We’ve never had to pay an actual sitter. Shocking, I know. Our sons are 9 and 11 and, for their entire childhoods, when we’ve needed a date night or decided to go away for a weekend, we’ve had family members available to watch them. This situation was partly by design and partly the result of fate. When we were in our early 30s and decided we might like to have children, we moved back to Denver to be closer to family. This wasn’t as much a babysitting ploy as a desire to have our children grow up near their relatives. Both Steve and I grew up at a distance from our aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins, and we knew we wanted something different for our children. In 1999, when we first moved to Denver, we had three sisters and one grandmother nearby for babysitting. After Joe was born, Steve’s parents did what they said they would never do; they bought a second home here so they could see their grandson more often. So, soon we were up to three aunts, a grandmother, and a set of grandparents. Five years later, my father moved back to Denver and we both had our entire families within 30 minutes of our home. And, as fate would have it, no one else in our family has children, so our boys are the only grandchildren and the only nephews. People actually want to spend time with them. Yeah. I don’t get it either.
Now, before you go off on how lucky we are to be in this situation, how lucky we are not to have to pay someone to watch our children, I need to tell you what it costs to have your family members watch your children. It’s not a monetary cost. But, trust me, there’s a price for their services. For example, when family members watch your children, your home is an open book. They have unlimited access to your dirty bathrooms and your unorganized pantry and they’re family and working for free. So they’re not afraid to help themselves and to snoop around. You come home from a relaxing evening out and are greeted with “You have more hair spray than Donald Trump” or “I’m going to borrow all three seasons of Arrested Development that you own on DVD.” And, you can’t mind because they just spent three hours with your boisterous, exhausting children with ADHD so you didn’t have to. As much as you’d like to protest, you’re powerless.
Another hidden cost is extracted through paybacks. Your sister comes over and spends eight hours with your kids so you can go on a long bike ride with some friends. You have a great time and find you are actually excited at the prospect of sitting around watching Madagascar for the 99th time with your kids now that you’re home. And, just as you’re thanking her for babysitting, she casually mentions that she could use some help with a little project she needs to complete at her house next weekend. Oh…and you might want to bring that steamer you own because the wallpaper you’ll be helping to remove is really stuck on there. Well, there is no getting out of that situation. She helped you out. She expects reciprocity. You must comply.
Tonight I discovered the highest cost of all. My sister and brother-in-law came to spend two and a half hours with Joe and Luke so we could grab some wine and tapas at a local wine bar. We had a magnificent time talking about our hobbies and many things other than our children. The boys were thrilled to show their uncle their new Skylanders characters and do battle. When we returned home, we discovered that our children had been loaded with candy and taught some new songs. Thanks for that, Uncle Chris. Tonight as I drift off to sleep I will be singing a never-ending tune about a moose that stood around with one hoof on the ground. Not sure exactly which second-rate summer camp taught you that ditty, but I’m ever so grateful. Could you please teach the boys the diarrhea song next? That would be awesome.
Oh. All right. I jest. Of course we’re eternally grateful for the years of dedicated service our families have put into being the best aunts, uncles, and grandparents in the world and caring for our boys with the same love and devotion we would. (Scratch that…they’ve probably cared for our sons with more love and devotion than we have…or at least more patience.) I can’t imagine how many thousands of dollars we’ve saved in childcare over the past 11 years, not to mention how fortunate we’ve been to know that our boys were actually safely engaged in play rather than placated by a television for four hours while we paid some random teenage girl to talk incessantly on her cell phone to her boyfriend. Still, when the boys are old enough to stay alone for a couple hours on occasion next year, I’m probably not going to miss the guilt I feel when I have to find someone, anyone, to hang with our boys so we can grab dinner. It will be nice to be free of that monkey. Come to think of it, I’m definitely not going to miss the moose from that song either.