Should we pay friends to babysit?
July 18, 2014 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Mrs. Zooropa and I have a 17-month old, and are finally having a date night tomorrow night. We are new to the area, and have few friends and no family nearby. A co-worker of mine and his wife have agreed to babysit for us. Here's our quandary: do we pay them?

We don't know Mr. and Mrs. Babysitter extraordinarily well, but we have been with them in a social situation and knew they're good people. We are all roughly the same age (mid and late 30s). We want to be better friends with them going forward, so we don't want this to be awkward. That's why we haven't just asked them directly.

So what do we do?

A. Pay them like we would any other babysitter.

B. Get them a gift card for a night out at a local restaurant.

C. Do nothing.

We do plan to leave them some money to get takeout or something delivered for dinner. And of course, we will have snacks on hand. But we don't know if we are supposed to pay them money or not. We don't want to offend, either, as we would like to be better friends going forward (and I work with the husband on a daily basis).

posted by zooropa to Human Relations (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What was the context in which they agreed to babysit?
posted by arnicae at 9:01 PM on July 18, 2014

Gift card and cash to get delivery food while babysitting.
posted by jbenben at 9:03 PM on July 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

I would say a gift card (restaurant or otherwise) is a good way to go, and maybe give them a bottle of wine/liquor if they drink when you return & they're headed home. I would not explicitly offer money.

These things feel more like a gift of appreciation than payment. Cash can feel like an impersonal transaction.
posted by darksong at 9:03 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Arnicae > Context: I asked my coworker if he and his wife would be interested. He said yes and so did his wife.
posted by zooropa at 9:03 PM on July 18, 2014

Since money hasn't been discussed up to this point, I think it is safe to assume that they are not outright expecting payment for their services. But the nice thing to do would be to provide them with a gift certificate or nice bottle of wine. I agree that giving cash could be weird between friends, but I nice gesture to show you appreciate them babysitting is totally appropriate.
posted by Nightman at 9:04 PM on July 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Do they have kids? Maybe a trade?
posted by pearlybob at 9:11 PM on July 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

You asked them. They didn't offer unsolicited. Pay them.
posted by greta simone at 9:15 PM on July 18, 2014 [39 favorites]

Response by poster: Pearlybob > They do not have kids.
posted by zooropa at 9:19 PM on July 18, 2014

I'd be prepared to pay because it's only fair and definitely offer to do so upon your return. (I'm happy to see that teen babysitters are making way more than the $5/hour I was earning back in the late 90s, although that amount felt fine at the time.) Chances are they'll decline your offer and that'd be a perfect time to follow-up with a note and gift card (like subtly in a sealed envelope on Monday at work) for a meal out as a thank you. That said, I'd listen to your gut and everyone here has raised good points for the various possibilities.
posted by smorgasbord at 9:21 PM on July 18, 2014

(I say that as someone who matches your age demographic and does not have children but genuinely enjoys being around my friends' kids. Assuming it was an occasional thing, like once or twice a month, I would never expect or accept direct payment; however, a gift card would be awesome because it's somewhat in-kind and acknowledges my efforts.)

And, of course, how good of you and your wife for being so considerate and kind of your co-worker to offer. I hope you two have a great date and that this is the start of a good friendship!
posted by smorgasbord at 9:29 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't say anything, but I'd be a little miffed if I didn't get a little something. It's not about payment for services but showing appreciation.
posted by Aranquis at 9:30 PM on July 18, 2014 [7 favorites]

Cash for delivery while sitting and a bottle of wine.
posted by 724A at 9:34 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah, a Guess / Ask Culture question, in which neither party wants to ask.

My recommendation for a long evening out is money for takeout, a gift card to something that they like (you work with one of them - do you know a restaurant or a spa that they enjoy? a gift card for that) and a bottle of wine.
posted by seawallrunner at 9:45 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Since money hasn't been discussed up to this point, I think it is safe to assume that they are not outright expecting payment for their services."

I don't think that's a safe assumption based on the absence of discussion. If you asked a teenager to babysit and had neglected to ask their rates before they showed up, you'd still assume you were paying them, right? Obviously these are not teenagers, so it's a little different, but I think the potential awkwardness is greater if they are expecting to be paid and you don't offer them money than if they see it as a favor and you offer money (and allow them to decline.) I think offering money and then giving them a gift if they decline the money is appropriate.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:58 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think it depends a lot on circumstances. If my wife and I volunteered to babysit for friends/acquaintances, we wouldn't expect anything in return, but we make decent money and ordering food out (if we did that, instead of bringing stuff to reheat) wouldn't be a burden. A gift card or bottle of wine would be nice, but since we know that families with young kids who just moved to the area might not have a lot of extra cash, we wouldn't expect it.

Reciprocating in some fashion would be good, but it could involve drinks after work some time (obviously with another babysitter), or inviting them over for a BBQ or something.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:08 PM on July 18, 2014

I would find money weird and a bottle of wine (or equivalent) unnecessary but excellent.

Your main obligation is just to not take them for granted, and you're basically doing that by asking this qn, so just give them something and don't fret about it. Enjoy your night out!
posted by Sebmojo at 10:24 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You said "would you be interested in babysitting for us?" not "could you babysit for us?" ? It sounds like you were offering them a job, not asking for a favor. It sounds like you were offering them something. If this was the wording then you should pay them. In addition to the fact that they did not offer unsolicited, and it doesn't sound like you know them well at all. I don't think paying them will have any harm on your future relationship either. Also, if things become more casual in the future paying them now is not going to prevent that. Now the appropriate thing is to pay.
posted by Blitz at 11:05 PM on July 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

My gut feeling is that payments (your option A) go to people you specifically hire to perform a service, and gifts go to people who perform a service as a favour to you (your option B).

In this case I'd go with the gift - paying a co-worker might also have a weird subtext of them needing some extra money from you in order to get by.

And whether you're hiring a babysitter or someone volunteers to do the job, you should make sure that it doesn't cost them money, so you should indeed provide food or compensation for a meal.
posted by rjs at 11:53 PM on July 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Since you specifically asked them to babysit vs him volunteering; an offer of payment shouldn't offend. Just have it counted and ready when you return home to not make it awkward. They may accept or they may decline it, either would be perfectly fine, but I think making the gesture shows that you do not wish to take advantage of them and respect their time.

If your child attends day care, you might ask the teacher if they know of any staff willing to babysit.
posted by MuckWeh at 11:55 PM on July 18, 2014

If that's the exact wording you used, then yes, you're in a pickle!

"Would you be interested" implies money. "Would you be willing" or anything involving the word "favour" means thank-you gift. So I think you do need to offer money, even if they'll probably refuse it, because the alternative is that you leave them feeling taken advantage of.
posted by Georgina at 12:24 AM on July 19, 2014

My experience of these situations is that you offer money and they don't take it. Make sure they have dinner available and don't need for anything while they're in your house.
posted by goo at 1:02 AM on July 19, 2014

I think it may also depend on their socio-economic status. If they are quite middle-class wealthy then they would not expect to be paid. Leaving them a decent bottle of wine would be appropriate I think. (if they drink) if they don't drink - some quality chocolates or something.

My wife and I have done babysitting for friends that have a child (and we have no children) and we would have found it weird to be paid for it. And the usual pay would have been a pittance to anyone with a real job anyway. Its sort of insulting to insinuate that they would need the money.
posted by mary8nne at 1:42 AM on July 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

I would leave $20 or so under a bottle of wine on the counter when you leave and say something about "In case you wanted to get pizza etc.." to leave it up to them to decide if they want to take the money or not.
posted by mary8nne at 1:45 AM on July 19, 2014

Maybe I am hopelessly out of touch with social norms, but would it really be horribly offensive to offer to pay them so that they have the opportunity to wave it off and then be prepared with gift card/wine/whatever as a backup gift? It seems to me that the alternative -- that they expect to be paid and are not -- is the one offense here that you can't really recover from.
posted by tiger tiger at 2:00 AM on July 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would not assume that not having talked about payment means that payment isn't expected. I think you'll be better off paying them, or at least trying to (should they refuse), than you will not trying to. I think there's more chance of offence at lack of payment than offering payment, all things being equal. To my mind, offering to pay means you at least thought about it, where not offering payment means you're expecting them to do it for free. Were I on the receiving end of that, I'd be annoyed at the assumption that my time wasn't worth anything more than I would at the potential faux pas of someone offering payment.

