Editor's note: This post by Jan Francisco originally appeared on her website, In Defense of Women. It has been reprinted here with her permission.
This weekend, I tried a new approach to the guessing game of paying the baby sitter. I told them how much I was willing to pay for their help ahead of time, and I outlined what I expected to happen while I was gone. It was a take-it-or-leave-it approach, and it worked. But there was a little bit of eye-rolling when I stated that my price for three hours with two kids was $15. Apparently I am way below the curve of what people are paying in our neighborhood.
My position is that it is not a terribly hard job: I don’t expect them to be the mom. I expect them to watch a movie with my kids and feed them a little pre-made dinner. Probably almost exactly what they would be doing at home for free. If I could afford to pay them more, I would expect them to do more, like clean my house, make the dinner and do the dishes. But I know my budget, so I tell them that I don’t expect much extra and pray that it will go smoothly for them. If I had a new baby, I would pay extra for the inevitable emotional drain and possible sore muscles from carrying the baby. If I had really intense or difficult kids, I would pay them more because they would have earned more (and just to make sure they are willing to come back).
After the babysitter took my offer, because we are friends and I was interested, she and her brother started talking about what they get paid for other jobs. He said that he usually earns $30-40 each time he mows someone’s lawn. He was bewildered when a man in our ward said $20 was too much to pay for just mowing his lawn. Then he said that regular, non-LDS people pay $50 per time that he mows their lawn! FIFTY DOLLARS. I believe my brother charged $50 for a summer-long commitment of lawn mowing for each house on his route.
So the kids are saying, “This is so great! I am making so much money!” And the adults are saying, “Well, I guess if that is what people are paying, I had better stay competitive with what I pay, too.” And the price keeps inflating higher and higher. But what are the consequences?
First, I get a babysitter twice a year. I can’t afford it otherwise. Other moms feel the same way. So the teenagers are potentially losing out on steady work and the commitment of holding a regular baby-sitting job because the going rate is more than many families can afford. My friends and I get around that by simply swapping kids with each other, which is fantastic and cheap. So we aren’t the ones missing out in the situation — it's the teenager who could have some money more often, rather than lots of money occasionally.
And second, we are creating an unrealistic expectation for kids in what their time and energy is actually worth. When I was a kid, baby-sitting was a low-paying, under-age job, but at least we earned something until we were 16, and we could go out and get a grocery store or restaurant job and really start earning money. Now, we are inflating teenager’s wages for babysitting and yard work, and the minimum wage job at the grocery store down the street is not enticing at all. They don’t want to get a formal job for less money than they they are used to getting around the neighborhood. I had one teen tell me that he hated his pizza place job because “they treat me like a trained monkey. I think they want to work me to death.”
Yes, real jobs are hard and often crummy. But they are stepping stones to greater things. Experience is important when are applying for a better job than the one you currently have. If they don’t want to work at the pizza place in high school, and then they don’t want to work at a college job (because they don’t pay enough or it is not the kind of work they like), how are they going to get a job out of college with absolutely no experience? We complain about paying the mechanic or the plumber for their labor and yet we freely overpay these unskilled teenagers to their own detriment. And it is not just teenagers that have this inflated self-conception. Everyone does. (See comments below for further examples).
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