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'Whatever' is not an actual salary and it really doesn't buy the groceries, either

Teaching my girls how to pull the rope for themselves.

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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I have seen your head and I can say....with does not resemble an ass in any way, shape, or form! :)

My sitters never state a fee and I, like you, pay them the going rate around here.

I will have to be honest and say money issue make me uncomfortable.....maybe they shouldn't, but they do!
Louise said…
Wow! I'm sort of glad to know this is a problem bigger than me! I don't use babysitters often, and haven't enjoyed most moms' groups I've been in, so I don't even KNOW the going rate. But it drives me CRAZY when I have no idea what to pay the sitter. Why can't they just tell me? I need to know! I need to plan! I pay what I THINK is the going rate, but I really don't know.

I always thought not stating what they wanted was to get MORE money because if you don't know, at least I am most likely to throw extra money their way to cover it in case my estimates are wrong.

As for me, yes, I'm comfortable talking about money, but part of what I didn't like about moms' groups is they were too comfortable in my opinion. They liked to talk about how much money they and everyone they knew made and spent on this or that. To me, those things are not important, and less appropriate to discuss, especially with acquaintances.

Back to the babysitters.... yes, this affects them later. College will tell you what you are supposed to earn, but that's usually off, a little or a lot. Being out there working and knowing your value is more important. Being a baby through being on your own should be a constant educational process, and clearly these sitters are learning nothing valuable about life in these situations. OK, they're learning to take"whatever." That's worse than asking for "whatever."

You do NOT have a second head shaped like an ass. If you do, then I do. But come to think of it, maybe I do.
Mad said…
I don't really use sitters, given who my daughter is. B/c my occasional sitters tend to be my husband's university students I set the rate upfront for what I think is a fair wage for a university student trying to earn a few bucks. Consequently, we have a reputation of over-paying.

I'm also not tapped into a local community of Moms so if I didn't discuss rates with the sitter, I wouldn't have a clue as to what the going rate was.

I did notice in this post, though, that you pulled a bit of a "whatever" on us. You never once mention actual rates. So tell me, Julie, what exactly is the going rate for a sitter in south-east Texas? For 1 kid, 2 kids, 3 or more? For daytime hours vs after bed? Lay it on the line, Julie. I think it would be cool to compare across region.
Mad said…
Oh, one more thing. I know as many boy sitters as girl sitters. I had assumed that times had changed a bit on this front and yet your post assumed that all these young sitters were girls. Is that the case in your region? It may well be the case here too; it's just that a number of my friends have sons who sit.
Excellent post as always (I always want to comment btw, just don't get around to it. Just for the record, clowns freak me out, too, and I hated the circus as a kid for that very reason).

First of all, I am completely in agreement with you. Do you think this has anything to do with living in Texas? I should conduct a little survey around here (in PA).

People are uncomfortable talking about money b/c they don't do it. We need to teach children and girls in particular to become comfortable. So when the 14 year old says, "whatever" we help them out with suggestions and then the 16 year old is better equipped to state a price. And eventually, the 25 year old can say what they think they should get paid.

Look, if you don't know what you want, how will anyone else? I think it is fine for a babysitter to say, "I got paid x for watching two kids last week, but my fee is negotiable." Then you can say, "I won't pay that much or I pay more you want the job based on that information?"

My 7 year old boy is learning this lesson right now as he (we) take care of the neighbor's pets on occasion.

"growing a head that looks like an ass" *snort*
Anonymous said…
I found that in the UK the exact opposite happened and every time someone stated a rate up front, I was taken aback b/c I was used to the system you describe.
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. Whatever is not a number. I like it when the sitter states their price and I as the consumer have the option to use them or not. That is called business.
Mayberry said…
All the babysitters here (AND their mothers) quote the "whatever" rate and it drives me insane, especially when we first arrived in this area and really had no idea of what the going rate was.

