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Monday, August 18, 2008

An Orthonomic Childrearing Question

A reader wrote me offline with an economic childrearing question. The dilemma is as follows:

A woman who lives nearby is a stay-at-home mother of a 5-year-old and 9 month-old. She does not drive and does not have a lot to do. She has a cleaning lady twice a week and food delivered and suppers and lunches from takeout and local restaurants. So she actually seeks out my 10 year-old daughter for company and for assistance on occasion with entertaining her children or watching them when she wants to shower or to be there when she gives them a bath.

She rewards the time and attention very generously with expensive gifts -- the latest was a $54 gift card. A month or two ago it was an engraved gift. She also likes to take this daughter and my younger one along on expeditions to the city where she splurges on things I would never do like the thrill ride at the Empire State Building (a fortune for an experience that lasts just a few minutes) plus lunches out.

This family's spending habits are drastically different from ours. We never lunch out; we pack sandwiches. The closest we come to dinner out is taking home a pizza. Eating out in a restaurant only occurs when are on a trip and can't work it out to pack food for dinner. The reason the neighbor can afford to be so generous is not her husband's high salary (he is a civil servant), but because the husband's parents paid for their house, their furniture and any Yom Tov hotel stays and vacations they take.

I understand this woman is spending the money for her own pleasure, and my daughter is very happy to get $10 an hour for babysitting, and my children know that our approach to spending is very different. But I still am not comfortable with my daughters being a party to such spending. I also don't want to hurt this mother. She must really be lonely if she needs to draw on children for company despite having her own family nearby.

I will put the question out to the audience. Would you be comfortable with such an arrangement? Why or why not?


Mike S. said...

I would be comfortable. If your daughter is old enough to babysit, even with the mother present, she is old enough to understand that different families have different financial resourses, and different attides toward money.

Ahavah Gayle said...

I would not be comfortable with that, for two reasons, neither of which has to do with the money. Children need to realize and accept that their family might not be as wealthy as other families, and learn there's no shame in living within your means.

Now, most states don't consider 10 year olds to be old enough to babysit. Many states require kids to be at least 12 or 13. There is also a question of liability if something should happen to one of the young children while the 10 year old is babysitting - especially if they have never had a babysitting certification and CPR course. Unless you have good liability insurance, letting your 10 year old babysit is a fairly bad idea.

Secondly, this woman needs to make friends with people her own age - not their children. There are plenty of other stay-at-home moms out there. And if she has so many resources, why not take up a hobby or learn a craft or something? An adult looking to other people's children for companionship instead of other adults may have "issues." What, I have no idea, but my little red light goes off thinking about this situation. It's interesting that the letter writer doesn't say this woman is HER friend or seeks to be - she just seeks out the little girl.

mother in israel said...

Sephardi lady--great post and question.
Ahavah--It doesn't seem that the 10yo is ever left alone with the children. But I agree that this mother may be emotionally needy, and the letter writer needs to keep a close eye on the situation.

I personally wouldn't have minded having a mature 10yo on hand when my children were small. She can help in all kinds of ways. Perhaps the letter-writer (and other neighborhood moms) aren't available to the extent the other mother needs.

triLcat said...

When I was in my teens, there were two mothers in the neighborhood who were SAHMs and were very happy for my company.

One invited me (without my parents) to a party when her son was born. Generally, though, they paid me "going rate" for babysitting even if I was there when the mom was there.

When I did Pesach cleaning this year, I had two girls come over to help me out and keep me company. I paid them about what I'd pay for normal babysitting. Some of the time, they were just hanging out with me, and some of the time, they did cleaning while I was with the baby or the baby was sleeping. I found it a HUGE help to have them here, and I was happy to pay them reasonably and order pizza for them and such.

Additionally, even when I wasn't making much money, I sometimes enjoyed splurging on my nieces and nephews for something that their parents would have considered silly - like going out to a public concert and buying them pizza and ice cream, when their parents would have just packed sandwiches. I enjoyed the feeling of being the "doting" aunt. The kids were very clear on the fact that I was giving them a gift and they were always really grateful. Maybe it was extravagant, but it was something that made me happy too.

Basically, I wouldn't worry.

aml said...

different strokes for different folks. It not up to us to question the arrangement with the in laws. Maybe they insist. Yes, it sounds like mom needs friends her own age but if she wants to pay this girl to be what sounds like a mother's helper, so be it. We pay "above the market rate" for sitters and refuse to have anyone under 16 sit for us. We believe that what we pay the girls is worth it- its what we'd pay an adult for the same (sometimes better) level of care... But alais, we only have a sitter a few times a month.

Rual said...

