I have always made it abundantly clear, I don't babysit other people's children.
"Why?" I have been asked a hundred times, "But I thought you love children."
Yes, I do. But I still don't babysit. Here's why:
Two of my five children were born during my university years, and I am eternally grateful to the University of Manchester for providing excellent creche facility for its students. The creche was on Oxford Road, right in the middle of where I attended my lectures and lab classes, and I was able to drop in a few times a day to breastfeed and cuddle my babies. It was a busy, happy place staffed by cheerful young people and my babies were very well cared for.
We are also blessed that we have a large but close extended family. My brother's house was less than 100m from mine; my parents house was even closer. Thus, our kids were in and out of each other's houses, and we never needed paid babysitters.
When we moved to Asia, that all changed. Suddenly, we acquired a live-in helper in lieu of family support. But we never left 4-year-old Georgina with the helper. We did once, just to run down the road to pick up some takeaway food. She called my parents up immediately. And then the other set of grandparents.
"They have left me all alone at home with the maid," she said tragically, as if her parents had committed the largest crime in the history of parenting.
We finally found a babysitter for Georgina when she was about 12 whom she was happy to be left with. It was a teacher at the school, who came from my hometown. By then, we had known him for good eight years and he had been a regular in our house and also joined our many family holidays.
It was lovely to have a babysitter at long last, our first since leaving the UK! Gary was a maths teacher and he was young enough for G to relate to. They would sit on the sofa and fold complex mathematical shapes which had nothing to do with a 12-year-old exam questions, but in later years, those deep understanding of shapes made her fully conversant in complex theoretical physics - she challenged me that gravity does not exist, that what we experience is a consequence of geometry, and provided very coherent reasonings. Thank you, Gary.
She learned so many things from her babysitter Gary. Up till today, she still looks out for geocaches that Gary had introduced us to. He had brought such richness into G's life. I would love to give the same to other children, but the reality is, it is not that simple.
The fact is, we underestimate RELATIONSHIPS. Young children do not instantly feel comfortable or trust perfect strangers, and neither should they. They need to get comfortable with a person first, to develop a relationship, and that is an organic process that takes time.
Imagine you are a tiny child. Your mum shoves you into the face of a scary-looking madwoman and say, "You are going to have fun with aunty!" What would you do? Scream or hide your face behind your mum, right? Exactly.
And imagine how much more terrifying / awful it would be if the scary aunty puts on a fake smile, reaches out for you and say, "Let's go and make some bombs."
Photo: my youngest child and her friends - they painted themselves blue, making a mess of the whole house. Oh, and a few of them had bad reaction to the paint. Would you trust your kids with me?
Note: I recently babysat an 16-month-old baby for a dear friend. The baby had been staying in my house for the past couple of days, and he knew the lay of the land by then. He was also familiar enough with me by then not to be fearful. We had a great time x
First published in www.RaisingHappyStrongKids.com