We now pay $8-$10 an hour for two kids including one still in diapers. We had a male babysitter who we loved--son of a blogger!--but he moved away.
Anonymous said…
I had a terrible time finding sitters when I lived in Des Moines (IA) and found that the ones I did run across tended to name a price when they were older (17ish) as opposed to younger (15ish) but not always. Most of the time it was "whatever". I pay five dollars an hour and was astounded to find that most girls were getting only half that.

Half? I was making $4 an hour back in 1979 as a sitter and I wouldn't accept a job from a family who paid less unless I was forced (my parents thought it okay to promise my services to people without consulting me first).

I do think that people take advantage of the fact that young women are not assertive (which I think is a learned response once we get into school and sports and clubs). We are taught that people will like us more if we hold back - bite our tongues.

I had my niece working for me as an au pair of sorts the summer after my husband died and I was finishing up my masters. Because of the all day nature I told her I would pay her $7 an hour which was pretty close to what I would have paid in a daycare. She objected, saying it was too much. I overrode her and told her to only negotiate up when talking salary. Childcare is important work. It should be paid as such.

Interesting that your moms' club should be in favor of perpetuating a system of pay that teaches young women to devalue themselves and the work of caring for children. Not surprising though. I find that topics of this nature tend to make people uncomfortable. Better to pretend that all is well and equal in the world.
Jenny said…
It seems to me that boys would not show up at your house offering to mow your lawn without stating a price.
Julie Pippert said…
Brenda, so help me in the name of the great scot if these sitters are saying 'whatever' in order to get more money I will begin paying them $1.

I have imbued them with the benefit of the doubt that it is simply discomfort.

But I don't cotton to being manipulated.



I'm not sure how to work with a system where I suspect the reason behind it is so ingrained that the girls and moms don't even realize they are ceding a power 100% that ought to be a shared negotiation, dealt with openly and honestly.

I think the adults truly believe that you ought to let your client decide how much you are worth.

I understand what they are thinking here but I am just not on board with that philosophy.
Rob said…
We haven't used a sitter for our son yet, so I can't speak from personal experience but if someone quotes me, "whatever" for a price - even after asking twice - that's an invitation for me to low-ball to the extreme.

I'm quite fair, but if you're too bashful to accurately quote me a price for a service I've requested, you deserve to learn a lesson via your wallet. Some of the most important lessons must be learned not from words, but from experience...
Julie Pippert said…
Jenny, I agree, and that's an excellent point. Honestly...and would that trouble these women, who prefer the 'whatever' from the girl babysitters?
Jenny said…
Julie, I'd be fascinated to hear their thoughts on the difference. Would they recognize a gender imbalance or be oblivious?
Julie Pippert said…
Rob, you know, I agree. And am so glad a man weighed in!

Annie, ITA, and what a great lesson you gave your niece. Your last para is SPOT ON.

Emily, FOR REAL? There? And you heard 'whatever?' It never even occurred to me that happened. All the sitters just named a price when I asked or sometimes even before.

Queen, thank you---am always relieved to learn my head is not shaped like an ass. ;) Money issues might make you uncomfortable, but I bet you address them when you need to, right?

Brenda, so interesting to hear your experience. And you know, what a great point you made: learning to take whatever is a bad lesson.

Blogv, I know...that's it exactly.

Mayberry, I wonder if it's a suburban or small town, away from urban center thing?
Candace April said…
I think it is both a "girl" thing--being taught passivity--and an age thing and also the nature of the work. When you hire a long term babysitter, you are often hoping they almost feel like family, and love your children...and I think that makes the money topic more awkward, though still very necessary.

I think most professional nannies feel very comfortable being upfront about their rates. Young babysitters may feel almost like they are barely doing a job, especially if the kids are going to be sleeping most of the time.

But I still agree with you and have encountered this, too, and it also drives me nuts. I don't want someone to accept less than the going rate because they wouldn't speak up and I also don't want to overpay the going rate because I didn't know how much a babysitter makes in that area. Having moved around a bit, that is an issue for me.

