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Babysit Your Own Kids

Pretend you're the babysitter to have a fun, stress-free day off with your own kids.

It's the season of useless holidays and snow days (if we ever get a real winter). This used to mean relaxation and down time for me. Since the birth of my son, it means preschool closure and ramped up responsibility. Fortunately, it's not an upsetting time. I've figured out how to make these little gifts of time fun.

My new solution is to pretend I'm the babysitter. House rules still apply, but I try to inject as many off-beat events into the day as possible. If you ever read The Babysitters' Club YA books as a child, you're on to my suggestion.

The characters in the series carried boxes packed with activities for their babysitting charges. We can do something similar as parents.

Fun stuff to do

Finger paint. Yeah, I'm with you, I hate creating giant messes and thus more work in my house. There's a way to make this activity stress-free, though. Purchase water-soluble, washable, children's finger paint and a notepad of white paper, put the kids in pajamas or other clothes that can handle a stain or two, and jump into the biggest tub in your home. Once their masterpieces are complete, you can hose down the play area.

Build a fort. One of my 3-year-old's favorite activities is to crawl through the fort my husband made. It only took a few large cardboard boxes and some duct tape to build this cheap haven. Couch cushions or a table with sheets will also work if you get creative.

Have a dance party. Turn on the radio or tune the television to the music stations and boogie. Nothing is required except the energy to move your butt. Young kids especially appreciate your willingness to bounce around with them.

Go swimming. Though the weather outside is decidedly not frightful, water play still isn't on many minds. Surprise the kids with a trip to Leesburg Ida Lee Recreation Center. The indoor pool will brighten everyone's spirits. My son hugged and kissed me when I took him one Saturday morning.

Fun food

Pizza. Go ahead and call for delivery. It's not the healthiest option, but it sure is the easiest and most fun. We can all get back to organic tofu when schedules are normal again.

Fun television

Kids' movies. If all else fails, plop your kids in front of the boob tube and veg out. You're making sure little junior has the best education on normal days. His toys teach math, reading, and quantum physics. You both could probably use the break. If it'll make you feel better, try one of the PBS shows. Dinosaur Train, for example, is ridiculously informative.

Whatever you do, remember to loosen up and have fun. By the end of the day, you and your kids will love life and look forward to the next silly day off.

