Gourmet cooking? Arabic lessons? New Yorkers want their babysitters to do it all


Alexis Barnes had seven years of experience as a babysitter when she moved to New York City in August 2013 to pursue her master’s degree at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She’d worked for families all across the Washington, D.C. area when she was an undergrad at Howard University and already had accounts with online babysitting sites, SitterCity and Care.com.

Figuring that babysitting would be an easy way to make some extra cash, she started taking jobs across the city. But after just a few shifts of cooking gourmet pasta dishes for an Upper East Side toddler, Barnes noticed that babysitting in New York was a different game.

“In New York, parents want it all,” she said.

In addition to performing regular childcare duties like picking up kids from school, Barnes says some parents asked her to teach their kids to read sheet music and even learn new languages.

“One mother asked me if I’d be willing to learn Braille to help her daughter study,” she said. “That didn’t work out.”

Barnes says that the experience motivated her to be more boastful on her babysitting resume about her other skills and talents.

“(New York parents) like you to be fluent in Spanish or French, have an interest in crafts and be willing to play soccer,” she said. “If you’re looking for work, you should definitely flaunt your achievements.”

Barnes’ experience is not uncommon in New York City, says Kristina Wilson, a former sitter and now CEO of Sitters Studio, a babysitting agency in Chelsea that only hires artists with college educations. Wilson says that New York parents are looking for sitters who can bring something extra to the table. Her agency focuses on matching parents with sitters that can teach their kids everything from how to spin a pirouette to how to paint like Picasso.

“New York parents are really ambitious and cultured. They don’t just want someone to sit and look over their kids,” she said. “They want their kids to be engaged.”

Katie, a sitter from Greenpoint who did not want to give her full name because she was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement when she was hired by a family on the Upper West Side, however, says that for her NYC parents’ demands have been too much.

“They wanted me to teach a four-year-old how to speak French and Arabic, and cultivate his love of foreign film,” she said. “In the end, kids are kids.”

Melissa Marchwick, a spokesperson for the online babysitting site, Sittercity.com, admits that parents in larger cities do have higher demands of their sitters to help cope with a busy urban life. But she insists that new city sitters shouldn’t be put off.

“Professionalism is still really important,” she said.

Marchwick, a new mother as of last April, says that while she was looking for some so-called extras when hiring a nanny for her daughter– someone with a driver’s license who spoke Spanish – finding someone that clicked with her child and was trained to care for a newborn was her number one hiring criteria.

“In the end, I ended up going with someone who had lots of recent newborn experience,” she said. “If you think about it, bringing a caregiver into your home, that becomes a part of your family so that comfort level is critical.”

Brianna McGurran, a grad student who has been babysitting for families in New York for almost a decade, agreed that in her experience, the basics have counted most. McGurran has experience tutoring kids for the SATS, but says that she landed most of her sitting jobs by being on time and making a good impression.

“They want someone whose reliable, someone who is going to show up on time and be there whenever you need them,” she said.

“Parents in the city are so busy and pulled in a million directions and they want to know there’s one thing to count on.”

Sitters like Barnes agree that having basic sitting experience can help you land a job even with the pickiest New York family. But at the end of the day, says Barnes, there’s no denying that families in New York are a little bit more eccentric.

“I have the cool Brooklyn parents with children running around brownstones and the semi-neurotic moms in the Upper East Side condo pent houses asking me to make pasta with capers and sundried tomatoes for their four–year–olds,” she said. “New York is interesting.”

But what do they really want?

We asked New York City parents to tell us what they look for in a sitter. When it comes down to the interview, parents said they asked their sitters these five important questions.

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