I didn’t think choosing a babysitter for the first time would be like this

The idea of leaving him with someone I don’t know – someone I found on an app, or the child of an (albeit trusted) colleague or neighbour – is a pretty big leap

Chloe Hamilton
Saturday 15 April 2023 17:26 BST
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When I was 16, my mum’s colleague – who I’d met only a handful of times – asked me to babysit his eight-week-old baby. Keen to earn some money to fund my rampant Topshop habit, I accepted, without giving too much thought to what the job would actually entail.

It never occurred to me, as my mum dropped me off at their house, that I may be required to change a dirty nappy or soothe a screaming newborn.

Fortunately, although my tiny charge did wake up while her parents were out, she was easily settled with cuddles on the sofa until they returned from… actually, I can’t remember where. Perhaps dinner, or the cinema, or a pub quiz, or (and now I have a baby of my own, I have my suspicions) maybe just a hotel room rented for the evening for some uninterrupted kip.

Sixteen years later and I’m the one searching for a babysitter. My son is 17 months old and has only ever been left with family members, close friends, or his childminder. But I’m loath to lean on well-meaning friends and family too often and his childminder, quite understandably, clocks off at 5pm.

Which has led me to wonder: where does one find a babysitter these days? And what is the "Gen Z" babysitting etiquette?

Of course, as this is 2023, babysitting has its own app. Multiple apps, in fact. One, Bubble, bills itself as “reliable, local childcare ready to help you reclaim your social life” while another, Sitters, says it can have a “childcare professional at your door in as little as 90 minutes”.

Such apps may be convenient for parents – scrolling through the list of vetted babysitters is a bit like a very tame Tinder, albeit with fees and first aid qualifications – but I can’t help but feel they lack the old-world charm of going analogue and asking a neighbour’s teenage offspring to pop round for a couple of hours in exchange for £5 an hour, a frozen pepperoni pizza, and the choicest Noughties romcoms on DVD.

That said, I’m not sure a Gen Z babysitter would be particularly impressed with such an offering. Research from December 2022, found Gen Z was the generation with the highest share of responding adults that do not plan to eat meat in 2023, with approximately 43 per cent saying they plan to go meat-free. Does Dr Oetker do a jackfruit option with vegan cheese? (Yes, actually).

I suspect, too, that my Gen Z babysitter may shun the Noughties romcoms readily available on my Netflix account and, instead, opt for YouTube or scroll TikTok. They’d definitely want my wifi password. And only £5 an hour? They would, understandably, scoff at that given the average hourly rate for babysitting in the UK these days is between £8 and £10.

And then, of course, there is the perhaps more pressing question of whether I’d trust a 17-year-old to care for my 17-month-old. Author Elizabeth Stone said that deciding to have a child is “to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body”. It’s a feeling I can relate to.

We’re only now beginning to wind down the breastfeeding, and two weeks ago was the first time I left him overnight – and that was with his own father. The idea of leaving him with someone I don’t know – someone I found on an app, or the child of an (albeit trusted) colleague or neighbour – is a pretty big leap.

But, oh, the temptation of a glass of wine with my partner out of the house and away from the cold, blue glare of the baby monitor. Maybe I could manage it. Maybe I could leave my heart outside of my body but sleeping soundly and safely upstairs while a friendly local teen scrolls Instagram and scoffs vegan chocolate downstairs.

Come to think of it, the eight-week-old baby I babysat when I was 16 is now 16 herself. I wonder if she’s partial to a Noughties romcom and a pepperoni pizza.

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