There was an interesting article in the NYTimes (if I remember correctly) last year about how women who negotiate are penalized--they are less likely to get the position or the raise. So the "passive whatever," while detrimental to longterm equality and long-term financial security, actually may be a savvy move in the purely short-term financial, individual sense. Sad statistics.
thailandchani said…
It seems to me there's another issue here, too. I get what you're saying... but the two things that come to mind are these:

1) Avoiding confusion is always a good thing. I would never go into a contract with someone who responded vaguely to any terms. While I don't use babysitters, I do hire out other small tasks that I can't do. I expect straightforward answers to straightforward questions. No one particularly enjoys having to guess about such things.

(Aside: I'm totally with you on "whatever" as an answer to anything. It's not cute. It just sounds dumb.)

2) Babysitting, lawn mowing, moving heavy objects, and other tasks are a good opportunity for young people to learn about social ethics, charging a fair price and about doing a good job.

So it's not so much about personal empowerment (for me) as it is about social harmony and ethics.

Anonymous said…
The first time I encountered the "whatever" was with an acquaintance who was a hair dresser. I thought this was because she was from the South. I did not like it, but I admit the first time I overpaid her because I didn't want to insult her. I did have her back again (to do the kids), paid less & felt more comfortable.

My brother was a freelance artist for a while, and it was a poor fit for him. He disliked having to state his value.

Here in CT, teenage babysitters average $7 for one, $10 for two. It was hard for me to get this information from other mothers, but I think they were being protective of their resources in general. The girls themselves were always forthcoming.
Anonymous said…

I use an online sitter referral service which states the hourly rate as part of each sitter's profile (along with references etc.) and I have never contacted anyone who did not give an hourly rate. It would make me completely uncomfortable not to know how much was being charged, and I've never felt that stating a rate upfront was somehow rude. What a bizarre idea.

I totally think this is a girl thing, not just conditioned passivity and the whole money-talk business but also about girls and women being supposed to put the needs and wishes of others first, especially when it comes to caregiving work. Treating it like a business where you know what you are worth takes the gloss off of the model of selflessly serving womanhood. I think it reflects a broader societal unease with paying for caregiving work, period.

In any case--it's something not applicable to me right now b/c I work in a unionized environment and there are no pay negotiations. I admit I'd have a hard time with it if I had to ask for money, for a whole lot of reasons. It's something I need to work on, I know. But it doesn't surprise me to learn that women who ask for what they want end up penalized!
Susanne said…
I haven't used babysitters much because my mother-in-law is so much available but when I did I encountered the same "whatever" attitude as you. I had to extricate a number from the two girls that I used with questions like, "What do you get payed at your regular babysitting gig?" and such. I always payed a bit more than that because in my house the sitter had to deal with a toddler that was awake and wanted to be entertained for several hours which is unlike someone babysitting in the evening when the child sleeps.

(I don't know exactly how much I paid but it was something around 7€.)

When we hired one of my students to mow the lawn by the way and asked him what he got elsewhere he just answered. No whatevers. Then we doubled the money because that was ridiculously low. Just because someone is only 12 doesn't mean he is not entitled to be paid for his work.

It may be though that the "whatever"-babysitters hope to get a better rate through stalling. On the other hand your one-dollar-an-hour-story looks different.

I agree with you it's another case of "women and money", and also of "looking after children isn't real work, and should be done for free".
SciFi Dad said…
Two things:
1. I agree with you. If they don't quote a price, I wouldn't use them (not that we've actually used a sitter yet, but we're starting to talk about it). Bottom line: the service provider sets the price, not the customer.

