How can we establish good baby-sitter etiquette with our neighbors?

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Baby-sitting can be exhausting. Photo by evilerin, used under Creative Commons license.
We live in a townhouse and my significant other’s friends live next door. They have a four-year-old son who occasionally needs babysitting. I don’t have a problem babysitting him, but they’ll send us a text only a few hours before on the night that they need us. We don’t want to leave them stranded without a babysitter, but it’s not fair to us and I’d feel guilty saying no if I’m just going to stay in for the night.

How can I initiate a (polite) conversation about being respectful of us? All we would need is a week or so notice, but it never seems to happen. Do we start saying no? — Scout

How have you set up fair baby-sitting arrangements with neighbors or friends?

Comments on How can we establish good baby-sitter etiquette with our neighbors?

  1. How about you tell them that you don’t mind babysitting but it’s much easier if you have a week or so of notice? I don’t mean to state the obvious, but sometimes it’s hard to see the answer right in front of you. 😉 If they ask you to babysit and you want to have a quiet night at home without kids, that is totally acceptable. As a parent I would not be at all offended if I asked my friend to babysit and they said no because they needed quiet grownup time.

    Next time they ask you to babysit you can say something along the lines of, “No, unfortunately that doesn’t work tonight. We’re happy to babysit, but we really need more advance notice. If you let us know a week or so in advance, it would usually work out just fine!” To me, that doesn’t seem awkward.

    • Or, if you feel guilty saying no when you know you can do it, you can still use the request as an opening. “Yes, we can do it tonight, but we’ve started making more plans lately so we really need you guys to start letting us know further in advance (at least a week). We don’t want you to be counting on us only to find out we’re busy.”

      That way you aren’t leaving them in the lurch, but they’ve been forewarned that a) they need to give more notice and b) you might start saying no. Having established the pattern of always being available at a moments notice, I think it might be a little unfair to suddenly not be, but if you warn them that things need to change, then I can’t feel bad for them if they don’t adjust and end up inconvenienced.

      • “Yes, we can do it tonight, but we’ve started making more plans lately so we really need you guys to start letting us know further in advance (at least a week). We don’t want you to be counting on us only to find out we’re busy.”

        Perfect response!

  2. Inevitably, they are going to do this when you have evening plans that DON’T involve staying home alone all evening… Leaving them in a lurch. It is better to address this head-on now, than have a bigger issue later. You are not obligated to babysit for them whenever they want it; it is completely reasonable to ask that they schedule a babysitter several days in advance (which they would most likely have to do if they were using a non-relative/non-neighbor babysitter). I’ve dealt with similar situations in the past, and while I recommend bringing it up face-to-face and discussing it before taking other measures, in my experience the only thing that really works is NOT complying with the undesirable (and incredibly inconsiderate!) behavior. As in, after you’ve talked about it (again) and been as clear as you can possibly be, the next time they text you the same day they need a babysitter, you tell them sorry, you have plans already, and gee, it would have been great if they had asked you several days before like you asked them to. True fact: sitting at home and having quiet grown-up time to yourself is a completely valid plan, and something we all need from time to time.

  3. We had neighbor friends who did this all. the. time. If we were busy we just said no, but in our case we lived right upstairs from them (in a 2-flat) so often they would put the baby to bed and then ask us to just turn on the baby monitor that we had in our apartment to listen for any problems. We were there in case of emergency, but still got to have our adult quiet time. If you’re close enough for this to work, it’s a great way to be ‘on call’ for your friends without actually putting yourself out too much.

    • Not sure if I’ve misread this but are you saying your neighbours put a *baby* to bed alone in their home and expected that you guys upstairs no where near the baby is enough care? I can understand children alone for a while but a baby?!

      • A 2 Flat is like a 2 story house where each floor is a separate apartment. I’m currently sitting in our basement watching TV while my kids and baby sleep on the second floor which means I’m twice as far away from them as the poster was from the baby in question. This was a perfectly reasonable thing to do.

