The History of Babysitting at Your Fingertips
It takes a village to raise a child, and childcare stretches far back into human history. Babysitting as we know it, however, has a short yet complex history. Even today, the form of babysitting is still rapidly changing.
10 Factoids About the Origins of Babysitting
- Though the word “babysitter” was seen in 1937, the verb “to baby-sit” wasn’t used until 1947!
- Though babysitting became popular after World War II, it was in the 1920s that the practice of employing adolescent girls for temporary childcare came about.
- Parental concerns also reach back to the ‘20s, even then voicing concern over employing high school girls to watch children.
- In 1887, the American Medical Association published a guide to training “nursery-maids.”
- The advent of baby-sitting in the ‘20s gave teenage girls consumer power, and so it was a large part of creating a new “teen” culture.
- Even since the Great Depression, parents have sought out male babysitters, who were thought to be better role models.
- In the 1940s, babysitting was promoted to teenagers as a patriotic duty.
- In 1948, the Saturday Evening Post named babysitting as a “key industry.”
- Though babysitting was a cultural institution by the 50s, it was not until 1980 that any academic study was conducted on the field.
- 10. The stereotype of the teenage girl on the phone goes as far back as the Great Depression.
10 Ways to Say Babysitting in Different Languages
- In British English, the word stays the same, but the meaning is different. Here, baby sitting takes place in the evening while the child is asleep.
- In India, an “ayah” or “aya” is a long-term caregiver who minds the child whether or not the parents are present.
- Italians have moved from the old-fashioned “bambinaia” and now simply say “babysitter.”
- The French will say “une baby-sitter” or “une nanny,” though the article can be changed from “une” to “un” to indicate a male.
- In Japan, parents often hire foreign babysitters in the hopes that their children will pick up another language.
- In Europe, the term “au pair” has become common, though this is different from a babysitter. An au pair lives with the family in exchange for childcare or some domestic work.
- Germans also use the American form of “babysitter.”
- In Malaysia, babysitters don’t exist. Families hire maids, use daycare or use family members for childcare.
- In Spanish, babysitter translates to “canguro” or “ninera.”
- Even in the Netherlands, a babysitter is still called a babysitter.
10 Historic Ways People Found a Babysitter
- Within the family: The easiest way for a parent to find a babysitter was to hire their own offspring. Though historically this was an assumed chore for older siblings, it is more familiar now as an informal babysitting arrangement.
- The Working Class: Babysitters were initially considered little better than servants, and they were drawn as temporary help from a larger pool of workers.
- Classified Ads: Parents wrote to the local paper to place an ad.
- References: Word of mouth has always been valuable.
- Services: Some temp agencies for women could offer babysitters.
- Contacting schools: Finishing schools and schools for women provided educated and well-mannered women to families.
- Extended family: Traditionally, childless adults or grandparents served as babysitters.
- Courses: Babysitting classes could connect parents with their students.
- Women’s lodgings: When hotels were largely separated by gender, a large pool of young women could be accessed in one place.
- Other parents: When babysitting was more expected of girls, parents would often find jobs for their daughters.
10 Ways People Currently Find a Babysitter
- Family: It is still common to hire older siblings for babysitting.
- References: Many parents ask their friends for good sitters.
- Neighborhood: Often, one teenager will cover many families in the same area.
- Friends of children: Some children may have older friends who are perfect for sitting.
- Organizations: Real-life Babysitter’s Clubs do exist and are very well run.
- High schools: Some high schools keep track of students looking for jobs of any type and offer help locating clients.
- Flyers: Enterprising teens will post flyers to advertise their services.
- Agencies: Agencies charge a fee to find a sitter, but they also guarantee background checks and safety.
- Online communities: Mommy bloggers and social network niche sites are great places to find recommendations.
- Online classifieds: Craigslist is a common way for parents and sitters to connect.
10 Clichés About Babysitters That Are True
- Babysitters are teenagers: Babysitting is not a steady job, so men and women interested in childcare tend to look for careers as nannies or even governess-like roles.
- They talk on the phone: This is more true now than before. With cell phones, smart phones and texting, a babysitter often passes the time by chatting with friends.
- They’ll eat a lot of food: It is now common for parents to designate to a babysitter what food is allowed and what food is “off limits.” Growing teenagers faced with long hours will not hesitate to snack.
- Babysitters love children: There are so many jobs available to teenagers today, you can be sure that the teen who chooses to babysit is doing so because they enjoy the job.
- They make mistakes: Babysitters are not infallible. It is common for parents to leave emergency numbers with the sitter, just in case.
- They’re in it for the money: Babysitters do often count on their earnings for savings or college funds.
- Children love babysitters: Sitters that are not familiar with routines can end up giving extra treats to children. If the sitter enjoys their job, the child enjoys the time with the sitter.
- Babysitters are available at the last minute: Though most sitters prefer to make appointments, teen sitters have the free time available for last-minute requests.
- Babysitters are organized: Working teens have to balance school, work and a social life.
- Babysitters become family: Most sitters develop long working relationships with one or more family.
10 Myths About Babysitters
- Babysitters are home wreckers: This myth came into prominence in the 1960s as an expression of adult fears over the sexual revolution and the role of teenage girls. Though movies, TV and books continue to portray the babysitter or nanny as a husband stealer, most of these fictions are written by men and appear to have no basis in reality.
- Babysitters are careless: The image of a teen girl filing her nails while the baby cries can be the worst fear for parents. But today, most babysitters undergo rigorous training and certification, most often from the Red Cross, and are likely more prepared for an emergency than the parents would be.
- Babysitters must be girls: Though more teen girls go into babysitting than boys do, this is a remnant of the belief that girls are inherently more motherly than boys. There is no evidence that girls are better at babysitting than boys.
- Babysitting is dangerous: Horror movies and urban legends from the 1970s on have used the trope of the babysitter as a target for numerous serial killers. Though an occasional prank call was expected in earlier years, even that is no longer a concern. Staying alone at night can be frightening, but babysitting is a safe occupation.
- Babysitters are all “super sitters:” Fiction, especially series like “The Baby-Sitters Club,” has portrayed sitters as perfect and highly organized. Though many sitters are extremely capable, don’t assume that all teenagers have such high levels of responsibility. It is still important to interview and quiz a teenager interested in babysitting.
- Babysitters are replaceable: Many parents and comedians joke that the television is the real babysitter. Though interactive toys and games have made leaps and bounds, as of yet there is no automated system to provide real care for children.
- Babysitting is an easy job: Many assume that babysitters simply sit around the house watching the children. Babysitting now entails training and practice. Many sitters care for more than one child at a time, often for hours on end.
- Babysitters are just for childcare: The minimum duties of a babysitter are to attend to the needs of the children, but many families are asking more of their sitters. It is common to ask a sitter to cook and clean up as well as offer homework help or light tutoring. As the children’s needs expand, so do the sitter’s duties.
- Babysitting is temporary: More families are choosing to hire babysitters in more long-term positions. Babysitters join family trips or sometimes stay in the house overnight. Though it may take awhile to reach that professional relationship with a family, many babysitters are getting longer hours.
- Hiring babysitters will destroy the family: For some, babysitters signified the increase of working mothers and the decrease in the traditional family. Yet after almost 100 years of babysitters, we can see no harmful trends. In fact, many families are grateful for babysitters and the service they provide.
Babysitting is still a new field, predominantly American and is a result of the Industrial Revolution. Though babysitting is a part of modern life, it is important to look back on the changing role of the babysitter. By studying babysitting, we learn about our own changing society.