2. Like some have said, my suspicion is that it's not a case of the girls being told "their place", but rather an attempt to shift the pricing by hoping that the customer errs on the side of caution, preying on most people's desire to not be seen as cheap.
Unknown said…
Ah, great post!! Gender is at play but so are some "mock" class issues - those in the service industry having to "ask" for their fair pay - and being young and apparently without good role models, they struggle and flub it up completely!
Also in CT, like SoberB, I found it hard to get info - people like to hoard their inside scoop a bit, I fear - and so I took to calling teenagers at our church, asking them to babysit and telling them that I pay $10 when all three kids are home and awake and $7 an hour with only two kids or if some or all are sleeping. When in doubt I do round up, but I just couldn't take the confusion anymore - and it was preventing me from using babysitters. We have two boys who babysit and two girls, and each one of them would answer "Whatever" if asked. I think it is even possible that the boys would answer that for lawn services. Somehow our culture has made work out to be something that we all find so deeply meaningful and significant that the money part doesn't matter that much.
I find this true as a doula. Many other doulas that I know would prefer not to charge, or to charge so little that I couldn't afford childcare & gas to get to the birth. They feel their work as a call (And so do I) and assume that money shouldn't enter into it. I'm not convinced. The minister at my church collects a salary, as do therapists, nurses - anyone who might see their work in service to others as a sort of vocational call. I do not mind donating my services in certain circumstances - I have and I will continue to, but I prefer to be in control of when I choose that (when I have availability, when I feel that nudge, when there is a great/severe need.) Certainly I hope when my kids are grown they know the value of their work and also feel equally free to give their time as a gift - but I hope they know the difference, because "whatever" isn't either of those.
Mad said…
Alrightee, we paid our Nanny $10 an hour for a 25 hour week. She was an upper year university student and that is the wage that upper year library assistants make. It meant that we were paying $1,000 a year for part-time, in-home, one-on-one care. I was told that we paid too much. Miss M's full-time day care was $450 a month at the old place and $565 at the new place. The cost of living is ridiculously cheap here.

We pay occasional sitters $10 an hour if Miss M is awake, $8 an hour if she is asleep. I have been told that I over-pay. However, I have never needed an occasional sitter for more than a couple of hours in the evening and I sorta feel that the person should leave with at least $16 to make it worth their while in coming. We also never provide transportation to the sitters b/c we never go out together and so it's usually the first parent to arrive home that relieves the sitter and therefore that parent can't drop the sitter home b/c it would mean leaving Miss M alone in the house. This is another reason why we tend to rely on older sitters.

Tomorrow, I have a 16-yr-old boy, the son of a good friend, coming over to monitor sit so I can go to book club. His strict instructions are to call if Miss M wakes up and I will walk the half block home rather than him scaring the shit out of her by appearing, a stranger, in her room at night.
Kyla said…
I am that whatever-girl. Not just when I was a babysitter or with finances, but across the board, really. I've outgrown some of it, but at a base level, my answer is always, "Whatever."
Liv said…
I hate the whatever answer, too. It makes me feel uncomfortable. Girls...
Florinda said…
Fantastic post! I don't use sitters, period (my stepkids are older, and only with us part-time, so we try to keep adult-only activities to times when they're with their mom), so my interest here is more general.

I've read a lot about how women aren't good negotiators, and have trouble asking directly for what we want. A generalization, of course, but it seems to be one for which the seeds are sown early.

An inexperienced babysitter may indeed have no real basis for knowing what to charge, and may be afraid that if she goes first in naming a price and it's "too high," she'll lose the job. She has probably not been involved in many negotiations, and doesn't realize that it's not a strict yes-or-no situation. And if she's allowed to keep offering - and accepting - "whatever," it's going to be that much harder to learn differently.

Some of us take a LONG time to outgrow that sort of thinking. I'm still working on it myself - maybe not so much with money, but in other areas of my life.
Mad said…
Um, I clearly meant $1000 minimum a MONTH for the Nanny care. $1,000 a year would be a bargain indeed.
flutter said…
I am up to my ass in whatevers. I must be rich!
Melissa said…
It's the same here with the "whatevers", even with the boys I have used. What was even stranger was that one of these boys taught swim lessons and had no problem saying "thirty bucks a session" for that.