  4. obviously, a nice straightforward conversation would be ideal.

    but if that’s not working, i’ve got a few notes from having been in a similar situation. for one thing, it helps to know whether you would be leaving them in a lurch, or just inconveniencing them. this is the difference between “i have to work tonight” and “i really wanted to see this band.” in the first case, i really don’t want to leave my friends’ kids in a shitty situation. in the second, well, they can always stay home, which is not fun, but is fine – and if you clarify that lack of planning ahead is why it didn’t work out, might serve as a reminder in the future.

    also, note that babysitting for free is a favor, and the person *asking* for the favor, not the one granting it, is the one who needs to take responsibility for it working out. that means that sometimes i say “yes” to babysitting, but not “okay, i’ll drop everything.” maybe that means “sure, but we’d already planned to go to a movie, so he’ll need money for a ticket” or “sure, but we’d already planned dinner after work, so we can’t be home to babysit until 7:30 instead of 6 like you asked.”

    obviously “we don’t want to” is a perfectly valid reason as well, but having these other concrete things helps communicate the problem better.

    one other thing i’ve taken to doing with regard to any variety of social requests is treating my free time as an event. people seem to have a bizarre respect for calendars, and i find it helps *me* not over-commit, and helps other people respect my free time to really set aside “this saturday is me and my honey time” or such.

  5. Just because you are sitting at home doesn’t mean you aren’t doing important things! 🙂

    You could go with “Oh, I’m sorry, if I’d know a few days ago I could have but I’m already committed for tonight.” (in a sincere voice, of course)

  6. My sister in law and brother in law deal with this all the time from their next door neighbors only with a dog- its pretty much the same issue, they always text short notice “can you come over and let out Axel tonight” or “can Axel stay at your place tonight” they have learned to just not be so available all the time, so the neighbors don’t get in the habit of ‘using’ them (if they are intentionally or not). It will only take a few times of not always being readily available (and feel free to do whatever you want with your time!) for them to figure out you aren’t their babysitter hotline. Of course mentioning advance notice is appreciated shoudl help too.

  7. You could go the passive aggressive approach and say “If only you had asked me a few days ago cos we’ve made plans already”

    do it a few times and they should get the hint that you need notice.

  8. First of all, do not feel guilty for staying home and doing nothing. You can say you are busy and that is totally fine is are busy doing nothing. We all need our down time.

    As a professional babysitter I barely ever get a weeks notice for my jobs. But this is what I do for a living and you are just a friend. If they can not let you know a week ahead of time when they need you then they need to find themselves an actual babysitter and even then if they don’t give the sitter at least 24 hours notice it is unreasonable to expect he/she to be available.

  9. I just have to add that all though the previous comments covered that topic well, that it just REALLY IRKS ME that people foist their kids on other people like that. It gives parents who are more thoughtful a bad name.

  10. When we lived closer to home, my SIL used to text my husband fairly often with very little notice to ask if we could babysit. She usually sent these requests in a group text with her other brother. We seldom babysat on those occasions, because my BIL always said “yes” immediately, whereas my husband would reply that he had to check with me to see if we were free… and even if I didn’t have anything planned, BIL and his FW were already locked in to babysit.

    SIL actually made a few remarks that we never babysat (and therefore spent substantially less time with her children in comparison to their other aunts and uncles), and my husband shut her down pretty nicely by explaining that he couldn’t agree to babysit on both of our behalf without knowing our schedule (it’s one of the things he just can’t remember), and that if she wanted us to spend more time with the kids, she should ask us with more advance notice – at least enough to check with me before she asked BIL. I’m pretty sure after that she just went straight to BIL and his FW, because it was a guaranteed instant yes.

    You don’t have to justify saying no to last-minute babysitting requests. Unless it is a bona fide emergency (or they had another sitter lined up who backed out last minute), I think it’s more than reasonable to expect a little notice that the parents want to go out sans toddler – if they have enough forethought to book a reservation for dinner or seats at a movie in advance, they need to book the sitter in advance (or bring the kid).

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