30 answers

What Should I Be Expecting from My 12-Year-old Mother's Helper?

Hi Mamas! I have a fun, loving and active 2-year-old son. About 6-months ago, I hired a 12-year-old girl as a mother's helper. It was agreed that she would be happy to help with some light cleaning (i.e. folding laundry, windexing glass/mirrors) in addition to engaging my son, depending on the day. She is only responsible for 1 task at a time... be it cleaning or caring for my son. I could have hired someone older and more experienced (and paid more, of course), but this is a family in need so I hired this young lady on as a way to also help them out. I've been paying her $5/hr (which is what she asked for) with bonuses and meals/snacks. I do understand she is very young, however, I would love some feedback as to whether or not what I'm feeling and expecting of her are normal?

- She constantly scolds my son (he's a normal, active boy) and earlier today, she shrieked at him. I went to see if there was maybe an emergency. He'd knocked down a small pile of clothes. I did ask her to be firm with him but not to raise her voice again. I've never confronted her about anything like this and she did seem sorry and embarrassed.
- How long should I be expecting her to fold clothes before she's tired? She needs a break every 10-15 minutes, complaining of hand cramps, then goes back to what she'd been doing ONLY if I ask her if she'd mind finishing up. I'd like to think I'm a reasonable person but I don't know... even for a 12-year-old, this seems like very little stamina for a girl who claims to be "really mature" and capable. (Oh, I pull all the undergarments so she doesn't have to feel like she's anywhere in the vicinity of our cooties.) Also, if I'm not in her field of vision, she breaks every 5-minutes sometimes. Ha!
- She is always wanting to show me recipes from her home econ class, show me her dance moves, show me how well she plays guitar (she couldn't play anything... no, not a single chord, and actually broke a string trying to "tune" it for me. haha.). All of this is fine. She's 12, and young and excited that someone is paying attention to her. However, at the end of the day I am paying her and she is at work. I'd like to think a 12-year-old is capable of understanding I am paying her for her services and that we can chit chat once her work is completed. Yes? No? Am I a slave driver?

These 3 examples are a few of the things that have been bothering me. I would much rather pay someone double or triple and not feel like I'm pulling teeth to get some simple, easy work done. At the same time, I feel bad if I take this opportunity from her. I would love to train her but feel she's difficult to teach due to her "I'm so mature" attitude. Sorry if this sounds petty. I'm really wrestling with it and would love some feedback as to what a sensible mom should do? I have a cordial relationship with this girl's mom. If you feel I should voice my concern, should I kindly inform the mom? Not sure what to do. My son has a lot of fun with her when they play, but I can't get work done for more than 20-minutes at a time before she's in my space, wanting to "tune" my guitar or something of that sort. Aiyaiyai.

Am I a big jerk? Please help! :)

What can I do next?

So What Happened?™

Hi all. Thank you so much for your thoughtful, honest responses. I do admit that perhaps I was expecting a little too much from this girl. I did some thinking and realize though I'd like to hire someone primarily to engage my son while I'm busy, I'd like to be able to comfortably ask them to help with light household work. I've started contacting a few gals from a local university after receiving recommendations from friends and they seem promising. I've continued to ask the 12-year-old to come hang out with my son as needed but less frequently, while making my expectations more clear with her (i.e. I'll come check on them once I'm done, etc).

Thanks again! :)

Featured Answers

Im sorry but you have hired a child to do a job she is not capable nor old enough to do in my opinon. I would look for someone who can do what needs done without needing babysat herself.

3 moms found this helpful

She's twelve, and clearly thinks of you more as the "mother" than she as the "helper." If you don't want to spend time with the girl, which is reasonable, then you should find someone else. But I think she thought she would be would be working with you as the mother's helper.

3 moms found this helpful

No, but the child (12 year old) needs you more then you need her

Tough decision.


2 moms found this helpful

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Um...she's 12. At best I think she's an extra pair of eyes on your son while YOU get some stuff done. Just my .02.

And the 5 bucks per hour you pay her probably isn't going to help her family into the next tax bracket.....

7 moms found this helpful

Hmm. Kinda. A little bit.
I've hired a mother's helper just a couple times. The reason was that she was such a smart, sweet girl and SO gentle and patient with my little guy. Like REALLY patient, and he liked her. I commented about it at the playground, and she said her mom said she'd make a great babysitter when she was a couple years older (she's 11). I thought that was sweet. She had a lot of intelligent questions about our travels, and people, and I thought she was a thoughtful girl. SO, I approached her mom first and asked about a mother's helper "job" for a week while I was unpacking (we'd just recently moved into the neighborhood).
For an 11 year old girl, I set the living room and playroom up first, and just asked her to play with the boys and keep them entertained, while I was in the kitchen unpacking and cooking. Then when I moved upstairs, they did too. They played in one of the boys' rooms while I was in the other bedrooms unpacking. It was for 2 hours maximum, and we all had snack together and she got to see some of the stuff we've collected from our travels. Since then, she's come over a few times for a couple hours to play with the boys while I clean toilets or clean chicken or whatever. Things I need to do but don't want to do with little children underfoot. That's really all. Just play with the kids and keep them happy and safe so I can get some things done. I'd feel really weird about asking someone's child that age to clean. Cheaper than a babysitter, but helpful in a very basic sitting kind of way. (But I change the diapers, and I am there if anything happens; I would not leave her with the kids, since she's a kid herself).