Teenage Boys From Orthodox Brooklyn Families Arrested After Public Drinking, Partying

I have posted a few times about this issue. I am shocked how many people keep saying “Yeah this is nothing new – it’s been going on since forever”. Who are we kidding? This is the THIRD TIME in a week that Frum kids have been ARRESTED upstate. No, in my days in the mountains this did not happen. Maybe there used to be one story during an entire summer and it certainly would have been the talk of the town!

Now it is happening on a daily basis! (Kudos to Hamercaz news for not sweeping it under the rug!)

Anonymous said...

My daughters have babysat and sometimes they get more than the going rate and they feel a little embarrassed - that's OK. Sometimes they have gotten *screwed* (people paying $3 per hour and then not even rounding the last hour up to pay $1.50.) That's OK too, because it's a learning experience - don't babysit for that person again. (Young teenagers are often too shy to ask upfront what they'll be paid).

Does the lady talk to your daughters about her personal issues? That would be bizarre. Otherwise, she probably just needs help with her kids and finds your daughter capable.

G said...

"my children know that our approach to spending is very different."

Assuming this is true, and that they also understand the approach, what the big deal?

--after reading the letter a few times methinks the issue here is not so much about this person's daughter. There is a thinly veiled degreee of contempt for the lifestyle of this other person.

PeterBonn said...

Raul -

1) Pranking 911 is stupid but it does not represent a "Youth At Risk" problem

2) The other story seems to be more about our "NaNach" problem than our youth problem:

from the Hamercaz article you reference:
The adult, who is a member of the "Na-Nach" style Breslovers, had been hanging out with the boys earlier at a "Kumzitz" at a local park where they had lit a bonfire and sang songs. The adult claimed that he had not supplied the boys with any sort of alcoholic beverage. However, the officers did not believe him, and he was taken into custody.

So I think you're getting a little carried away

Anonymous said...

I think the payment for sitting / helping out is fine. The 10 year old in question sounds mature enough to differentiate between the writer's approach to money and the employer's, and it is reasonable for her to accept generous payment. 15 years hence, one would hope that the current 10 year old would not negotiate with her employer for lower compensation -- the same principle applies here.

It's less clear what message the more luxurious social outings (e.g. the Empire State Building) send. It still seems reasonable to let the kids go, but perhaps to have a private conversation with the 10 year old (and possibly the younger one, depending on how young) and have a frank conversation about spending and saving.

There is a chance that the generous neighbor thought that the writer would pay for her own kids' fare. It is not uncommon for parents to pay for their respective children to do something and trade turns on driving the kids to the activity. If the writer is uncomfortable not paying for her own kids but also can't afford it, it might be worth it to have a frank conversation with the generous neighbor about that.

-- N

JS said...

I don't see a problem. It's impossible to live in this world and not see people making and living all sorts of decisions you and your family don't agree with. What's important is instilling the right values in your child.

For example, a discussion about how to spend the $54 would be appropriate. If it's to a clothing store, maybe that could be applied to new school clothing. If it's to a bookstore, maybe some summer reading for school. The worry should come if your child wants to blow the money on something silly or frivolous. If it were cash, I would say to save it or a portion of it, but gift cards don't allow that.

The woman might be a bit lonely or needy, but I don't see anything that has crossed the line. I think it's nice that she treats the daughter so well (like the doting aunt example above).

The real issue is that the question asker doesn't like this woman's values and lifestyle or where and how she gets her money. Fine. But, why not teach a valuable lesson instead (without disparaging the woman)?

SephardiLady said...

It is interesting to see the variety of responses. I believe if I was in this mother's shoes that I would have a number of reservations. I do think there is value in children working. The main value would be to take responsibility and learn that earning a living is toil. Therefore, a low responsibility, low skill, high paying job gives me some reservations.

Back in my day, babysitting (I never heard of mother's helpers) paid $1 per hour per kid. It was great because it gave kids a bit of pocket money and gave kids a sense of responsibility. $10 an hour seems darn excessive.

Recently I posted a letter of a Lakewood husband kvetching that Lakewood wives are *only* being offered $10 an hour for office jobs. If I had no skills, I would be thrilled to start at $10. It is obvious the letter writer and others grew up in a fantasy world of finances. One wonders if it is because they were indulged before they had any real understanding of how money works in the "real world."

There are a lot of considerations whether my reader lets her daughter continue with this arrangement (perhaps on the premise that all wages beyond a minimum be put into college savings accounts). But, I understand the discomfort and share in it, although I'm not sure what conclusion I would reach.

One thing I do find disconcerting is that the employer mother did not work these details out with the employee's mother. I know that when I high young workers, e.g. to babysit in their parents house with a parent present while we are at a wedding, that I work the pay out directly with the mother, not the daughter.

I feel another post coming on.

Anonymous said...