I pay $8 per hour. That is the prevailing rate here in Austin.
I totally agree with you. I always charged a certain rate for toddlers, more for newborns, more for multiple kids, etc. If I had to cook, if I had to clean, if I had to explain why they were getting their period on my watch and didn't know what it was... (no joke, happened to me TWICE).
jeanie said…
I haven't had to pay for babysitting - the joys of being in a network of friends who barter - but I am with you on the "whatever" response.
Anonymous said…
8 to 10 dollars per hour here. I can't low-ball the price of child-care that I trust.

Recently, I had an emergency at work, and couldn't get home to pick up SG, and Mrs GF was at a conference, I called one of the young Girl Scout leaders who does daycare and asked her to pick up my daugher from school and keep her at her house for about 3 hours... when I asked her what I owe her, she said, "oh! well... the moms just pay me whatever"

I gave her thirty dollars for her time, short-notice, and the pick up from school.
I came to your blog via Thursday Drive, and I'm glad I did.

This essay you've written is one of the most intelligent arguments for the way women learn or don't learn to value their's implications for later life are enormous.

I would like to urge you to submit this as an article to a magazine. I think it's that important.

Mary Alice said…
My daughters both state the wages for their babysitting services. What they aren't sure how to handle is the parents that arrive home late and inebriated and seem to have lost the ability to count how many hours they have been gone and multiply that by the hourly wage.
MommyTime said…
This is fantastic and provocative. I would like to add, though, that I don't think it's only young girls who have this problem. I use primarily a sitter who is a teacher at my daughter's daycare, and when I asked what she charged (and she is in her 50s and has been a professional daycare provider for DECADES), she said, "oh, whatever." I think it is a difficult thing for women generally, and when they are dealing with other women, even more so. She did tell me, after the second time she'd sat, that I had overpaid her the previous time -- and she refused that subsequent evening to take as much as I'd offered. I have finally settled on something that is about $10 an hour, although if we are out for many hours after the kids are asleep, it's usually more like $9 an hour. Which, I know, is ridiculous to have to be guessing at -- but she won't give me a set rate, so I can only guess and round up or down according to what "seems" right.

I think your point that it is important to teach girls at a young age a sense of self-worth and an ability to be frank about money is clearly exemplified in what happens with my sitter: she is of a generation in which women did not talk about money, and so she cannot. I can only hope that I can teach my daughter to be more comfortable and frank about this topic.
Maisy said…
My 15 year old recently babysat for a newly separated friend. He has 3 children aged between 7 and 12. For 4 hours work he paid her $50. I returned the next day and gave him $20 back and told him the going rate was $5/hour, unless he required her to stay overnight with the children, when it becomes a fixed overnight fee of no more than $40!

He was worried I was robbing my daughter and I responded that I was just letting him know the going rate as my neighbours had for me when I overpaid their daughters. He hadn't actually asked what my daughter charged, but I didn't want him to pay too much as that would mean less work due to the affordability factor!

Stating fees up front is my preference - but I don't fit the softly spoken lady stereotype I'm afraid!

Ali - in Australia.
S said…
i couldn't agree with you more.
LizP said…
In my corner of Oregon (Eugene) I think the going rate is $5/hr. That's what we end up paying based on some advice from a mom friend. I've gotten "whatever" from three of my older stepson's female friends. It's also what we pay the older stepson if we need him to babysit (date night as opposed to just running to the store).

From everyone's comments, now that we have two little ones, we should up the hourly rate that we pay.
le35 said…
I haven't yet read all the comments because I wanted to post my thoughts first. Then, I'll go back and read the other comments, so forgive me if I say something that has already been said.

