Searching For A Babysitter, Speed Dating-Style

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If you've ever gone speed dating, you know it can be nerve-wracking and entertaining — and may lead to a long-term relationship. If you're a parent with young kids, you know how hard it can be to find child care. Now imagine bringing those two things together in a speed interviewing event for parents and babysitters. Two North Shore mothers have turned that concept into a business, and we recently stopped by one of their "Sitter Mixers."

Opens Katy Langhorst: "So the way this is going to work is the sitters have numbers, and they're going to be stationed at the tables behind me, which are also numbered. And then every seven minutes we're going to give you a one-minute warning, and then blow a whistle, and the moms will then rotate clockwise through the numbers. So you'll end up meeting with all of the babysitters who are here."

Theresa Dowling, left, of Andover, who has a toddler and another child on the way, interviews prospective babysitter Jenn Phaneuf of Lawrence at a “Sitter Mixer” event. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)
Andover mother Theresa Dowling, left, interviews prospective babysitter Jenn Phaneuf of Lawrence at a “Sitter Mixer” event. (Sacha Pfeiffer/WBUR)

It's a little bit job interview, a little bit blind date and a lot of gut feeling crammed into a short amount of time. Langhorst, the woman giving instructions, is one of Sitter Mixer's co-founders. She advises the moms and prospective babysitters to skip the small talk and cut to the chase.

"We will warn you: seven minutes goes by very quickly," Langhorst says. "It sounds like a long time. It's very fast."

It's a weeknight in Lawrence. The setting is an educational playspace borrowed for the evening. The sitters, wearing white name tags, want work. The moms, wearing pink name tags, want to click with just the right child care provider.

"I'm Theresa."

"I'm Dawn. Nice to meet you."

"Nice to meet you. So, tell me about your babysitting experience."

"Well, I have over 10 years of nanny experience."

That's Theresa Dowling of Andover, who has one child and another on the way, and Dawn Cerasuolo of Nashua, a mom herself who's looking to pick up some extra money. The topics they cover range from casual, like whether Cerasuolo would be comfortable around the Dowling family's Labrador retriever, to critical, such as whether Cerasuolo is certified in CPR.

Some of the conversations flow easily. Others aren't quite as comfortable, making those seven minutes feel really long. In case a conversation starts to stall, Sitter Mixer provides a list of suggested questions. Here's Cerasuolo being interviewed by Amy Schleifer of North Andover, who needs someone to watch her toddler:

"OK, the questions they told me to ask — um, um, what is most difficult situation you've encountered while babysitting and how did you handle it?"

"Ah, I, I mean, no one has ever been hurt in my care."

"Oh, yeah. I'm — It's just a question. I'm not sure it, um..."

Langhorst interjects: "You guys have one more minute!"

"Let's see. Um, I guess I asked all the pertinent questions. You do have transportation, great."

"Yup, uh-huh."

"Um, would you want us to pay for gas or is that part of your fee?"

"Time's up!"

Saved by the bell! Sitter Mixer co-founder Langhorst says not every speed interview, obviously, is a match made in heaven.

"You can look at a list of qualifications on a resume and it can match what you need, but you meet the person and you think, 'No, I just can't see this person hanging out with my kids,' " she says.

Langhorst lives in Hamilton and founded Sitter Mixer with Tara Harville-Fry, a friend from Beverly, after noticing a problem at their mothers' group.

"We were saying, 'You know, guys, we plan these awesome mothers' nights out and no one comes,' " Langhorst recalls. "And every single person in the room said, 'We have trouble finding babysitters.' "

So they saw the potential for a business that could also provide a much-needed service. Babysitters pay $5 to attend and mothers pay $39. Molly Curtis, an Andover mom, plans to ask the sitters she liked best to come to her home and meet her two kids. Then she'll decide whether to hire them for a babysitting gig — kind of like most people don't commit to getting married after just one date.

"You get a feel of the person right away and if it's not working out, then it's not working out," Curtis says.

Asked whether the Sitter Mixer event is similar to dating, Curtis laughs before saying: "It's been so long since I've dated, so I don't know! But yeah, I guess it would be like dating. You know if you want to go on that second date."

It's not clear how many more second dates, though, Sitter Mixer may be able to help arrange. The state Department of Labor recently notified Sitter Mixer's owners that they must register as an employment agency or cease operating. They're fighting that because of the paperwork and fees involved — and, besides, they say they don't actually place employees or even recommend them. Their deadline for registering is the end of this month.

This program aired on August 16, 2011.


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