SL - Maybe a 10 year old is a bit young to work out the details by herself. But not a 12 year old or a 14 year old. If my girls are offered a job where I know nothing about the employer, I check out the employer the same way the employer should check out the babysitter - basically word of mouth references. However, then my part is done. The kids need to know that Mommy won't always be there negotiating with their bosses. That's why if my kids are underpaid and they're too shy to speak up, it's a learning experience for them. It's not my job to intercede.

In 1978 I was getting paid $1 or $2 per hour, in Northern NJ. That was for a 12 year old. I would think that inflation has slightly increased things since then. Sometimes my daughter has gotten $10 from someone really appreciative. This pay can't be compared to an office lady in Lakewood. No one is offering to pay a teenager $10 an hour for a 40 hour week. It's usually someone who was in a bind, who needed to go out at the last minute, or whose kids were unusually difficult or woke up unexpectedly.

Like I said before, if there is no other weirdness about the employer other than having time and money on her hands, I say let the kid work.

triLcat said...

In '92-5, I was getting $5-6 per hour for babysitting. $10 doesn't seem insane.

SephardiLady said...

tessya-I was specifically looking at the fact that the daughter is 10 years old.

I do believe parents need to know how and where their children are earning money. To what extend parents get involved or stay uninvolved, probably depends a lot on the child. I don't know that I would get involved very much should a friend of mine call needing a mother's helper in the future. But, I also don't expect anyone in my community to offer pricy gifts or pay $10 an hour.

SephardiLady said...

That should read extent, not extend. My computer keyboard is driving me crazy today.

Anonymous said...

One quick point about babysitting -- in many ways it is not quite a "per hour" job. Asking the neighbor's older child to watch one's kids for an hour or two while one runs errands in the immediate area is a per hour job. Asking someone to watch your kids for 10 hours while the parents take a day trip to some event that the kids are too young to attend is worth *much* more than 10 hrs x $x per hour. Someone who watches one's kids for an extended period of time has to be able to handle any and all situations that come up -- emergencies, illnesses, etc. without assistance. The babysitter should consider what he/she is being asked to be responsible for and charge accordingly.

It is important for young children to learn all aspects of negotiating terms of employment early. Parents might guide a child, but the conversations should be done by the child who is going to be employed. It is my belief that parents should be involved only in the case of gross injustice -- e.g. an attempt to skip out on payment.

-- N

SephardiLady said...

N-I have a letter in my files from the mother of a girl who was given only a thank you note for a whole summer of mother's helpering that bordered on babysitting. I will have to find it.

SephardiLady said...

Some parents may not want their children working because of other commitments, or far too many commitments. Another reason it might be best to ask a mother if her daughter would be available, even if the negotiations are taken care of by the child.

Charlie Hall said...

Anonymous said...

SL -- outrageous. That seems like a case that merits more direct parental interference.

-- N

tdr said...

I once had a girl decline payment for a short babysitting job right after I had a baby. The next time I asked her for a similar "sit" I assumed she wouldn't want payment. She lingered, I didn't offer, and she ran out. I always regretted not offering. (I know I could have gone back later and offered, but somehow I felt it would be more embarrassing for her. Dumb perhaps -- this was many years ago.)

Now I hold any discussions of money before the work occurs. "How much do you charge?" followed by "I pay ..../hr for .... (type of job. Is that OK?" Sometimes they appreciate it, but sometimes it is painfully uncomfortable for them and they mumble something like "whatever you want" or "you don't have to pay me at all."

I guess I am trying to make a point with them that money is too important to just take whatever's offered without a discussion.

I always respect the kids who come back with an amount when I ask "how much?"

I don't know how I feel about the $10/hr and extravagant gifts. And I do feel it is a little strange if I sense this woman relies mainly on kids for her social connections. However, if this woman didn't strike me as otherwise weird, I don't think I would have a problem with it. If I didn't already know her, I might bring the pay up with her just to feel out her personality to see if I got any strange vibes from her.

Ezzie said...

While I would continue to monitor if I were the parent, it sounds rather reasonable to me. $10/hour is what babysitting costs in the tri-state area, from the (few) times we've availed ourselves of it. Even the other gifts sound as if they are thank yous for all the help/hard work - we've done (less extravagant but) similar things for people such as our babysitter's daughter (11yr) who helped out a few times.

If they teach the daughter well that her gifts are a result of hard work and friendliness, I think it's quite a good lesson rather than a bad one. That the other lady has more money is her business.

Lion of Zion said...

i don't have a problem with this. the mother seems to be concerned (or rather resentful?) that the neighbor is living the good life at the in-laws expense. that is the neighbor's business, but if she wants perhaps the mother should just make clear to her daughter that everyone has their own financial issues and she shouldn't think that this women's largess means her parents can be so generous.


