Adriene Hill: Babysitters don't come cheap. In some parts of the country, you'll pay upwards of $20 an hour. And finding a good one isn't easy.
Andrea Shea says the search for the perfect sitter isn't all that different from the search for the perfect date.
Sarah Kelly: So my name is Sarah Kelly and I live in South Boston. I'm 35 years old.
Andrea Shea: Sounds kind of like the start of a personal ad, right? Well it might as well be -- except Sarah Kelly is on the market for a babysitter.
Kelly: This is my first child, his name is Tom and he's almost three months old.
Like a lot of parents Kelly turned to Care.com, an online babysitter site, hoping to find the right match. Now, after poring through 60 profiles -- and meeting six sitters in coffee shops -- Kelly is home waiting for the equivalent of a first date. She's leaving Tom alone with a sitter named Genevieve Naeve.
Sarah Kelly: I Googled her, she was the valedictorian of her high school around here, her dad lives around the corner.
Kelly is impressed by the young woman's stats, and she's willing to pay for them. Genevieve charges $12 an hour based on Care.com's "babysitter rate calculator" -- but Kelly says she'd pay even more for the right person. And the new mom admits she feels like she needs to woo the prospective sitter. She cleaned the house, prepared the bottles and is nursing little Tom so he won't be too fussy while mom is away.
Kelly: I'm definitely a little nervous, you know, you think you know something about the person, but you really don't know them very well and you're leaving your child with them. It's a big deal.
And it's a little awkward. But when the sitter arrives the trio seems to hit it off.
Kelly: Can you say hi to Genevieve?
Genevieve Naeve: How you doing? Are you hungry today?
Kelly: He's hungry every day. Let me show you the nursery.
Dawn Oates: I think that dating and finding a babysitter are pretty similar. You have a check list of everything that's your ideal scenario.
This is 40-year-old Dawn Oates, mother of three-and-half-year-old twins and a seven month old.
Oates: And then you get out there and you start looking for that, and you really don't know what you're going to find.
Oates has been finding sitters online for a few years now, and she's developed a strategy. On her laptop, she pulls up Care.com and shows me how to weed through the pool of candidates, starting with geography.
Oates: And I just put in my zip code and I click "go," and it shows me that there are 142 people that live within one mile of my house.
You can narrow the playing field by specifying age, gender, experience, smoking or non and price.
Oates: Just looking down the list you have Marley from Brookline, $10-$25 an hour, James $10-$15 dollars an hour. The $10 an hour bit turns me off -- here come my kids. And now i'm looking at Jennifer S., she lives nearby, she's $15-$20 and hour, and she has reviews.
Oates believes that you get what you pay for. She wants a sitter who's in tune with the marketplace, and who knows what they're worth. At the same time, Oates says some sitters are inflating hourly rates, creating what she calls a "sitters' market."
Oates: They're looking at everybody else's profile just like when I was single and dating on Match.com. I would say, "OK, what other women are out there competing for my men?" And the sitters will go online and they'll look at the profiles of the other sitters and they say, "Well, wait a minute, this profile, which I'm actually looking at right now, Erica C. from Brookline, she charges $10-50 dollars an hour." I mean that's quite a spread, so she has just created a scenario by which she's set the tone for this rate, whether she deserves it or not.
But when you find someone who does deserve it, someone you click with, Oates says you'll do almost anything to keep her.
Oates: You want this to be a long-term relationship, because when you're dealing with toddlers in my case, transition is a big deal to them. You don't want somebody who's in and out, you don't want a flavor of the week.
Shea: No casual babysitting essentially.
Oates: No. Absolutely not.
Oates got lucky with 22-year-old Lauren Vanhoof, and the mom happily pays her $15 an hour to watch her kids.
Lauren Vanhoof: Here, go ahead, your turn.
Oates: How did everything go with them?
strong class="name">Vanhoof: Good, they were good.
Oates: Hi sweet pea, how was school today, did you have fun? Is your diaper wet or dry?
And something funny can happen when parents meet sitters they fall in love with -- they get a little possessive. Take Valerie Davisson of Newton:
Valerie Davisson: Well, I can tell you that I will not share the names or phone numbers of my sitters with my husband or my friends. And I won't share them with my husband, because I'm afraid that he's going to volunteer them to his friends. So I do keep it exclusive.
But Davisson, a former CPA turned business consultant, takes cues from how an employer might try to keep a good employee.
Davisson: There are moms out there that I do think do get a little hoodwinked into that emotional pull and the sitters can start to be pretty demanding. What I've always done is treat it as a business arrangement. I pay a four-hour minimum regardless of how long I need the sitter, and that makes the sitters happy to show up at my job when I call them.
Davisson pays her sitters $17-18 an hour. Finding and keeping a sitter is hard work, and it can be a delicate dance, but this mom says it's well worth it.
Davisson: It's important to have a reliable sitter. And it's fun when the sitter shows up and the kids say, "Mommy, go now."
I'm Andrea Shea for Marketplace.
Davisson: Mommy's here. Hi Ryan!