Extract from ‘Frank’s story’ Babysitting in the seventies

The curry of G.

The curry of G.

These were happy times, and soon Helvi and I had another daughter, delivered at the same hospital and by the same doctor. Our children were growing up with many other young children in the same area. We befriended many other couples. None of the child-care centres that are now so proliferate existed then and one enterprising mother thought up the idea of playgroups whereby both children and mothers could get together. These were supreme examples of communities getting together.

The playgroups and babysitting club came to being through a community organisation that was set up to preserve an old police lock up and ‘watch house’. It was an historic double story sandstone structure and in need of restoration. The National Trust which was set up to preserve old and historic buildings of national significance also included the ‘Watch House’ and decided in its wisdom to fund some of the cost of restoration. Money was also raised through the community having ‘fund raising’ dinners or events and through membership fees. Those members belonging to the association were mainly young and professional couples with children and it was a logical extension to get together with the kids and parents, mainly mothers. This was happening in parks, playgrounds or people’s homes.

As many of the couples became friends and started to socialize it was inevitable that someone thought up the idea of setting up a baby-sitting club. This would then allow parents to sometimes go out and know that their baby or young child was well looked after and at no cost. For every hour a baby was looked after, mainly during evenings, the parents of the baby would be charged a minus point and the baby sitter would get a plus point. To get rid of the minus points it was expected for parents to baby sit in return. There was a limit in racking up minus points and anyone exploiting the system would receive a notice that baby-sitting was expected, or else the baby- sitting for the offending couple would cease.

The system worked perfectly, and by and large the point system remained fairly balanced. After all, who wanted to be known for being a perpetual ‘minus point couple’? There was one hiatus, males doing baby-sitting. The last bastion in the late sixties for males to break down was the right to baby-sit. Women were in the throng of burning bras and going girdle less, stockings with seams were passé and Germaine Greer had announced ‘Bras are a ludicrous invention’. So, while women burned bras because they were seen as accoutrements of torture, men burned their draft cards avoiding real torture and felt liberated until they tried to baby-sit in Inner West of Sydney.

As it was I turned up one evening and with the household all dressed to go and dine somewhere or see Zorba the Greek, I noticed a distinct cooling towards me. They made a discreet phone call and decided it would be safe for a man to be allowed to baby sit, just this time. ? Of course, many of the parents that knew each other through social events knew each other as couples or, in the case of play groups, were mainly always women. For a man to be on its own, solo, and at baby-sitting in the evening was not that far advanced in acceptance yet. There was a meeting and the majority approved ‘male baby-sitting’.

I don’t know what the objections or criteria were for being suspicious of males doing baby-sitting. Curiously enough, the mother that was surprised and taken aback somewhat when I presented myself to baby-sit, thought nothing of taking her clothes off for a life drawing session. Were males going to do evil things or was the reluctance because of lack of skills? It was not that much of a challenge though and much depended on what sort of facilities the parents had provided. Real coffee instead of the instant variety was preferred. Sometimes, there was a good book or a television program. Sometimes, especially if it was after midnight (double points) you would just go to sleep on a couch if available.

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16 Responses to “Extract from ‘Frank’s story’ Babysitting in the seventies”

  1. petspeopleandlife Says:

    Oh the good ole days. That was quite a system that you Aussies had. Sounds like a good deal all the way around. But I’m curious how many times you did a sitting.

    The woman who complained the loudest was throwing stones at her self. Perhaps she really was not a goody two shoes and her protesting of males sitting was her way of avenging herself of posing in the nude.

    It never fails that those that shout the loudest have something to hide.l’ve seen it many times. Such as the case of one family member back years ago who protested about the local grocery selling beer when in fact he was a closet drinker.🙂

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  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    I did a lot of sittings and more males joined in. It went for a number of years. I suppose the babies grew up and a younger generation took over.
    I think the original problem was a hang-over from the times that the roles were clearly divided. The male went out to earn a crust, the female did the ‘babies’, cooking and everything else. Babysitting and sitters were traditionally females and it was a hard change-over in accepting males as well in the late sixties and seventies.
    Even a male seen pushing a pram was somehow a bit ‘funny’. It is different now.

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  3. auntyuta Says:

    For sure, Gerard, it is different now!🙂

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it is different. There are a lot less babies and there is more money.

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      • auntyuta Says:

        Do men still have time pushing a pram? Or is it women who have more time to do it? With less babies, do parents have more time for their offspring? Or are they too busy making money? Well, I guess times have changed; a lot!
        Still, I think nobody would regard it a bit ‘funny’ these days seeing a man pushing a pram with a youngster in it.🙂

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I don’t think that either. However if you see couples with a pram, it is more likely the woman pushing it than the man. On the other hand many man don’t iron either even though they race in ‘iron-man’ competitions.

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      • auntyuta Says:

        In the olden days Peter used to be very good at ironing shirts. These days none of us does do any ironing anymore. This morning on my early morning walk I noticed an ironing board had been discarded in front of someone’s house. Maybe we should do the same with ours for we haven’t used it in years.It’s only taking up room!🙂

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  4. Lottie Nevin Says:

    Good for you, and I think it’s great that you babysat. I could have done with one of those baby-sitting groups, it was always such hell trying to find anyone out where we lived in the sticks.

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      ‘Living in the sticks’? The system worked well. One house had a locked cot. A lid with mosquito gauze was hinged on top and had a padlock. Did they think I was going to steal their baby? I phoned up the secretary and she thought it very odd. Anyway, no nappy change! Apparently they forgot to unlock it, even so…pretty weird.

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      • Lottie Nevin Says:

        yes, my mind now boggles at the thought of the ‘locked cot’ – how bizarre! You’ve not heard the expression, ‘living out in the sticks’? I suppose the Australian version is ‘living in the boonies’?

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, I heard about living in the sticks, it is well known in Australia where one can be living beyond ‘ the black stump’. I just never thought it was applicable to the UK. I mean is it possible to be miles from anywhere there?
      The cot story with padlock has been revived on many occasions. I should have asked the parents. It’s too late now. We met the father some months back by accident. He did not recognize us and his wife indicated he had gone a bit gaga.
      It happens.

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  5. hilarycustancegreen Says:

    This took me back. I got together with four other women in our village and we had a really reliable daytime swap (in the days when women could stay at home and look after children) resulting in two mornings off and two with two mothers and up to eight children. It wrecked the house, but 2:8 was easier than 1:2 in my experience. (I have wonderful photos, which wouldn’t pass todays censor, of half a dozen kids, in the buff, running round our garden playing with the hose). We had a larger baby-sitting circle with points, like yours, and men were considered fine as far as I can remember – but less likely to volunteer, so well done you!

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    • gerard oosterman Says:

      We had a similar thing going buying our weekly vegetables. I think there were twelve couples who all would put in the same amount. ( at that time it was $10.-)
      One couple a week in turn would drive to the huge Sydney fruit &vegetable markets and buy fruit and vegetables for the twelve couples and their families at wholesale prices. Onions, carrots and spuds were the basics but also strawberries, avocadoes, or figs etc, would be included.
      It was fantastic.

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  6. kaytisweetlandrasmussen83 Says:

    A baby sitting club! Why didn’t we think of that? The best baby sitter we ever had was a 16 year old boy who had 4 younger siblings. He would also do some ironing!

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  7. berlioz1935 Says:

    Great story, Gerard. I like the idea of a self organising group of people – for others. Because, myself I’m not into doing things with others. In the long run I don’t trust that it will work out. People start bickering and feel others are not pulling their weight. Then, there has to be a leader and you have all the human traits that interfere with good ideas. I’m a sceptic who learnt from disappointment.

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