When you're a parent, any time out with friends is a welcomed and unusual treat. Besides paying for the movie tickets or the slices of pizza, the cost of babysitting is factored into the total bill for the night.
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While recently out with another couple, the topic of babysitting came up: Who was watching the kids, etc. It seemed one of their teenage daughters had a complete breakdown when she was told she had to watch her siblings so her parents could go out.
Apparently, she also had plans and was beside herself at the prospect of canceling. Like her mom and dad, her social life was important as well.
I explained that our teen also had plans but that she was told she couldn't go, as she was babysitting that night. The other mom was perplexed, wondering if I had just put my foot down, was nasty about it and said, "That's life — you're watching your siblings."
"No," I said. "I pay my kids to babysit." Once it is treated like any other job for which they are compensated, I said, then that's the way the kids see it. They're not watching their siblings – they're working. There is compensatory payment for a job well done. In addition, there's no negotiating, no back and forth, and no tears. Turning down a night with friends at the frozen yogurt shop is no longer seen as a personal sacrifice by a teenage martyr. Instead, it's just a work night.
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I have had this conversation numerous times with other parents, all of whom were equally stunned at my approach to babysitting. They argue that forcing their kids to babysit is how their children contribute to the home. Everyone has to do something to make the household run and facilitating a night out for the parents is how the children give back to the familial society. And frankly, some continue, that kids need to care for their parents, too. Every home, it seems, is like its own little kibbutz.
I was raised by parents who worked for non-for-profit organizations, and who gave of themselves generously to the community out of the belief that we are all responsible for each other. My mother, however, had once commented to me that kids don't ask to be born — and that line has stuck with me for years. They do not enter into this society willingly but rather, they are sort of drafted. And as such, I look at certain situations differently.
Yes: My kids all have different household chores that contribute to the familial "cooperative" in which we live. Clearing the table, loading the dishwasher, bringing down the laundry and taking out the garbage are all responsibilities that they hold, depending on their age. But there are also rewards given for completed work, because doing something simply for the greater good is a concept not completely accepted by adults, let alone children.
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What isn't fair, Cunha wrote, "is asking children to think and behave like adults before they have the mental ability to do so." And she's right. Is it fair for Mommy and Daddy to go out every once in a while and have fun? Absolutely. But is it fair to ask kids to make that happen out of the goodness of their hearts? I'm not so sure.
So, I pay my kids to babysit. Their time is rewarded, they learn that their time is valued and valuable, and appreciate being treated with respect. We believe we are instilling good work ethics and are teaching the importance of personal responsibility — something liberalism has pushed to the side. And I applaud them when, like any other true employee, they "fight for fairness", trying to negotiate for themselves a better deal. Those are skills we are proud of as well.
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Feel free to morally object to our practices if it offends your parenting philosophies. But the next time your teenager has a hissy fit when you go out with friends, you know where to find me.