I Want to be Your Brother, not Your Babysitter

Following on from my previous post about the family-like nature of the Japanese church I decided I would try to give a concrete example of what I think this would look like if we put it into practice in the UK.

So here’s the issue I want to talk about: babysitting.

And here’s my beef: I want to be your brother, not your babysitter.

(NB: This is really aimed just at Christians, but I think it could apply to anyone really. I mean you don’t have to be a Christian to treat your friends like family, just if you are a Christian then I think you don’t get the choice!)

Now, before I start: you might be thinking this is just the angry rant of a man who hates children. You would be wrong. This is the angry rant of a man who loves children. (And I will try to keep the ranting to a minimum.)

 

Me enjoying lunch with a cute Japanese kid

 

And my rant is really this: being treated as a babysitter means that I don’t get to spend much time with your kids.

Now of course there are exceptions, but many Christians whom I have babysat for have essentially treated me like a baby monitor with a bladder. They show me the toilet, assure me the children are asleep, tell me to phone if I need anything, and invite me to raid their fridge.

Now I don’t really consider this wrong, or even rude. If I was your babysitter this is what I’d expect. But as I mentioned, I want to be your brother, not your babysitter.

And the weird thing is, you’re already not treating me like a babysitter in that you don’t pay me. But no, this is not about money. I don’t want to be paid. I want you to follow through the logic you’ve started. What? Yup, check it out:

Why don’t you pay me to babysit for you? It’s because as a fellow Christian you feel that you can ask a favour of me. In other words, you are treating me not like an employee, but like a friend, or you could even say, a brother.

So if I am your brother (meaning you don’t have to pay me to babysit) why not be consistent in treating me like that? I.e. Spend time with me. Invite me over for dinner (maybe even on a night when you don’t need a babysitter). I know dinner time with children is messy: I don’t care! I love family mealtimes. I telling bedtime stories. I love all of the uncley stuff. OK, maybe not changing a toxic nappy, but come on! nobody likes that part.

Now I don’t blame you for thinking that maybe I’d prefer to spend my evenings hanging out with friends at the pub, or that my perfect weekend involves being foot-loose-and-fancy-free. I have gathered that children makes those things incredibly difficult, and maybe you dream of evenings without the kids. Hence why you get folk in to look after them.

But, look: yes, I’m single. But I’m also 29. So please don’t lump me in the ’single’ category and assume that I want to spend all my time doing what you did before you had kids – especially if that was when you were 21. I don’t. And I’m not single by choice. Well I am, but not because… you know what, let’s save that for another day.

Anywho, one of my favourite memories from my 3 years in London was the day that a friend invited me to go to the London aquarium with his family. Admittedly this is partly just because I love aquariums (who’s with me?). But it’s also because I really felt like part of their family.

My sister has 2 sons. And if the only time she invited me over was to guard the baby monitor whilst they slept you would be right in thinking that our relationship as siblings was messed up. Why should it be different with brothers and sisters in Christ?

******

If you’re single, do you agree? Have you had similar experiences?

If you’re married, do you agree? Am I being too harsh? How can I, as a single dude, better treat you like a brother or sister in Christ?

What other ways do you think the truth of church-as-family should be worked out in real life?

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14 thoughts on “I Want to be Your Brother, not Your Babysitter

  1. Sando

    Thanks for writing this.

    I’ve babysat a lot of children in my life, and by a lot, I mean A LOT. I love babysitting and my favourite part is always spending time with the kids themselves. I babysat a little boy a few times in Oxford “for free”. It felt a bit odd the first time as I didn’t know him at all and I was supposed to put him to bed really early – thankfully he wasn’t very sleepy that night so we got to play for an extra hour after dinner! (we also watched some Ghibli together 😛 I’d brought my DVDs “just in case”). I felt we had “bonded” somehow and that it was an evening well-spent. One day his mum had me over for dinner just so I could spend some time with them and get to know him outside “babysitting hours”, which I really appreciated and made me feel less like the “baby monitor” you mentioned.

    Having said all that, and though I didn’t mind doing it for free for these people, there have been other times when I’ve felt like I was being “used”. I don’t know who first came up with this strange idea that Christian parents should expect to not have to pay people like us (who honestly do not mind not being paid) solely on the basis that they are Christian and single – as if those two implied that a) we don’t need money or b) we don’t need company, that we love sitting in empty houses for hours doing nothing… at least maybe invite us over for dinner and eat with us before going off to wherever it is you need to be for the evening and make us feel a little more loved and appreciated?

