Mix me up a Cinzano and lemonade, it’s like the 70s never went away
Not too long ago we had friends to stay. We’d bought in the services of a neighbour’s daughter to babysit while we went out for a few drinks, paying £5 an hour (the going rate around here).
Rather unfairly we ambushed her on the way in, letting her know that (ahem) there would in fact be four children upstairs, only one of whom was asleep. She took it in her stride, and we nipped off to the pub.
No texts, no calls. When we got back, it transpired that one of our minors had ‘had a little accident’. Not a ‘call 999’ accident, but the sort of accident you have in your pyjama trousers.
And I’d query the term ‘little’: this took a roll of crumpled up kitchen roll and a spoon to sort out, plus a follow-up session with 1001 Carpet Cleaner to dispel the suspicion that maybe a gobbet of ‘accident’ had escaped our sitter’s attention.
And what of our sitter, who I’d warrant had never had to confront such an atrocity before? Entirely unfazed. Needless to say we bunged her some guilt money, and released her from duties pronto. I’m guessing she’ll be busy next time we ask.
Put your money away
You might well say that this fine example of today’s youth went above and beyond the call of duty. But in truth our babysitter wouldn’t normally get a bean for her trials, because we’re signed up with MyNightOff, an online babysitting circle. And we can’t recommend it enough.
If your childhood didn’t entail a stream of random women coming round to sit – from the fragrant ones you wished were your own mother, to the whiskery specimens you’d rush to your room to avoid – babysitting circles might be a mystery. In essence it’s a group of mums that sit for each other, trading tokens each time depending on the duration of the sit and other factors.
In theory it means that whenever you want a night on the tiles, there are a dozen potential sitters and you won’t start the night £30 poorer; but to keep the fun flowing, you’ll need to pay your dues by sitting for another set of kids in the group. It works far better than reciprocal arrangements with friends, that rely on your diaries being in sync (and preclude you going out together).
My parents used to trade photocopied tokens, others rock an Excel spreadsheet. Different groups have different rules: all kids must be in bed, double points after 11pm or on Saturdays, no smoking cigars over the baby’s cot, and so on. But an online site takes away the considerable grief of phoning, emailing or texting round, and gives everyone a fair crack at new points-earning opportunities.
No frills, no ads: it just works
MyNightOff is one of a couple of alternatives, such as Mums Circle; this includes opt-in premium rate text alerts, which is the kind of thing that can send people running a mile. But I like MyNightOff: it’s admirably lo-fi, set up by dads to be functional and nothing more, and completely ad-free. You set up a new booking online, and the site sends emails to everyone. The first to accept gets the booking. You can set your own agreed credit policy, give extra tokens (perhaps if your sitter had to deal with something particularly horrific), and attach iCal files to email invites so they drop into the sitter’s diary.
Obviously this set-up is only needed if you don’t have doting grandparents on tap, and only works if there are like-minded families nearby. If you’re the type who can’t imagine leaving your child in the care of another until they’re old enough to vote, this aint for you. Single parents will undoubtedly find it harder, although some do make it work (especially when children are very young and therefore portable, or older and can stay up late). But the benefit to you – and your partner – are enormous. It’s not just financial, either: the chance to have a free or very low cost evening out is itself an encouragement to spend some time together. Alone.
As an aside, another oddity is that dads are mostly absent from the babysitting scene: our circle, like others I know, is run on the understanding that it’ll be the mum who turns up.
In the 1970s, that was probably prudent, with many fathers not knowing which end to wipe. Today, the reason often given is that the mums are likely to know the children better, if they wake up. But I can’t help detecting another, more sinister fear at work here about dads and other people’s children. That makes me a bit sad and a bit angry, and not just because there’s nothing I like more than the chance to trough someone else’s snacks and watch TV.
But that’s the reality, and you shouldn’t let it get in the way of the chance to get out and enjoy yourselves without a hefty financial penalty. So whether you set it up directly or need to motivate your OH to do the same, get a circle set up, and bring a little balance back to your life.
How often do you get to go out without the kids? Are you in a circle, and how does it work for you? If not, why not? Let us know in the comments.