That said, when someone asked me what I charged to babysit when I was younger, I told them what I really charged. If they didn't ask, I didn't just come out and tell me. Also, I did tend to charge some families more than others because, honestly, there were some families with better behaved kids than others. I charged less for the well behaved kids than the mean kids.

That said, now, as an adult, I run my own music studio, and as such, I have to charge a rate. My rate is definately low for the area and my experience combined. When people ask for my rate, sometimes they seem taken aback when I actually tell them what I charge per lesson. I think I might make more from some students if I just said whatever. At the end though, other parents would take advantage of me and only pay me two dollars.

On the other hand, if you're a girl who gets paid "whatever" for babysitting, and two families call you up the same night, which family will you choose to sit for? The family who pays more. Really, it's not the girls' fault, it's the american system at work. If you don't have a set price, often, you get more.
niobe said…
Interesting. In all my years of hiring sitters, I can't remember ever asking the sitter how much she charged. Instead, I'd just offer the going rate ($10-12 hour).
le35 said…
OK, after reading the other posts, here are some more thoughts. If the girl who said whatever comes knowing you're only going to pay her $1 an hour, what level of care will you get. Also, if she knows someone else will pay her $8 an hour, and they call after you, She'll call you back and tell you that she can't sit for you. But really, I babysat a lot growing up, and every family paid differently, but different kids are different, so I didn't state a rate. Also, I trusted that the parents would be fair. I would rather trust people and teach people to trust than try to have someone learn some harsh life lesson from me.
Christine said…
great post! i always tell my sistters how much I pay rather than ask their gong rate. i found it very interesting that none of them argued or negotiated!

also, i had a friend get weird with me because she wanted to hire me to watch her kids in the summer. i said i charge $10 per hour per kid. She seemed floored that i wan't less. isn't my time with your kids and away from my own worth that much, at least?
Jennifer S said…
I completely agree with you. I've had a couple of babysitters throw "whatever" at me, but I had a history of paying $9-10 an hour at that point. The last time it happened, I told the girl "This is what I pay other sitters" ($10, and a little more if I don't have the right change) and that I would pay her that because I thought she deserved the same rate as the others.

She did deserve it, and I hope she knows it now. But I know one other family in my neighborhood for whom she also babysits, and I'm not sure what they pay her.

It shocks me that you were in the minority in that group of mothers. Girls don't babysit because it's fun, they do it for money. (I tend to overpay and overtip

Maybe you should write a babysitting guide? Or start a blog for babysitters that gives them a way to compare experiences and rates (maybe there's something like this already). A local forum might be in order.

I love that you always shine a light on issues that we should all consider more carefully.
Another brilliantly insightful post. I absolutely you hit the nail on the head when you said it has everything to do with young girls (being taught) not to want to be perceived as forward, pushy or aggressive. As a mom of two young girls, you must be so sad to see that. I know I would be. Ugh!

I'm with you all the way on this one.

I learned early in my profession that if you don't name your price, they will lowball you.

Every time.

I've worked at six newspapers. At the first, I took what was offered. Never again. From then on, I negotiated every salary, and I was damn proud when one editor said I was the toughest haggler he'd ever encountered.

You state your worth. You get what you deserve. And you also win others' respect in the process.

"Whatever" doesn't cut it in the workplace. EVER.
Anonymous said…
I've only hired a babysitter once in my five years of parenting and she gave me the "whatever" price. I wanted to strangle her. I also really wanted to go out, so I took whatever as a good price.

Girls should know how to talk about money like any one else. I guess I would have been on the short list in your mom's group too.
Bea said…
When I was babysitting in the '80s the going rate was $2/hour. I was always uncomfortable when someone asked me how much I charged, and I suspect I may even have used the word "whatever" in response (and usually these people would pay more - $3.50 or even $5/hour, so there was a direct cash incentive for my vagueness!). I made $4.50/hour at the fruit market where I worked retail, so $2/hour to do my homework while the kids were sleeping always seemed like a pretty fair wage.

