The New York Times ran a column asking for advice from a babysitter that noticed that their client was scheduling her time far in advance (causing her to rearrange other job schedules) and then cancelling. She wondered if she should still be compensated.

I think it’s situational – it depends on how much time the sitter has to find something else to do or some other job to take.

If you cancel up to 24 hours in advance, I think that the sitter should NOT be compensated unless, 1) you have an agreement that states otherwise, or 2) it’s a frequent event (in which case the babysitter should have an agreement that states they get 50%, 25%, etc. of what they would have made).

If you cancel day of, I don’t think you owe the total amount, but probably 50% of what the person would have made or 100% if it was a teenager for $7 an hour and you were only going to be gone 3 hours. That wouldn’t be a huge hit to your wallet.

If the sitter is standing in your doorway when you cancel, you are an asshole and that sitter should not only REFUSE to work for you again, they should tell all of their friends that you are a damn awful human being. This happened to me. I cried. True Story.

I used to babysit the younger brother of my brother’s friend – he was one of those children born much later than all of the other siblings…so all of the other kids were in college or high school when he was still in diapers. I didn’t babysit him very often, maybe once every few months, since there were so many older siblings who could watch him.

One day I got a call from his mother asking me to babysit on a particular afternoon after school. I looked at the calendar and hesitated, because it was the anniversary of my dad’s death and I knew that was a day that my mom would keep my brother and I out of school to have a family day together and go visit the grave.

“Zoogie2, this would REALLY help me out. My elderly mother is flying in and it’s only for two to three hours when I pick her up and take her out to dinner so we can catch up.”

I needed the money and I figured that by that time in the evening I’d already want to escape my depressing family, so I agreed.

After a long day of grave visiting, family meals and going through countless photo albumns (along with sniffles from my mom about how proud my dad would be of us if he was here, he’s our guardian angel looking at us from a cotton-like cloud while playing a harp and smiling down on us serenely, etcetra) I showed up at the house a bit sadder and more emotional that I thought I would be.

I knocked on the door and the mom opened it. Barely glancing at me, she said, “Oh, I decided to take my son to the airport and dinner with me. Sorry.” Then closed the door in my face.

Should I have gotten a better apology? Yes! Should I have been compensated for my time, regardless of what memories the day held for me, but definitely consider what kind of emotional hell I was ignoring to help her out? Fuck yes!

She didn’t just cancel on me, she let me drive all the way to her home and knock on the door. She didn’t even have the decency to give me a call or attempt to cancel. The disrespect of her  actions is galling. At the very least, I was out gas money and my time; when I came home and told my mom what happened we were both pretty pissed.

So I called all of my babysitter friends (because at 10 cents a pop, texting was too expensive and I had a limit) and let them know what happened. For the rest of my time in high school, that mom had an incredibly difficult time finding a sitter and when she called me I always said the same thing, “Sorry, I’m busy that day. Goodbye.” I would have confronted her but I was afraid of losing other clients. She certainly suffered for a few years being blackballed.

I’ve been on the other side of the coin as well – one time I was supposed to babysit a family’s two little girls at 6pm but around noon of that same day I started throwing up. My mom attempted to call the family, but they never answered their phone (this was pre-cell phone era). She tried every few hours, leaving numerous messages, so what could we do when they showed up at my place to pick me up? I had to tell them I was too sick to babysit and YES, I felt really badly. I’d called a few friends to see if anyone could cover, but no one could. Because I was apologetic, had clearly tried my best to alert them and find a replacement and because they were the forgiving type, I still babysat for them for another few years. So I understand that sometimes, shit happens.

If the columnist were me, I’d ask myself how important this client is. If we part on unhappy terms, will they tell everyone in their Mommy & Me class and will that negatively impact my ability to get other work? How close are you to the parents? Are you their main babysitter or just a backup? That will defnitely determine how much weight you hold with them. Maybe the problem is that you’ve become ‘part of the family’ and you must love their kid as much as they do, which means you’ll be flexible in seeing her. There needs to be a distance between you as an employee as them as employers.

Can you sit them down after your next babysitting gig and explain how this is affecting you and that as much as you love babysitting for them and spending time with their little sweetpea, this is a job and as such, you think the last-minute cancellations either need to stop or you need to be compensated. Figure out what points you want to make with them, and if they dump you for some 17 year old who needs money to bedazzle her phone, that’s the breaks but at least you won’t feel used or disregarded.

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