Also, if they're the unforgiving sort who are offended at you trying to ensure that you do right by them, you're better off finding that out sooner rather than later.
posted by Solomon at 3:39 AM on July 19, 2014

It might be awkward at first, but you really need to ask them. Be upfront and self-deprecating. Say "hey coworker, we have no idea how babysitters work, we're so new at this, and we want to compensate you for watching our toddler, but we don't know how much is fair, please help us!" It's a conversation you only need to have once and believe me, you WANT a reliable babysitter. If you don't pay them and they expect something, they will never babysit for you again. If you blindly offer them cash when they wanted to give you a favor, they will be offended. Just ask!
posted by katypickle at 5:10 AM on July 19, 2014 [23 favorites]

I like katypickle's suggestion, once it's determined, go with it. Do stock up either beer or wine for while they're sitting, and offer to order in their dinner before you go out. "We want to get your dinner tonight. Gino's makes an excellent pizza, there's also Thai or Chinese, what's your pleasure?"

If it was me, I'd opt for Chinese and drink your Coke Zero, and that would be the end of it, no need of a payment. Some of us like playing with babies and we like doing a solid for our friends.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

snickerdoodle's question is a great way of getting around figuring out if they are expecting payment. It allows them to give you a number if they want to be paid, but also say "No, don't worry about it, we are happy to do it for free."

From my point of view, as an adult, I don't expect to get paid for babysitting unless it's some regular thing (like daycare/nanny), but I would expect to pay any teenage babysitters. If I say I'll watch someone's kids, I am not expecting payment. But I have kids, so mostly we just trade babysitting for each other.
posted by katers890 at 5:20 AM on July 19, 2014

I dogsit some close friends' dogs when they are out of town. While they're away, I pack a small bag and live in their house for the duration. I love their dogs and their farm and it's almost like a mini-vacation for me, but I accept their payment. I do this in order to keep our friendship level. Because money has changed hands, it's not a favor and neither of us feels put-upon.

I would make a sincere effort to pay your babysitter. If they have objections, hear them out and act appropriately but go into this with the expectation... no, hope that they will accept some money.
posted by workerant at 5:40 AM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

We usually have friends who offer to babysit (and usually don't have kids) over for dinner first, that way we can feed the child and introduce them to the friends and create a relaxed setting. We then provide snacks and entertainment for the friends while we are gone and if they went out of their way we might get them a bottle of wine.

If they have kids then we usually forgo dinner/wine, as there is usually a reciprocal offer of babysitting, we we still make sure to provide snacks and entertainment, and we don't keep score.
posted by furtive at 9:46 AM on July 19, 2014

I will happily babysit for relatives and children of very close friends for free. Basically if I frequently hang out with the parents plus their kids, I am happy to hang out with the kids for free.

If a coworker asked me to babysit, I would absolutely expect some kind of compensation (money for delivery + wine is fine) unless we were trading childcare or it was an emergency (someone is in the hospital/jail, can you watch the kids for a few hours). If someone asked me to watch their kids and didn't offer me some kind of payment, I would be...pretty irritated.

(Possibly this is because I work with children professionally. I am a really good babysitter and I work with kids all day, so yeah, if a coworker wants me to do that, they need to pay me. If all you're expecting is that the other couple watches TV and makes sure no one dies, that's a different scenario I guess.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 11:32 AM on July 19, 2014

It's not complicated. Just outright ask what they consider fair compensation.

Who knows? Maybe they'll just want you to water plants the next time they go on vacation. Or maybe they'll say, "No way! Don't even think of paying us!" in case next time you go out after work, you buy coworkers' drinks or something. Or you leave a bottle of wine as others have suggested and offer to return the favor some other time.
posted by zizzle at 12:05 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pay them. If they refuse payment, then next time be ready with a bottle of wine, loaf of bread, and jar of nutella--payment of the gods.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:16 PM on July 19, 2014

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