How’s all that simultaneous “working from home” and “parenting” going for you? Wouldn’t it be great if you could just, you know, get a little help from a babysitter now and then? We don’t even care about date nights anymore; it would just be nice to not have to be constantly juggling two very different roles at any given moment.
Here is a solution that isn’t great but it’s something—file it into the “better than nothing” folder, which is pretty jam-packed these days. And that semi-helpful advice is: Hire a “virtual” babysitter.
A virtual babysitter is not as good as the real thing, the same way a virtual happy hour and a virtual birthday party and a virtual anything isn’t as good as the real deal. But if these past couple of months haven’t been about lowering one’s standards over and over, then I’m definitely doing this wrong.
A virtual babysitter cannot free you up to go out to dinner (which you can’t do anyway) or run errands (which you should be limiting as much as possible). But they might be able to interact with and distract a young child long enough for you to get something done. They can pass a little of the time, they can be a different person for a child to interact with, and if they’re good, they could actually keep kids more entertained than you might imagine.
Set realistic expectations
Before you hire a virtual babysitter, it will help to not go in with unrealistic expectations. This is not a true, full-time childcare solution. Discuss with the sitter ahead of time which types of activities are most likely to hold your child’s attention; Sittercity offers us a good list of recommendations for activities that virtual babysitters can try, including playing games like Simon Says and I Spy, reading a book together, hosting a pretend cooking show or even helping them with their homework. Ease in by trying it out for an hour or two at a time to see how it goes.
Just remember that if your child is young enough that they normally need constant supervision, you’ll still need to stay nearby while they’re interacting with their virtual babysitter because that person won’t be able to keep them physically safe.
Find the right fit
Finding the right virtual babysitter is just as key as finding the right in-person caregiver—maybe even more so because they’ve really got to be constantly interacting and connecting with your child. Think about who in their life might slide nicely into this role, whether it be a babysitter you’ve hired in the past, a favourite aunt, a neighbour, a coach, or even their daycare or preschool teacher.
Lots of people are out of work right now and if they’re not parenting their own kids all day long (or they have some flexibility in their schedule and want to earn a little extra money), this could be a good option for everyone. You might also think about the tweens and teens in your life who are at home, cut off from their friends and feeling the boredom settling in. Your niece or nephew or a friend’s older child might have fun “babysitting” a little one and earning some extra video game money.
You could also hire a “professional”
If everyone in your life is Equally As Busy As You, many companies that match babysitters with parents, such as Care.com, Sittercity and UrbanSitter, are now encouraging members to request and perform virtual babysitting as needed. Because there is not an option on these sites (at least not yet) to specifically select a “virtual” sitter, prospective caretakers can add “virtual caregiving” to their bios to indicate they’re willing to provide that service and parents can message potential sitters to ask if that’s something they’d be willing to try.
Also, because there is not a separate approval process for virtual sitters, a representative at Care.com told me that they will have gone through the same background and safety checks that are already in place to become a regular approved caregiver on the site.