"especially if they have never had a babysitting certification and CPR course."

that's pretty funny. not that it is isn't very important, but the vast majority of babysitters (of any age) don't have this type of certification.

anonymous mom said...

I don't have a problem with the $10 per hour. I do have a problem with the social outings. I wouldn't allow it. There's no reason to allow another adult to take my 10 year old anywhere unless the other children are in her class or her age. If it is an aunt/niece thing, that's different, but even then, it would usually be an occasional thing. I may appear controlling, but if the values of the other woman do not go with mine and she is not a blood relative, why would I encourage social outings with her? On the flip side, my son has a wonderful friend from a simple, large family. I am always encouraging get-togethers with that boy and if it came up, with his family because the family dynamics and Hashkafos are great for him to see. Why wouldn't we try to orchestrate good situations for our kids wherever possible until their preteen and teen years when they completely disregard what we think?

Anonymous said...

I assumed the 10 year old went along on the outings as a mother's helper. How many of us would love to have help with the stroller, taking kids to bathroom, etc, IF we could always afford to take someone along.

Anonymous said...

I pay a teenager $10/hour to babysit one very energentic toddler. I intend to pay somewhat generously because I want the teenager to keep coming back!

anonymous mom said...

I'm not big on the mother's helper thing for kids. I think babysitting for 12 and up is fine, but the whole 10-year old mother's helper thing is not such a good idea for the 10 year old. This may not go over well, but mother's helpers are shleppers even when treated well. This is tough stuff if done correctly--actually taking care of one or two young children/infants at once. I know it's hard to shop with a toddler, but that's why many of us either bite the bullet and do it anyway or leave them at home with a sitter for an hour or two. The whole Erev Shabbos/Yom Tov thing is also a problem. I think these mother's helpers should be helping out in their own homes and I think many of us know that it is actually possible to prepare Shabbos/Yom Tov on the nights leading up to it after the kids go to bed and then that last day will always be a rush. I guess I have a problem with younger children caring for toddlers and infants. Call me old-fashioned, but they have time for that. And many times, they get taken advantage of financially and otherwise.

G said...

I know that when I high young workers, e.g. to babysit in their parents house with a parent present while we are at a wedding, that I work the pay out directly with the mother, not the daughter.

what? why?

--define young.

triLcat said...

Anonymous Mom, I really disagree. Oftentimes, a ten year old is much more willing to sit on the floor and do a puzzle with a toddler than an older teen. Moreover, if you're schlepping somewhere, then an extra pair of hands is can be a big help without them doing a lot of hard, unpleasant work. Just having someone to watch your kid if you have to go to the bathroom at the mall is already a big deal! I also think that there's nothing wrong with a kid learning that when you have minimal skill, you're going to have to do less pleasant work in order to make money.

Honestly, though, I mostly enjoyed being a mother's helper when I was a pre-teen.

As for the girls I had help me erev pesach, the family has two girls over 10 and no other kids, and I talked to their mom and asked if she could spare them for 2 afternoons. She said that they were pretty close to ready for Pesach and was happy for them to have something to do other than bump around the house bored.

SephardiLady said...

G-Around Bat Mitzvah age and she was not coming to us, we were dropping off our kids where their oldest would be the "babysitter" but the young siblings would also be present and helping. It isn't a one on one situation and I think the mother should have a say on how the money gets distributed.

But, yes. When I do occassionally need help I speak to the parent first and take the cues as to how their family likes to deal with things.

Lion of Zion said...


"One thing I do find disconcerting is that the employer mother did not work these details out with the employee's mother. I know that when I high young workers, e.g. to babysit in their parents house with a parent present while we are at a wedding, that I work the pay out directly with the mother, not the daughter."

i think i disagree with this.

there seems to be some disagreement in the comments whether the girl is too young to be doing this type of work. whether the proper age is 10 or 12 (or some other age) may be difficult to ascertain, and probably depends on the individual involved. some ten-year-olds are very mature. some 15-year-olds are not mature at all.

but if a girl is too young to conduct the financial arrangement herself then she probably is too young be working. i know this isn't what you meant, but negotiating with another mother over how much your daughter should be paid could sound like one is hiring out a child.

SephardiLady said...

LOZ-We only use the arrangement for weddings. But the mother has to get her kids home so they can watch our kids in her home. So I think it is fair to approach the mother first since she has to "work" to.

G said...

I think the mother should have a say on how the money gets distributed.

Again, why?

Commenter Abbi said...

I just want to chime in that that I agree that the ten year old was going on the outings as a mother's helper, not as a social activity. And I agree that this is a big help. I did this type of work when I was this age and older, especially accompanying mothers to the pool and I've taken babysitters with me when i wanted to take the kids out and felt I needed the help. It's perfectly normal where I'm from.