    What do the other babysitters out there think?

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    1. levibooth Post author

      How unlike you to use babysitting as an opportunity to introduce children to studio Ghibli films.

      But thanks for sharing. Sounds like you have much more experience at this than me! I had guessed that girls get asked to babysit more than guys. Seems that our culture assumes that men still (assuming they actually used to) view children like whats-his-name from Mary Poppins. Unless you’re just really popular…

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  2. Ash

    In the interests of full disclosure, are you going to tell people that you are still living with the people who you babysat for? 🙂
    I think we have talked about this at some length Levi, and I basically agree with your argument/rant. If I might suggest a couple of observations.
    First, in my experience it is pretty much always the families that take, and keep taking, the initiative in these relationships. This can give the impression that single people really don’t want to spend time with us. So we don’t invite them to. If you want me to treat you like a brother, then treat me like a brother.
    Secondly, I think most Christians who babysit are happy to volunteer, certainly at OH where they were only going to sit and work all evening anyway. I think if I had to pay my babysitter then I wouldn’t go out with my wife because it is too pricey for us students. In fact, it is this sense of reciprocity that tends to mean that, whether people are aware of it or not, most of the babysitting gets done my other parents who get babysits back. That is a way that we can serve each other at no cost but with great benefit. As people with kids, we know how much every couple wants to get out from time to time and we bend over backwards to babysit without wanting any recompense than knowing that we are loving our brothers. I feel the guilt about asking single students to babysit. So much so that I would rather have them for dinner than ask them to babysit, because I want them to know that I love them, not simply that they can serve me. But life is very busy when your kids are young, so maybe that doesn’t come across.

    I hope you find a lovely Japanese wife and have lots of ginger Japanese babies Levi. Then you will be able to blog from the other side, so to speak. 😉

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  3. Cathryn

    This is really interesting and made me examine my own behaviour. Obviously I’m without sin 🙂 But seriously…yes, christian families need to be aware of quite how much God has blessed us, and be aware that single people might crave the love and affection of a family environment. (And the horror of family environments too, sometimes).
    I also want Levi to find a supercool Japanese wife!

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  4. levibooth Post author

    Yes, yes, we all want me to come back to the UK with cute gingernese babies!

    Thanks for your input Ash. I was thinking about writing a post from the ‘other side’ but given that’s where you’re actually from maybe you could write one? 600-800 (including footnotes!) on how single seminary students can be better brothers to our married-in-ministry (OK, maybe you should choice a title): you up for it?

    Oh, and yes, I was going to write about the Myers, but didn’t want to bore people with all the stories of the ‘hilarious’ things that the boys have said to me (plus the funniest stories are ones I can’t really repeat in polite company!).

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  5. Pingback: Response to ‘I want to be your Brother, not your Babysitter.’ | Reversed Thunder

  6. Pingback: A Married Response to ‘I want to be your Brother, not your Babysitter.’ | Reversed Thunder

  7. andyds55

    Hey, Levi,
    I was single till I was 30. Married a cute half-Chinese girl, but our kids are neither ginger nor bald (yet).
    I never did the residential Bible college thing, so I can’t comment on that. However, from a church perspective, I love when my kids go and sit on the laps of the under 25s in church. I am not great at inviting them into my life, but as Ashley kind of posted in his response, when you are parenting, working and volunteering, it is kind of hard to invite anyone into your life. Our guest book has far too few names inscribed.
    My kids are now 5 (tomorrow) and 6. I would love it if other people could get them through the bedtime routine. But they are just really, really fussy. Feeding them dinner would be OK, just about, but as for the whole bath, Bible reading and books, they have never even let my mother do that with them. Not because we want to hog it, but because the kids won’t let them. Friends, uncles, relations are not intended to be for the most intimate moments (of snuggling up in bed, of supervising in the bath), the purpose of these people is to be climbed up and down on, to play silly games, and, if the chance presents itself, for trips to the zoo, etc.
    I did loads of babysitting before I was married, and I too loved kids. Like you, there were those moments of disappointment when you discover the younger ones are already asleep or when the older ones say they would rather go to bed without books tonight. But I reconciled myself to the fact that the surrogate uncle is there for the fun times, but sadly probably not the intimate times.
    I don’t know if that is a suitable response, but just my thoughts…

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    1. levibooth Post author

      Hey Andy,

      Sorry to hear that your babies are not ginger. I guess we can always hold out hope for the grandkids!

