Q. I try to rear my three girls to be responsible and I have let them babysit to learn about working and handling money.
They've been responsible, but the adults have not.
One daughter accepted a Friday night job from 6 to 11 p.m. for three children, 18 months to 6 years, who live down the street. She was expected to feed the children dinner, clean up after it, bathe them and put them to bed.
The parents called a half-hour after they were due home and said they'd be there in another half-hour. By 12:20 I went to the house and told my daughter to go home, since she had another sitting job at 8 a.m. I stood at the door until I could see that she was safely inside our house. The couple didn't come home until 12:45 and paid her three days later -- at $2.50 an hour.
I can understand being 15 to 30 minutes late, but two hours?
I now ask my daughters when they will be home, and I ask in front of the adult who has hired them. This seems to work, but one parent asked, "Why?"
Am I expecting too much? How can adults expect babysitters to be responsible if they can't be responsible themselves?
A. If you want your daughters to learn how to work and to handle money, you have to let them handle the problems that come with it.
Probably no job brings out the worst in employers more than babysitting, and it's almost always a surprise to the sitter and her mother. The loveliest people tell the sitter to "just run the vacuum when you have a minute" or "you might as well wash those dishes in the sink when you clean up after supper." Or they promise to be home at one time, and arrive at another.
If you could look inside their hearts, you might find that the reasoning was the same in every case.
Most parents just can't help thinking that a little housework, or a couple of extra hours, is only fair, since the teen-ager has the great good luck to sit for such terrific children. For that's the rub: Parents usually think their children are the best in the whole world -- and the sitter's mother knows that it's her own child who wins that honor, thank you.
It's up to your daughters -- and all sitters -- to keep their babysitting employers in line, by setting limits in advance, refusing to sit for two families for the price of one, and turning down jobs from parents who don't play by the rules.
Good employers have certain characteristics. They tell the sitters what to do for their children; what rules to follow so the children can't flimflam the sitter, and how to get emergency help. They show her what food the children can eat, and leave something special for her, so she won't have to sneak a treat. They come home on time, sober and ready to settle up, paying for a half-hour if they're 15 minutes past the hour, and for a full hour if they arrive 30 minutes past. And they usually give a tip, too.
Your daughters can't demand the perks, but they can set their rates and hours without embarrassment, if you teach them how to do it. Ask your girls to agree on the sitting rules they want to live by, and then to do a little role-playing with you.
With practice, each daughter can tell her callers, "My sisters and I have had to raise our rates, so we wouldn't undercut our friends, and we have to be home on time -- give or take a half-hour -- so our mother won't worry." That's the secret of making rules that work, whether for babysitting jobs now or for dates later. Blame them on Mom and Dad. As in, "I'd like to stay longer, but Mom waits up for me" or "Dad really gets cranky if I'm late."
Your daughters should be friendly when they give out those rules, and they should willingly tell their bosses if they have to get up early. This not only underscores the necessity for the deadline, but it turns their employers into allies.
You want your daughters to learn other lessons, too.
Although they should ignore requests to do housework if they're not paid more to do it, insist that they give 100 percent to the job they're hired to do. Adolescence is the time to learn that good workers always give more than their bosses expect.
You also want your daughters to know that a good sitter enjoys the children. She takes them on walks and reads to them, plays ball, paints and makes popcorn with them. She stays away from the television or the telephone if they're awake, and only talks briefly on the phone when they're asleep, and she checks the children often. She cleans up any mess she or the children make, and she may even do some extra favor if there's time, because it's one way to thank the parents for being good employers.
Work, after all, is more than acting responsibly. It's a matter of doing it with alacrity and professionalism.
Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.