Unexpected Lessons in Babysitting

At the age of fifteen, I was unable to attain a position at any of the numerous high end clothing companies that I one day aspire to work. The only option available to me was the mundane job of babysitting—a single mom with two young children, ages 4 and 7, was looking for a babysitter, and hired me to perform the duty of mini mom. After the harmless taunts that my friends made about my newly acquired occupation (most notably branding me the “au pair”), I tackled my first day on the job with a slight case of nervousness and overall excitement. Soon, the excitement wore down and I realized that babysitting garnered much more work than merely playing with children.

My first job taught me more about life and work than years of schooling could have. As is the case with most other jobs, my first official day of babysitting was somewhat nerve wracking, but not nearly a precursor of what was to come. Babysitting became the bane of my existence. I experienced the difficulties of motherhood prematurely, making the same blunders that other first time mothers make. Out of all of the mishaps that occurred while I worked—ranging from the day that I had to chase the children’s dog down the street after he escaped from the backyard, to the time that I jokingly told my seven-year old dependent that I would leave her outside the house with a ‘For Sale’ sign—the biggest mistake that I ever made on the job was being too worrisome.

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If I tried to accomplish a feat and it failed, the entire world seemed to come crashing down upon my shoulders. Simple failures such as putting the kids to bed too late appeared to be single most terrible event that could have happened in my life. The fear of being judged by my “boss,” the children’s mother, for any mistakes that I made haunted me throughout my entire babysitting career. Babysitting was at first a means of meager income for a girl who looked for a lenient, flexible job. It soon became the dominant force in my life—after each night that I babysat, I would evaluate the night’s events.

Was I too harsh when I didn’t let the kids read another bedtime story? Should I have put them down for a nap earlier than I had? Rather than be under constant surveillance of a strict, nitpicky boss, I was under the constant surveillance of my own mind. I worried excessively over the course of the six months that I babysat, and worrying did not pay off. Unexpectedly, I was ‘let go,’ unofficially and unceremoniously, after devoting my entire summer to babysitting two small children. Had I not put myself under constant strain, I would have had a much more enjoyable experience. I dreaded each moment that I was summoned to work, fearful that I would somehow make a fatal mistake during the course of the night that would make me lose my job. Yet when I lost my job after upholding what I thought were perfect standards, I realized that there was never a need for me to worry.

The cliche “everybody makes mistakes” is crucial to remember. While some people are completely unaware that they have made a mistake, I was too aware that I made mistakes. After my first job, I learned to relax, and to not place a crushing amount of pressure on myself in the quest for perfection. I realized that people are expected to fail at certain endeavors, but these failures provide an opportunity to learn. This carries over to my schoolwork: I constantly worry that each task I complete is not worthy of a high remark.

I compare myself to other individuals who have mastered concepts that I simply cannot grasp, and I worry about my intelligence. My peers behave in a similar manner. I have learned, though, that it does not matter the accuracy of the job performed; it matters the effort I put into performing it to the best of my abilities. A major life lesson that I learned is that perfection is unattainable despite even the greatest efforts—as humans, we make mistakes, and the important fact is that we cannot be too fretful about every questionable instance. Otherwise, in ten years I will still be worrying about the single time that I let the dog escape from the backyard.