not a fan February 15, 2012 at 02:56 PM
Yeah, it's called parenting. Don't need to "pretend" you're the babysitter. I did WAAAAY more interesting and fun things with my kids than any babysitter by a long shot. How sad that parents might have to "pretend" they are the babysitter to do fun, creative activities with their kids...
Nicole Skuba February 15, 2012 at 04:02 PM
Thanks for the comment. My message is about lightening up a bit every now and then. I'm glad you had it all figured out. But sometimes we newer parents can use a tip or two as we navigate parenthood. Cheers!
not a fan February 15, 2012 at 04:13 PM
I definitely didn't have it "all figured out." Being a new mom at age 24, then with three kids under 5 at age 28 (blended family, no less), I learned really quickly. I never had my kids in full-time day care; it was, at most, a few mornings a week of preschool. I stayed home from work for several years specifically because the "babysitters" and nannies I tried to hire were worthless and would do nothing special with my kids and I quickly realized that no one but me would care about my little ones as much as I would. I just find the comparison of real parents to a fictional series on babysitters a bit much, too. Real life babysitters rarely bring bags of activities, games, etc. Usually, they are texting on their phones the entire time, going outside for a smoke, or generally ignoring your kids. Those few parents who do find the gem babysitters who will play games, etc., with their kids are very lucky and should hold on to those sitters! In my experience, I haven't found babysitters to be that engaged and so I hold myself and all parents to a much higher standard. Preschool/nursery school teachers and elementary school teachers, of course, are usually exceptional at planning enriching activities and do a great job of it. It is their passion and they take pride in it. I learned the most by watching other parents who had been doing this longer, and using my own imagination and spirit.
Dusty Smith (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 05:35 PM
The impression I got was that the columnist was trying to help parents keep children entertained when the weather's not great (although the weather hasn't really been bad, which is acknowledged in the column). I'm glad you found the need to respond, but if you don't like the ideas and have better ones, why not share them?
not a fan February 15, 2012 at 05:44 PM
The *ideas* are great. All good ones. The point I'm making is the *approach* of "pretending" to be the babysitter is what I find sad. I don't normally take time out of my day to write about articles or whatever that are silly. It was the sheer principle and absurdity of the premise (and me procrastinating writing a disaster management paper) that brought to write this. Again, ideas = great. Premise = silly, sad. This article could be written from the premise of 'here are some great ideas to things to do with your kids' rather than recommending parents "pretend" to be the babysitter. Again, I have not have great experiences in finding babysitters to be that creative. I never said I had "better" ideas--although this column could be written 100 times by 100 people and have different ideas--I simply took issue with its premise/approach. I'm sure you can see the difference.
not a fan February 15, 2012 at 05:45 PM
correction: *that brought *me* to write this.
Dusty Smith (Editor) February 15, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Not at all. We appreciate and encourage reader comments. I don't recall asking you to remove comments in the past, but maybe my memory is escaping me. If I think a post is inappropriate, I remove it myself; I don't ask the person who posted to do it. I've only removed comments that were spam or personal attacks. Yes, I defended, the writer because I think she's just trying suggest ways of making unexpected time at home with the kids fun. Clearly, we read the story differently. And that's fine. There's no intent to make anyone feel unwelcome.
not a fan February 15, 2012 at 06:24 PM
So sorry, that was Leesburg Patch who asked me to remove a comment related to a typo. Glad you are open to comments. I think they can make everyone's work better.
Robby Champion February 15, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Dusty, To your Patch writer: Your ideas of what to do with kids are common sense. Who doesnt do stuff like bake cookies and get out the board games and such when everyone's together on a snowday? My Mom used to have us take turns readiing from a novel while the others did chores in the rooms when we were all home. Or we'd turn on the tunes while we all cleaned house and dance around freeform. Hate to say this but "Duh!" What's off-base with your little story is the idea that you have to pretend you are a babysitter to do together-at-home stuff that's fun. Just omit that part and you have a column that might remind people to pull out the fudge recipe when it's snowy. The babysitter angle is off the wall and throws off your message. I got all tangled up in the idea that a parent wouldnt think to do these things but a babysitter would? Surely you have a list of stuff-we-always-do-together.
Nicole Skuba February 15, 2012 at 09:41 PM
Thanks for all the comments. I guess I struck a nerve. I liked to read The Babysitters Club when I was little. It pops into my mind every now and then as I spend time with my kids and I thought I'd share. Enjoy the three-day weekend.
Mary Craig February 17, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Nicole - I quite enjoyed your article and your suggestions. I am a SAHM of 3 under age 7 and there are plenty of times when a little whimsy and fantasy is awesome. My 7 year old would probably be thrilled if I actually said "who's mom? I'm Melinda, your babysitter for the day." Now I realize you aren't meaning literally pretend to be a babysitter. You just meant do something out of the ordinary. I am really not a fan of playing "shopping" with Monster High dolls on every school holiday while all the other kids are at daycare. But I bet my daughter and I could both get into something different if we made this a little game of "pretend". --------"The characters in the series carried boxes packed with activities"-------- When my daughter was preschool age, I kept special bags of goodies, one in the car - only used when we were travelling and one in the closet that was only for rainy days. It made those toys and those days really special for both of us. So THANK YOU Nicole for reminding me to sprinkle a little whimsy on those days of boredom. XD
Tom Kalka February 17, 2012 at 03:35 PM
so, (NOT A FAN) you learned by watching other parents who had been doing this longer huh? And yet, you provide negative comments to an author sharing some ideas and suggestion on how to engage their own kids better. No wonder you can't find someone decent to watch your kids, your negative 'know it all' attitude probably showed through during the interview and those smart sitters knew better than to deal with someone like you. Thank you, Nicole, for reminding me, that I don't have to be a parent all the time and I can be silly with my little ones. signed: a dad
not a fan February 17, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Wow. Looks like I struck a nerve as well, with Tom going for the ad hominem attacks! Note I never attacked the writer or her character when I questioned the article's approach. Om, actually, TOM KALKA, I never said I only had bad babysitters. I've had good ones but just not Mary Poppins. f you find them, hire them. It's a free country. And no, I've never "interviewed" someone that turned down working for me. And no, I'm not a know-it-all. Actually, I think I wrote that I was learning on-the-job. Where do you get this stuff? I still just don't think we should defer parenting skills to babysitters and assume they can figure out more fun activities than we can. This is not a new concept. Pick up any Parenting, Family Circle, etc., magazine any given month, and they all cover this same material. My question was, should we "pretend" we are fictional babysitters? I also don't get articles that encourage people to pretend they are prostitutes to have good sex with their spouse. I think we parents or spouses do a wonderful job and we can all add activities to our toolbox but we don't need to pretend we are hired help to get new ones. Just my two cents. Sorry you are so angry! Wow. Relax. Not healthy to be so angry about someone you don't even know. Scary! And Ms. Skuba, as I've said in previous posts, I think your ideas are great, just not the approach. Keep up the good work. Really, my point is academic and not even that important. Was just trying encourage discussion.
Dan Telvock February 17, 2012 at 06:38 PM
great column, Nicole!
Tom Kalka February 18, 2012 at 05:48 AM
Sitting behind an anonymous 'title' (Ms. Not a Fan), is what hits my nerve. If you have something to say, then say it, but be sure to stand up and say it. - personally, i could care less about the approach of an article - I care more about the point of it. And the point I took from it was be creative with your kids. Which i am happy to have been reminded to do by reading this article. - instead of debating approach, and having no constructive feedback relating to that in your original post (your words: "I did WAAAAY more interesting and fun things with my kids than any babysitter by a long shot.") Oh really? like what? How about sharing your wealth of 'on the job training experience' with the rest of us mindless parents who defer parenting skills to babysitters? - I actually understood Ms Skuba's point of 'thinking like a sitter' as someone looking at their current situation in a different light. Instead of playing with the toys in the normal ways, think about how someone who doesn't know how they typically play with those toys might. Creative thinking...and the ultimate point of the article. In my opinion. - in the end, why do you care if 'we' do or don't pretend to be what we are or are not. Instead of negative comments (starting with your negative title), try being constructive, useful and share your knowledge.
DK February 18, 2012 at 12:12 PM
great article nicole and thank you for taking the time to write something positive about being a parent. I think it is sad that people think they will feel better by saying something negative to you when clearly all your are trying to do is share something positive.
Kathleen March 19, 2012 at 03:40 PM
I LOVE Mary Poppins and love the reminder Nicole to be a little more like her every once in a while. I had four kiddos under the age of six. They are now 14, 12, 10, and 8. Back when they were little, there were days that I just was glad to make it through the day and I still have days like that now that they are older. It is so easy to get caught up in the everyday stuff that has to get done...the laundry, dinner, the kids' schedules, chauffeuring them around to all their activities that even the best of moms needs a little reminder to have a little fun once in a while. So thanks for the reminder to pull out the paint that I already have that is collecting dust in the closet, for getting me thinking about what movie to watch for family movie night this week, for thinking about taking my kids to the pool maybe over spring break. Today I will be a little more like Mary Poppins and a little less like Mrs. Banks...thanks for the reminder.

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