      Thanks for your insights. I would say it is a suitable response. I’m hoping to hear people’s views: that’s kinda the point.

      Anywho, I think your distinction is a helpful one, and I appreciate your reminder that children/families are different.

      The other day I went round to someone’s house and was almost instantly bundled by 2 of their kids, who I had never met before. Other children have responded to me by hiding, running, screaming, staring, crying or a combination of those – even after being around me for quite some time. As you point out, some children just want to be with Mummy and Daddy. I don’t think you can or should try to force them to do otherwise.

      My guess is that different parents would have different ideas of where the uncle/parent line should be drawn. I’m cool with that. After all, they’re your children. My argument is that, as a brother in Christ, I should fall into your ‘uncle’ category and not a separate ‘babysitter’ category. If I’ve understood you, your point would be that the definition of what comes under those categories is not something for single folk like me to decide and then impose on families? I’d agree with that. In fact I’d say your response was not only ‘suitable’ but provides necessary balance.

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  8. Therese

    Heya Levi
    I kind of lack the perspective of a single as I married early so thanks for reminding us of your perspective! Forgive us and bear with us – as a brother!
    I love to have other people share our family life especially as “family” family is far away. But sometimes I am not quite sure how much people (or “singles”) want to share of our family life. We love the sort you seem to be who just loves it. But maybe there are singles who are not all that interested to get “involved” into a family. And even you with your best intentions need a break sometimes. As we have forgotten how much time and space we used to need before we had kids we are very unsure about your needs.
    Since I am a mother of two small ones I appreciate every hand I can get. I am unspeakably grateful for all you do for me. For babysitting – of course – but just as much for other things. When you wash the dishes after you came over for dinner (even though I said you should leave it). If you “accompany” my little one on his journey down the stairs so I don`t have to interrupt my meal at church lunch once more. When you help my toddler into his shoes after prayer meeting. When you hold my little one even though he is crying heartbreakingly so I have a minute to go to the loo. When you hold to door open for me so I can manoeuvre in my pram. When you don`t show your slight annoyance when my son – chatting merrily – managed for the third time within minutes to burst into the room where you are leading a seeker`s Bible study.
    When I had no kids I had no clue just how much even these little gestures would mean to somebody who has small kids. Now I pray that I will never forget (and always be willing to go “the extra mile”).

    🙂 But now enough of that. Let us know with which little gesture we can make your day.

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    1. levibooth Post author

      Hey Therese,

      Thanks for those thoughts. (And your English is great. Much better than my attempts at Swiss, or German, or Japanese for that matter!)

      I think you’re right. There are single folk who are happy to be footloose and fancy free (whatever that actually means: I’ve never understood why it’s a good thing for your feet to be loose) and I don’t want to pretend as if I’m speaking on behalf of all single people. I guess it’s quite annoying for me to moan about not being invited into families, if the single people you know are all happy leaving you to struggle with nappies and crying babies.

      I think the main thing I’m learning from these conversations is the importance of talking to people. Finding out what would be helpful for them. Not assuming that I know what someone’s life is like, because I’m almost always wrong!

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  9. Therese

    I would like to add two more things:
    Sometimes the reason for not sharing our family life with others might also be that we need same time and space just as a family or that we are simply too tired.
    The last paragraph should have said this:
    When I had no kids I had no clue just how much even these little gestures would mean to somebody who has small kids. And how could I have known?!? It is perfectly natural that before experiencing that first-hand it was somehow out of reach for me to grasp that. But now that I know I pray that I will never forget (and always be willing to go “the extra mile”).
    Thanks for bearing with my feeble attempts at English (and sorting my thoughts).

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  10. Wendy

    Yes, I’m married and that is what we want when we invite (single or married) people to our house: people who act like family. Willing to get to know our kids (of course they are older and don’t require so much of the baby monitor-type looking after). People who visit us and ignore our kids or who find them difficult are not easy to have in our house. So, we’d love to have you visit us Levi, when you get to Tokyo some time.

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    1. levibooth Post author

      I have to admit I do find older kids more difficult to engage with that younger ones. I think it’s because I intimidate them with how cool I am – it is tough to compete with a child of the 80s…. But I am looking forward to hanging out with you and your family sometime. I’ll get your boys to teach me some wrestling moves!

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