We wonder how many folks ever think about this topic before taking the leap “to infinity and beyond” known as childrearing. If you want alone time, you’ll need a babysitter. Parents seem to take their children everywhere these days. So, how do couples manage to pull off that “let’s keep love alive by going on a romantic date” operation, if the rug rats are always in tow? How do overwhelmed mothers get much needed “me” time? And how do parents keep their once-much-valued friendships going when they rarely get together with their adult friends sans offspring?
In recent years, we have occasionally gone to dinner with a couple who have two boys; the oldest being sixteen the last time we got together. The kids always came along, even though we were never asked if that was okay with us. It was an unspoken understanding; this couple came with their kids. We were flummoxed as to how to deal with it without offending the parents. It’s not that these weren’t perfectly nice and sociable young men. It just that, well, you get our drift. Sometimes adults like to talk about topics that are not for kids. We wanted to get to know these people for who they are apart and aside from their offspring. So, the next time we planned dinner with them, Cheryl called days beforehand to request adult time. She approached the situation, she believes, super-diplomatically by explaining that she enjoyed their children and would simply like being with just the couple this time around, in order to get to know them better and to be able to talk openly. She surmised that because the oldest child was sixteen, our friends wouldn’t have to go through the expense and stress of locating a babysitter. The upshot was that the couple never verbally responded to Cheryl’s request, yet they did show up without their kids. The friendship dwindled after that point.
A few weeks ago, Cheryl reconnected with Mary, a friend of us both, who became a mom four years ago. At that point Mary drifted away from us. She explained that she gave up almost everything and everyone to parent her daughter, Jen, who demanded a lot of her time. Cheryl expressed understanding and suggested getting together sometime for an early dinner with Mary and her husband. Mary said that it would have to be very early as they must bring Jen, and the girl had to be in bed by 8 p.m. This mom also explained that she and her husband would never leave Jen with a babysitter due to their concern that she might be maltreated.
Exactly how realistic are such fears? Babysitters do commit crimes against kids. The FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), collects data from local law enforcement agencies on individual criminal incidents. We found some startling data on the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Bulletin, (OJJDP) web site for September 2001. These data, which were collected between 1995 and 1998, reveal the following:
• Babysitters are responsible for 4.2 percent of all offenses against children under age 6.
• Babysitters who commit sexual crimes outnumber babysitters who physically assault children in their care by two to one.
• Children ages 1-3 are most at risk for physical assault by babysitters, while those most at risk for sexual crimes are 3-5 years old.
• Males make up the majority of sex-offending babysitters reported to the police (77 percent), while female babysitters make up the majority of physical assaulters (64 percent).
• Babysitter assaults rarely result in death, but child victims of babysitter crimes known to police are more are likely to have suffered an injury.
It’s a tough world out there for parents and children who need either frequent or periodic help from a babysitter. According to the OJJDP Bulletin only 14 percent of the nation’s 18.5 million children under age 5 are regularly cared for by a nonrelated home care babysitter. Even so, most have needed babysitter services on occasion.
The Post World War II environment spurred some anxiety about care in the home for children as more mothers joined the workforce. In recent years, high profile cases such as Louise Woodward, the au pair from the Boston area who was convicted of killing 8-month-old Matthew Eappen, may have provoked additional fears for parents who make child care decisions.
Blogs on this issue abound. “Would you leave your child with a babysitter?” queries a mother on http://fiercemamas.blogspot.com/2010. She comes to the conclusion that because of her need for space, plus supporting her kids’ resilience in new situations like being with a babysitter, she will choose to leave her children “from time to time.”
Another mom has such a fear of leaving her son with a babysitter that she pleads for help via the blog “Moments of Motherhood.” “I am scared someone will take him, run away with him, or do something bad to him,” she says. Most of the parents who answered her agreed. Some mothers cut back on their own schooling to stay home with their little one. Most only leave their children with tried and trusted family members. Every answer clearly said, “Do your research,” on whomever you’re thinking of hiring to care for your child.
So here we are, in a day and age where many parents find themselves afraid to do the very things that support good parenting: grab time for themselves, have a rich social life with adult friends, and nurture their love life. The dangers associated with leaving their offspring with a nonrelative babysitter, and the very issues they bring up – those of child victimization versus relief for parents – are certainly additional reasons to think twice before making more of us.