I'm not convinced that my discomfort in answering the question "How much do you charge?" is gender-related - it had less to do with embarrassment about money than with discomfort about the nature of the relationship. Is the parent a customer or an employer? I notice that Sci-Fi Dad uses the terms "service provider" and "customer" to describe babysitters and parents, and certainly customers are not normally the ones to set prices. But employers often do. Sure, there are negotiations when people are hired, but usually there is a salary attached to the job, and that salary is offered by the employer and either accepted or not accepted by the person offered the job. When I am interviewing home-care providers, I ask how much they charge, but if I were hiring a nanny, I would expect to open the negotiations by offering a salary that I am able to pay and that I believe (based on whatever research I'd done) is a fair market salary.

That said, I have simply ignored several emails from people interested in advertising on my blog, at least in part because they asked what my rates were. I'm much more comfortable with BlogHer, because THEY tell ME what they pay!
Amen to you, chica. I want to know up front and they should want to tell me.

Featured on Good Mom/Bad Mom on the Houston Chronicle.
Biddy said…
ok so i admit to being one of those that used to say "whatever" when asked a price. But, after being a nanny for 2 different families, I realized that babysitting is indeed a JOB. now that i'm 23 I don't really babysit that often, but when I do and people ask how much I charge, i tell them "i don't exactly have a set rate because i never know the family's situation. however, i will tell you i have been paid anywhere from $1 an hour to $18 an hour. i will tell you, $1 an hour is entirely unacceptable!"
Perksofbeingme said…
As someone who has worked as a babysitter, as a nanny, and now as an ABA therapist I do say how much I want to get paid. I have found that most mom's that I know don't ask but before I work for them, I like to talk to the moms to discuss payments and they child's needs. I generally get paid more than most people my age (I'm 21) because I have CPR, First Aid certification, I also have experience with special needs children (ranging from autism, to severe food allergies, to muscular dystrophy, downs syndrome, Cystic Fibrosis, etc). And I don't mind working with parents, so say if a mom needs a babysitter and just can't really afford one at the moment, that's fine. we can work something out. I think the fact that I'm flexible and yet I don't let myself get walked upon seems to make mom's like it. And since I usually bring it up they don't have to ask.
Anonymous said…
I think you were right to teach the girls to state a price. The moms who don't want them to name one might just be wanting to take advantange of them. Being able to ask for what you're worth is a valuable life skill. I remember once (15 years ago, aack) being laughed at when I asked for minimum wage for babysitting. By someone in a really fancy house. I guess they wanted to pay me "whatever." To which I say, "whatever, find someone else!"
Beck said…
Oh! I well remember this, the numbed silence I would feel when I was 15 and some parent had just paid me WAY too little for babysitting their FOUR children for a day. I don't want to raise my kids to just pocket their $10 silently, in that situation.
Magpie said…
Another fascinating Julie post. Thanks.

I've not dealt with this, because (and luckily) my in-laws live nearby and LOVE to babysit for FREE. But I'll keep it in mind if and when I need to hire a babysitter...
HeyItsBeej said…
I'm new here. Followed a link from Good Mom/Bad Mom. This is the only entry of yours I have read.

And already, I heart you.

THANK YOU for expressing what I've been trying to get my daughter and her best friend to believe. State your worth! You're worth more then a shoulder shrug and "whatever"!!!

I'm afraid to read more of your blog - I might heart you even more!

Anonymous said…
I wonder when the last time these women went to a hairdresser and were affronted when they looked at the price list. When they or their partners go for a job interview do they really not discuss hourly rate or salary? That's just really absurd!

Any time you use a service you know what you're going to charged up front. It's rude of THEM to expect a babysitter just to accept whatever change they happened to have in their purse.
Anonymous said…
I think this trend continues for professional women. I have observed that women lawyers feel considerably more billing-related guilt than their male counterparts.

