My husband is the eldest of five children and though he wasn't the first to become a parent, he was the first to produce a Dublin-based grandchild. This head start meant we had amazing support from his siblings and parents who graciously babysat for all sorts of occasions, from cinema outings to dinner dates and overnight weddings.
My own mum is brilliant, too, though I tend to save her up for overnight trips a handful of times a year. By keeping her babysitting duties to a minimum it means I feel less guilty about having to call her up on a workday when one of my crew is sick. Her work as a novelist means she has a bit of flexibility with her schedule.
On the rare occasions when our families weren't available to mind our children we were able to enlist the help of two wonderful sisters who live next door. Between them they shared the job, even managing to find a friend to stand in if both had prior commitments. Not only were they always available, but we were never allowed to pay them more than €5 an hour. It was a ground rule set down by their mum when they first started minding our son, but several years and two more kids later we felt compelled to raise the rate to €8.
Sadly (for me -- not them) both girls grew up, left school and got real jobs, which meant they were no longer available to babysit. This minor inconvenience coincided with the arrival of several new nieces and nephews, which saw my in-laws' babysitting availability drastically reduced.
Luckily a gorgeous Transition Year student at the end of our road was looking for a pocket-money booster and volunteered for the role.
With impeccable manners and a real love of kids, she's a dream replacement for my tag team next door. My kids love her too, and though they're frequently tucked up asleep when we go out it's reassuring to know they'll be in safe hands.
So then the only downside to this lovely arrangement is the cost of a night out. Alongside taxis, drinks, dinner and a gift for our friend's birthday, we also spent a hefty €50 on a babysitter.
And, to make things worse I have her booked for three more nights over the festive season. I haven't even bothered to ask family if they can help out, as I'm sure they'll all be socialising too.
I know I'm lucky to have found such a great babysitter, but I have to admit that all these tenners manage to make my social life feel like a guilty extravagance.