to operate."
A terrifying list of rules accompanied Jilly's tops, stipulating it was double time after midnight, more than two children in a household meant you had to give two tops per hour and if you were suddenly unable to fulfil your babysitting duty you had to send a suitable replacement. I suspect your husband, unless CRB checked and not on the lager, would not be deemed "suitable".
My own experiences with my local babysitting circle proved no better. Whereas when my mum came to do the deed I would float happily out of the door leaving a trail of chaos, I suddenly found myself frantically tidying up, making sure the fridge was not harbouring any death-inducing moulds and checking the loo was sparkling. It became just another stress-inducing exercise.
And babysitting in friend's houses was equally dire. I'd arrive in a mad late panic, having left home shouting at my husband to sort our own children out, and walk into a house where my friend's children were still up.
Now, I'm no Mother Nature. It's bad enough putting your own off-spring to bed, but there's something doubly insulting about having to put someone else's children away at the end of the day – that is, once you've wrestled them for the remote control.
However, if you do have to resort to joining a babysitting circle in order to pep up your flagging social life, here's our list of top ten tips.
If a babysitter is coming to you:
1. Do show her how to put the central heating back on after it automatically switches off at 10.30pm. There's nothing worse than coming home to find your babysitter jogging on the spot to keep warm.
2. Do leave her a selection of decent snacks and drinks. Otherwise she may have to resort to eating handfuls of coco-pops from your larder – not attractive.
3. Do ensure your children are at least bathed, fed and in their bed-clothes and have had a story read to them. Then all she has to do is pop them into bed - job done.
4. Do arrange to lock your dog in another room if needs be – your babysitter hasn't come along for the evening only for your dog to try and have sex with her leg. Ditto the cat.
5. Don't stumble in, completely trashed at 2am, and ask if she wants to stay and have "one for the road". She doesn't.
And if you're the babysitter:
1. Agree beforehand what time your friend will be back home.
2. Under no circumstances take it as an opportunity to rifle through her wardrobe or bank statements.
3. However tempting it may be, now is not the evening to call your sister in Australia and have a good old chinwag. Ditto hitting the drinks cupboard.
4. Unless they've set fire to the curtains, smile sweetly and reassure your friend that her children were little darlings. No one wants to come home at the end of a great evening to be told their children ran riot around the house.
5. Remember it's against the law to smack someone else's child – however tempted you may be when you find them setting fire to the curtains.
More:Advice And Health
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