DEAR AMY: I am a 17-year-old high school senior. I’m the oldest of three siblings (one 14, one 12) whom I’ve been “baby-sitting” for years now. Recently, I went on my first job baby-sitting for strangers. This is a family that lives in a posh gated community in our area, whose kids are the same age as my siblings. The mom contacted me about the job 24 hours ahead of time, for the Saturday of Labor Day weekend. I drove 20 minutes each way. They paid me by check when they left the house, as they didn’t plan to return until 2 a.m. (I don’t have a bank account). They mentioned that they realized their kids don’t really need a “sitter.” When I arrived, I learned that each of the kids had a friend staying overnight, and there was also a small dog I was to feed and let out into the yard a few times. They had ordered pizza for everyone, so I got to eat dinner with the kids, but the mom stated that it would be nice if I cleaned up afterward. It wasn’t a difficult evening, but my parents have issues with the other parents’ expectations. My question is: I’d like to work for them in the future, but think that I was underpaid ($8/hour). I hadn’t negotiated the rate ahead of time and now feel I’m stuck accepting it for next time. My parents think it’s unfair that I had to watch four kids instead of the two I was expecting. Your advice?

Cheap Childcare

DEAR CHEAP: I would be very concerned about you being solely responsible for the guests of your baby-sitting charges. I wonder if the parents of these overnight guests were told that no parents would be present during the time their children were in the home.

These parents should have informed you of these extra children and their dog (what if you were allergic?) when they booked you. Telling you their kids “don’t really need a sitter” is diminishing your role in advance.

Yes, you should eat with and clean up after everyone before the parents come home, and also take care of the dog.

Baby-sitting rates vary widely depending on the age and expertise of the sitter, the ages of the children, where you live, how badly you want the job and how badly the parents want to hire you.

Now that you know the lay of the land, if these parents call again, you should say, “I’d like to sit for you, but my rates have gone up. I’m now charging $12/hour” (or whatever rate you choose).

For new clients, have a list of questions on hand to ask before you accept the gig.

DEAR AMY: An 11-year-old family member has been called by a totally different name by his father since his birth. The father completely rejected the name given to the boy when he was born. He and the boy’s mom are divorced. Dad remarried and has more children. Dad forces his family to call the boy the “other” name. However, I hear from the boy that his grandma calls him his given name when Dad isn’t around. This is really annoying to the child, but he feels he can’t do anything about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


DEAR CURIOUS: The way you present this, it seems extremely disrespectful for a parent to refuse to call a child a name by which the rest of the world knows him. Names are a vital part of a person’s identity. Adolescents especially wrestle with questions of identity, and this boy’s wishes should be heard and respected.

However, children of divorce often successfully bifurcate their lives, especially when one (or both) parents are difficult.

This child has probably chosen the path of least resistance with both parents in order to get by. This might be the wisest course for him now, but when he gets older he will have more options, including the option to distance himself from a father who doesn’t respect his identity.

DEAR AMY: “Worried” was a young adult who was upset because during visits with her grandmother, she had to spend all of her time listening to her grandmother talk about herself. I was so disappointed with your answer. I wonder how many hours — through childhood and beyond — that grandmother spent listening to her granddaughter talk about herself? It’s Grandma’s turn, now.


DEAR UPSET: Very good point.


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