It was a pretty innocuous mother's club meeting, and we were talking about babysitters. I don't even recall why it came up, the talk about babysitters. Conversation unrolls so organically in these meetings, these times we get together, without children, and get to just talk.
But sitters came up in conversation and the turn of that conversation surprised me. Greatly. Apparently around here it's bad manners to quote an hourly rate for one's babysitting services.
"You know what gets me?" a mom said, "You know what sitters I prefer? Who I pay the most to? The ones who say 'oh just pay me whatever.'" She went on to explain that (and this is my paraphrase not her exact statement) to her, it came across as very forward, rude even, when these sitters said they charged X dollars per hour.
My mind rolled that concept around for a minute: it's cheeky and rude to state upfront how much you charge if you're a babysitter.
I looked around the room, seeking the people who ducked their heads to avoid disagreeing or the people shaking a no with their heads, and waited for someone to say, "Well for heaven's sake, it's a business. Of course they need to---and should!---tell you in advance how much they charge! How else will they learn to value their own worth and services? How else will they learn to deal with people and money? How else will you be able to figure out how much to budget and how much cash to have on hand for the time?"
But not one person did. Not one ducked head. Not one shaking head. Not one verbal alternate perspective.
I did, however, see a fair number of nodding heads, and then a couple of moms chimed in with verbal agreement.
My mind rolled that concept around for a few more minute.
Do many people feel this way---and do girls believe that if they are passive and vague they'll get paid a fair fee? Do they learn that they are powerless when it comes to receiving payment, that it's always in the other person's hands? Do they build up this expectation in a lifelong way?
I was stunned---stunned that girls do this (what? are you kidding? NAME YOUR PRICE!!!). I've had a few sitters pull this on me and I instantly morphed into my father, delivering a lecture about the importance of developing key business interaction skills. I put my own twist on it, of course, and tried to soften the lecture, but I gave the lecture anyway: you offered a service and that's worth payment, and it's okay to tell me how much your rate is.
One young girl I told this to pulled out the same tired line in response, "I just don't feel okay, you know, asking for money, it just seems wrong for some reason."
I have absolutely never ever understood this sensation.
I feel very, very good asking for money. And I feel even better when I get it.
I told her that she needed to practice and she'd be great.
...actually, I wasn't sure what the monetary exchange rate was currently for a 'whatever.'
It's not only the young girls, either. I negotiated for a sitter with a sitter's mother one time and asked, "How much does she charge per hour?"
The mother said, "Oh just pay her whatever."
I said, "Oh, hum. Well, umm. What does she charge other people?"
The mother repeated, with a wave of her hand, "Oh you know, whatever."
I bit back an irritated response that actually, I wasn't sure what the monetary exchange rate was currently for a 'whatever.' Instead I said, "I'll pay a buck an hour...does that sound fair?" It sounded ridiculous to me and I thought the mom would get the point.
"Yeah, that sounds fine! Thanks!" the mom said.
I mentally banged my head on the wall. I paid the sitter the going rate around here, which I happen to know because (a) I use sitters with some regularity and (b) last year I hosted an open house for moms and babysitters.
At that event, I created a spreadsheet and fed in data about each sitter who attended: name, phone, age, experience and skills, preferences or comments and...hourly rate. Half the girls put "whatever."
"You put 'whatever' in the hourly rate column," I said, "What do you charge per hour, you know, a number? You need to let the moms know your rate so they know how to budget."
"Oh no, I totally don't know," the flustered girls cried.
"Here," I said, "Look at the sheet, here's how much the other sitters charge for one child, and here's their rates for two and also for three or more kids. It's good to have a scale like that. Do you want to use the same numbers these girls use?"
But they demurred and my spreadsheet has a column for rate that has 'whatever' for half. I never call any of those girls. I only use the ones who know what they're worth, the ones who let me know how much to budget.
I admit it: the other ones seem flighty on some level to me.
I'm not a fan of 'whatever' as an answer for anything.
At the mom's meeting, I stated this opinion. "I am the absolute opposite," I said with a little uncomfortable laugh---here we go again, Julie the hard head freak mom, the one they all shake their heads about---and added, "I don't prefer the wishy washy girls who say 'whatever.' I like to know their fee so I can budget, and anyway, they need to be able to discuss money."
I got the sense a second head---maybe shaped like an ass---grew out of my neck just then, based on the looks I got.
Imagine that! Expecting these girls to name a price! Demanding they use a degree of professionalism in their babysitting service. Who do I think I am. Cheeky. That's what I am.
The majority clearly felt it was really out of line, and preferred to discreetly slip whatever amount they wanted to over to the babysitters.
I was stunned and stymied to learn I was in the minority---or maybe all by myself on this one. And there I had gone and told all my sitters to put on their big girl panties and name their fair hourly rate for childcare.
