I’m A Helicopter Babysitter

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helicopter parentsI’ve babysat and nannied for parents of all stripes. From the humorless parents to the super attentive first-timers in parenting to the SAT prep in the third grade long before the term of “Tiger Mom,” I’ve cared for children from a slew of parenting practices. Like most childcare providers, I make a sincere effort to adapt to the rules, homes, and tactics of each individual family. But from the moment I’m interviewed and the house keys are exchanged, I’m always very clear about exactly one thing. I’m a helicopter sitter.

“Helicopter” certainly carries a negative connotation with regards to parenting, but in my childcare experience, there is no such thing as being a “too attentive” sitter. Even though parents are generally willing to cut each other some slack with regards to letting the kids run free, they tend to expect a whole other grade of vigilance from their childcare providers.

I don’t have children of my own and so I don’t really inhabit any sort of parenting practice yet. But when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of other people’s kids — especially for money — there really is no other tactic that I can professionally employ. How lax can you really be as the sitter when entrusted with other people’s children for a living? There are very few corners you can cut as a childcare provider before being labeled a “dead beat nanny.”

I hover right there with the rest of the helicopters, following children as they scale jungle gyms and suggesting that they perhaps go a little lower on the swings.  If they’re going to go out in public with me, that means holding onto me at all times. Crossing streets with held hands is a given, of course, but no, they’re not allowed to stray from me in a store. No, they’re not allowed to go to a public restroom alone. And in multi-leveled homes in which they want to run off to a different playroom, there is no way they can go off by themselves. I’m certainly going with them, not only to play, but also to fulfill my responsibilities as the sole watcher of those kids. If for whatever reason they choose to swallow a block in the playroom, I need to be there, regardless of whatever mommy or daddy let them do on their watch.

Even in instances in which two siblings would prefer to play alone, you better believe I have one eye on my book and another on those kids. When I put them to bed, I absolutely check on them every hour or so until the parents come home. Sometimes, when the hum of baby monitor gets too quiet, I’ll go to their rooms and pull back their covers a bit just to make sure that they’re still breathing.

Of course, I’m paranoid. As I should be. I’m being paid to watch the babies of others.

Mothers and fathers are throwing down good money to return to not only to living breathing kids, but also ones free of scrapes, bruises, and illness. While I can only prevent so much, I take it as my personal response to return that child in the exact condition that I found him or her in, which means if they cough twice, I’m making a note of it. If they take a tumble on the playground, it’s absolutely my fault that I wasn’t there to prevent it. Kids surely are very adept at finding ways to hurt themselves, but as the paid professional on the clock, any band aids I have to apply later are strikes against me.

If I was the parent, I doubt I would hover as much as I’m a big advocate of parents, particularly mothers, giving themselves some room to make an error or two. But I’m explicitly not the parent of these kids, which makes my allowed margin for error much smaller.

Before children are left in my care, I want a full list of all medical conditions, past and present. I want to know what surgeries they’ve had, their allergies, what medicines are available in the cabinet, and who their doctor is. When I show up to take duty, I want to know where the closest hospital is and who you want me to call to call on the way to the emergency room. If I sense that something is wrong or off with the child, you’ll absolutely be hearing from me throughout the night.

For the most part, concern amounts to nothing. Like the toddler girl I once cared for who awoke from a nightmare to extremely shallow and panicked breathing. For a distinct moment, I was certain that she was having an asthma attack, a possibility that had me instantly to the phone. Or like the baby boy who, although normally a quiet kid, began screaming through the night. I knew from the moment that I picked him up that something was wrong, that his squeals weren’t just the sign of colicky baby but also of severe pain. My mind spun with scenarios of hemorrhaging or intestinal blockages as I dialed his father who soon raced back to Brooklyn. It turned out to only be mere teething, but the moment I sensed that he was in intense pain, I didn’t want to take any chances. Because what responsible sitter is really in a position to take any?

(photo: Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock)