Sometimes you have to leave home without the kids. Whether you're traveling for business or pleasure, you and your sitter will be more at ease if you use these worksheets: a checklist about your family, a checklist about your home, and a daily master schedule of your family's activities. Then consider each part of your kids' routine thinking about any quirks or special instructions.
Give a house tour. Arrange for the sitter to come early so you can give her a tour through every room in the house. As you do this, you’ll be reminded of idiosyncrasies that you didn’t think to write down. Show her how to work everything―circuit breakers, dishwasher, alarm, etc.
Create a grand central station. Designate a space in the kitchen where your sitter can keep school handouts, mail, calendars, phone messages, and the worksheets on the following pages. Hang a master map of your neighborhood here, indicating important points of interest. (Create one at mapquest.com.) The Grand Central Station is also a perfect spot to post the house rules for kids and pets (“No TV unless homework is done”; “Dog is not allowed on couch”).
Leave keys. For peace of mind, give a set of house keys to a neighbor so you won’t have to red-eye home to unlock the front door.
Use food to your advantage. As most of us know, food can be a powerful tool for ingratiation. Consider relaxing the house rules forbidding junk food if you think it will endear the kids to the sitter and vice versa. Or have the babysitter make a favorite meal the first night with a special dessert.
Plan a meal schedule. Make it as simple as you can. Buy groceries before you go, and leave a rough schedule for what everyone should eat for dinner each night. Provide a list of favorite meals (and recipes), snacks that are OK and off-limits, and phone numbers for takeout. Be sure to note any food allergies. For toddlers and infants, the list should be as detailed as possible (crusts on or off?). Include special tricks for getting them to open their mouths. If Junior eats vegetables only when you sing “The Wheels on the Bus,” make sure the sitter knows.
Spell out the routine. “Sticking to the routines, big and small, is so important―it makes a child feel secure and comfortable,” says Heidi Murkoff, author of The What to Expect Baby-Sitter’s Handbook (Workman, $9 at barnesandnoble.com). If the babysitter knows the exact order of events leading up to bedtime (bathe, brush teeth, play with dolls, read two stories―Angelina always first!―then lights out), you’ll increase the chances of a tantrum-free evening. And if the kids are sleeping well, it increases their chances of behaving well for the sitter. For older kids, note things like whether bedtime means lights out or if it’s OK for them to stay up and read a bit before going to sleep.
But let them break a few rules. Make your getaway a break for the kids, too, by letting them camp in the living room, shower in the master bathroom, or sleep over with a close friend.
If you’re part of a school car pool, arrange for another parent to be on duty for the week you’re gone so it’s one less thing the sitter has to think about. (Pay back the driver in French chocolates.)
Stay connected. Ask your child’s teacher or class mom (or any parent of a classmate) to look out for your sitter and alert her to any important school information.
Book them solid. Keep your kids so busy that they can’t help but stay out of mischief. Indicate all after-school activities on the schedule (if they do not take place at school, mark their location on the master map), as well as tests and deadlines for big homework assignments. If you’re worried about the sitter using TV as a default option, leave behind a few activity books.