I wondered how many local girls I ruined with my apparently untoward advice. Hopefully none. Probably not one listened to me. Ten years from now they will probably be disgruntled coworkers who earn less than their cohorts. They will probably be angry friends who don't get paid the going rate or on time because they don't invoice properly. They will be frustrated adult women who don't know how to talk about money because they never learned and on top of that were given the impression that it was wrong---dirty? naughty? out of line? unfeminine?---to discuss fair pay for services rendered.
A very long time ago the very rich and the very oppressed women never discussed money. To do so might reveal a need or quest for money, which might mark one as bourgeois or trade. I can promise that the vast majority of us are in fact quite bourgeois and are frequently on a quest for needed money.
So why is it still considered so tacky to so many to be on a quest for money and expect to be paid for services rendered?
Do men feel this too? Or is it truly largely just women?
Is the objection simply because the sitters are girls? Would a male sitter stating an hourly rate come across as too forward? Or is it because they are youths, not adults?
I truly think it is a matter of both factors: young and female.
They see flighty and silly valued and rewarded.
My husband imagines that here at my blog I will probably find some people who think and believe as I do, but he also thinks that the vast majority probably find any money discussion uncomfortable and prefer a big fat "whatever." It stymies him too, this preference for wishy washy whatever, but he also thinks few people ever feel comfortable placing a dollar value on the things they do.
Babysitting can be such a valuable life and business lesson: how to learn the fair pay rate for your field, how to determine the appropriate pay for what you offer, and how to negotiate fair pay.
But we aren't all on the same page. Not all people---male or female---believe girls need to be equally and adequately prepared for a full professional and personal life. Not all people believe women need to be strong and assertive.
I'm ready to see our society accept confidence, assertiveness, directness as well as politeness and kindness from women. I'm ready to see our society allow women to value themselves, even if it means requesting fair pay for services rendered.
But I'm also ready to see our society respect a variety of approaches and styles to achieve this end. I don't think it's right that we need women (and men) to fulfill a stereotyped gender role that is predominantly accepted in our professional culture: the "masculine" way of doing things.
The babysitters don't need to be aggressive, but passive aggressive shouldn't be the technique either.
I'd like to see it no longer be necessary that girls put on a silly act in order to be accepted.
And believe me...although I think that the discomfort is real and quite a few girls truly and sincerely feel more comfortable ducking their heads, shrugging their shoulders and saying 'whatever,' I also truly think at least an equal number would feel okay saying, "I charge $7 per hour for two kids."
But teens aren't stupid---they have picked up on the idea that people are not quite comfortable with an assertive young woman. They see flighty and silly valued and rewarded.
They put a dimming drape over their light to try to accommodate, until they find the rare person who will accept and value their style, even though they are a girl.
Apparently, I am the only one who is surprised to find out that this is such a concrete concept, shaped all the way into a more, where moms expect sitters to say "Oh whatever" when the payment discussion comes up.
We're teaching them who they can be during these key teen years. Shouldn't we be teaching them it's okay to be all they can be?
What do you think? Are you comfortable talking about money? Do you ask for fair pay? Are you okay with it when people who do work for you ask for fair pay? How do you think this affects women down the line in the working world? Do I have a second head shaped like an ass?
Note: Remember the Hump Day this week---a day earlier than you think it is because Monday was a holiday!---is about a blog, blog post, blogger or something you read on the Internet that inspired you. Tell us about the inspirational thing and then tell us where you went from there.
ETA per Mad's request: In MA we paid an average of $12 per hour for sitters, most of whom were from one of the two universities that flanked our town. I say an average because some local teens were $10 and the university students were about $15. I tended to use sitters who were 16+ years old. That seemed to be who I had access to through a variety of contacts. The average age was 18. I noticed rate per hour increased as the sitters got older. I noticed a surcharge for babies and diaper-wearers. I felt that was fair. In MA I had one child, so I'm not sure how much more than one child cost.
In SE Texas we pay $4-7 per hour for two children. I tend to use very young teens, mainly 14 year olds. I'm comfortable with this because my children are older and pretty independent. I haven't tapped the university so I'm not sure what they charge, but I expect it's $7-10 per hour. I tend to pay $5 per hour, which I think is fair because in general, the teen sits (read: sleeps) on my couch while the kids sleep upstairs. Also it's easy to add by fives in my head.
In all honesty, I prefer the 14 year olds. The younger teens have done a great job of being serious, focused on the kids, and available.
Not one male came to our babysitter open house party or has signed up for babysitting here. I don't know anyone who has a male sitter. From what I've heard I don't think they would get much work.
So yes, our entire directory of babysitters is exclusively female. We also have a community newsletter where teens can advertise as workers. They are usually babysitters and always girls. If I knew a boy and felt comfortable with him as a childcare-giver (my same criteria for girls BTW) I'd use him.
I didn't discuss the exact amount of money in my post because the point to me isn't how much specifically so much as it is to be specific.
But I agree it would be interesting to compare across regions.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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