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Dear Counselor Chomp: Is it a Favor if You Hate It?

June 8, 2011

Dear Counselor Chomp:

Our babysitter is like part of the family. We love her and value her. We trust her implicitly with our children and in our home. However, to “make life easier,” she sometimes insists upon cooking dinner for our family. She treats it as a special thing she is doing, but she makes a terrible dinner. No: a terrible dinner.

Tofu chunks with no marinade or salt under the broiler, a makeshift pizza with ketchup and cheddar cheese. Even my toddler, when presented with this food, give me a look like, wtf?

I don’t like hurting feelings, nor do I like wasting food — or the time she is with us. Advice?

Wrinkled Nose in Washington State

Dear Wrinkled,

Is it okay for me to laugh at your problem? The situation is somewhat funny, but it certainly isn’t an easy one to handle.

Babysitter relationships get complicated. It’s often easiest on a working relationship if its kept completely professional, even though it feels rather stiff and conservative. It’s also nearly impossible with a sitter, who by design sees you when your house is messy, or when you’re sick, or fresh out of the shower.

Sitters also end up loving your child, and who doesn’t sort of love someone who loves and cares for their child?

It sounds like your sitter is an asset in many ways: a good caretaker for your children, a person who is welcome in your home, a person who wants to make your life easier. So let’s remember that we’re not dealing with a complete loser here. And you clearly don’t want to lose her, so let’s make that the first objective.

You could try to suck it up. Or if you decide to address it, you have some options.

One is sort of cold, but relies on the employee / employer dynamic. You could say “It’s been great that you are taking on some extra work around here, in terms of making dinner. What would be far more helpful to me, though, is if you’d spend extra time focusing on folding laundry / sweeping the floor / organizing the toys / whatever.”

Or you could do what I would probably do, which is take a totally strange and circuitous route of making some sort of food chart explaining what you will be having on each night for dinner, and putting it on the fridge, and bragging to her about your new organizational system. That might be going sort of out of the way to avoid hurting her, but it might get the job done and take her out of the process.

And you run the risk that if you write “beef stroganoff” she might endeavor to make it herself,  out of god knows what, while you’ve got your back turned.

You could just talk with her about how her cooking stinks, but only if you can find a way to make her feel loved and valued, and not stupid.

Whatever you do, don’t lose a good sitter: they can be hard to find.

Good luck with all of this. Sigh.

To get your question answered by Counselor Chomp, email it to churchchomp at gmail dot com.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. frankly manny permalink
    June 9, 2011 8:13 am

    Would it be possible, too, to make it into a learning thing? Toddlers can do stuff in the kitchen, right? (We’re in between toddlers at the moment so I don’t honestly remember, but toddling around implies toddling around the kitchen, not with a knife, maybe, but with a cup of flour and sticky sugar all over the hands.) Why not find a way to include your babysitter in the dinner ritual by making it about teaching your toddler how to cook, or not HOW to cook, but maybe how to have fun in the kitchen? So that, on those nights she might normally make her own thing, you could all three of you make something together — something you, oh Wrinkled Nose, have chosen to make. That way, it could be fun — for you, your babysitter, your toddler — and it could easily get around the “Boy, do we hate your food with a fiery, fiery passion” conversation, and it could allow your babysitter to still feel part of that ritual of cooking and eating that seems somewhat important to her. Maybe you might even teach your babysitter something about cooking.

  2. Amy permalink
    July 3, 2011 9:10 am

    I love your advice column, Meredith. I think you are an unlikely advice columnist and I mean that as a compliment. And as a result, your columns are flexible and open and creative. And funny!

    And Wrinkled Nose, I agree that the babysitter’s happiness is of utmost importance if you love her as a babysitter. I would just chalk up the wasted food as part of the cost of hiring her. 🙂 I do like the idea of the last commenter, though. Maybe you could buy her a cookbook about cooking with a child as a present–that might channel her “helpful” cooking energies?? (Of course, it might also just encourage more cooking!)

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