A thoughtful, well-written post. BlogNosh rules.
Jennifer said…
Found your blog through Blog Nosh and loving it!

Regarding the babysitter situation... I find this unbelievable. It really bothers me that the moms in your group find it rude for a babysitter to state his or her fees up front. How is that rude? That is the way the world works. In any profession a fee is negotiated up front. It is quite unfair of the moms to expect the babysitters to just accept "whatever."

I think it's awesome that you spoke up when no one else would, and I can't imagine that you were alone in your thinking.

Luckily my husband and I have two very cool babysitters named Grammy and Papa that only charge hugs, kisses and the occasional restaurant gift card for their services. Sometimes we use a 15 year old neighbor and we decided up front with her and her mom that she would be paid $20 and free pizza any time she sits for us.

Great post, you've obviously hit a nerve.
dcarr said…
Way to go on stating the obvious on the babysitter's fees. It is rude of these women to say that asking a certain fee is wrong.

That is the problem with women and some people. They are afraid to ask for what they are worth. I am in graphic arts an am taking a course on starting or running graphics arts business. T

The teacher repeats each week that we need to specify clearly and without guilt tht it will cost XXX dollars...How would you like to pay for that. Girls need to learn to be assertive (not aggressive) and start younger so they waon't be walked over all their lives.

I'd like to tell these women that their attitudes are a major contributor to the reasons why MEN have higher positions and get PAID MORE than women for doing the same exact jobs, which is UNFAIR.

Girls should be learning finances early on and politely asking for what they are worth. They should NOT fear this nor should they be taken as being rude. Far from it - they know what they want and know how to get it. Their work and their time is worth money and better to learn that now than always work for free. After all they will need to learn to pay for housing, food, special things, etc. We all need to earn a living and eat!
Anonymous said…
I'm a little late to this party, but I would definitely expect an hourly rate stated up front! The first thing I thought was "how are these girls going to know how to ask a fair price in the real world when they get older?"

I never babysat as a teen, but if I had I would have had a set rate. Period.

You do not have two heads, but apparently the other mothers in your group do.
Unknown said…
I really wish that when I was a baby sitter that I had someone like you to make me feel better about money. I'm only a 20 something now so it wasn't that long ago. My first babysitting gig I was paid $1 an hour because not only was I 10 years old, the mother was home at the time (teaching music lessons in the other room), and I was just so happy to be babysitting in the first place. When I netogiated other babbysitting gigs after that, I always waited for the parents to tell me how much they wanted to pay me (and it was never really that much). I still feel awkward about money to this day, I don't like asking for raises, or loans or anything like that. But I think that if I were able to start this mentality earlier, it wouldn't be a problem now. Write a book! Get it out there to the other girls!
I think you've even helped me at this late stage.
Yikes! It scares me how much young girls could be afraid of money. Is Ms McJudgy actually right? Maybe that's why I didn't have a lot of lady friends growing up - I'm not scared of money.

Let me expand... in my family culture, the Yoruba culture, the woman is often encouraged to have her own business and take care of her own needs. My mother taught us ALL to be comfortable asking for the things we needed and even earning them ourselves early on.

I suppose that makes me lucky. And I have charged less than my going rate on MANY occassions... but never have I ever said, oh, you know, just pay me whatever.

Yikes! It scares me how much young girls could be afraid of money. Is Ms McJudgy actually right? Maybe that's why I didn't have a lot of lady friends growing up - I'm not scared of money.

Let me expand... in my family culture, the Yoruba culture, the woman is often encouraged to have her own business and take care of her own needs. My mother taught us ALL to be comfortable asking for the things we needed and even earning them ourselves early on.

I suppose that makes me lucky. And I have charged less than my going rate on MANY occassions... but never have I ever said, oh, you know, just pay me whatever.

Julie Pippert said…
Thanks Tinu -- we should all take a page from you and your mother's books.

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