4 moms found this helpful

She's a kid.
Not a 'worker' nor employee.

She is being a kid.
Per her capacity.

But no, she is not mature.
She is not ready, for the expectations you have.

3 moms found this helpful

She's twelve, and clearly thinks of you more as the "mother" than she as the "helper." If you don't want to spend time with the girl, which is reasonable, then you should find someone else. But I think she thought she would be would be working with you as the mother's helper.

3 moms found this helpful

Im sorry but you have hired a child to do a job she is not capable nor old enough to do in my opinon. I would look for someone who can do what needs done without needing babysat herself.

3 moms found this helpful

Not a jerk, but maybe a little unrealistic. It sounds like she doesn't get much attention at home and is seeking approval from you.

My understanding of a mother's helper (and what I expect when I 'hire' my cousins for this) is to *help* the mother by playing/distracting the children while MOM does the cleaning/chores she can't get done while watching the kids.

What I would do is "re-tune" (har har) your expectations to ONLY include playing with your son while YOU do what you need to do. That, or fire her and get someone older and more capable of filling the role you want filled.

2 moms found this helpful

No, but the child (12 year old) needs you more then you need her

Tough decision.


2 moms found this helpful

You're not a big jerk, and she's not "really mature and capable".

You need to sit down with her and tell you that you have a problem with her and that you cannot continue to have her working for you if she cannot fix the problem. Tell her that she cannot scold your son. She has to talk sweetly to him. And she cannot get hand cramps from folding clothes - she is a big girl now.

You also have to tell her that her working for you is not about showing you how she can do fun things like dance, home ec, tuning the guitar. You are working and she is supposed to be working too. If she cannot do what you ask, that you have to hire someone else.

You need to do this. She has to learn that you aren't HER babysitter. Really and truly.


2 moms found this helpful

You are not being a jerk. The fact that you are concerned for her feelings and her family's situation tells me you are not a jerk.

You are her boss. You hired her. You pay her. You need to sit down with her and have a 'performance review' of sorts. Let her know what works for you - and what doesn't. Tell her the good things she does FIRST (butter her up, so to speak - it works). Then make suggestions on how she can improve. Kindly tell her that doing things other than what is her job description should be done 'after hours.' She is getting paid to do XYZ during certain hours, and that's what she needs to be doing. If she is responsible, she will understand. If she isn't, maybe this will help her develop this trait. I would not go to her mom. Approach her first. Your arrangement is with her, no? Don't go to the mom unless she is doing harm or if the situation gets worse and you need to explain why should she got fired.

2 moms found this helpful

I don't think you are a jerk, just a little frustrated. I think she has proven that she is not as mature as she says she is, but also I think it sounds like she is craving attention. Perhaps you could come up with a written schedule for her to follow when she is at your house. There is no real reason anyone needs a break after folding clothes for 10 minutes. Maybe if she were to see what you expect with her time (with breaks built in) then she might actually get more done.

1 mom found this helpful

I don't think you're being a jerk, but I do believe that you're expecting a 12 year old to know and have a good work ethic. I can see where some of this would drive you bonkers - like you said, you are paying her to work. Maybe she just doesn't really see this as a "job," like working at McDonald's. I think you should first have a nice talk with her mom so maybe her mom can talk to her and I would also have a nice little chat with her and explain to her that although you like her and you are friends, this is not a "friend" situation, it is employment and she must do her work or she runs the risk of being terminated. Explain to her that you really NEED her to perform the tasks assigned and that you KNOW she is not getting cramps in her hands after 5 - 10 minutes of laundry folding. Tell her that just like in the adult world, if she is not capable of completing the tasks assigned, she will have to be let go so you can get someone who can do it. Like I said, tell her in a nice way, but I think you should at least sit her down and tell her what's expected before you do anything else.

1 mom found this helpful

You have great intentions! Another mom suggested making a schedule or list and I think that's great. Maybe something like: #1 fold laundry, #2 windex the back door, #3 straighten the playroom, #4 read (insert child's name) 3 books, #5 play with (insert child's name) for 15 minutes. It would give her guidance, boundaries, and expectations. Also, you could say something like, "It's great when you play with _____, then I can have quiet time to _____ without any interruptions.

1 mom found this helpful

Well, I took a babysitting class at 12 and started babysitting right before I turned 13. It was for a 18 month old and her almost 5 year old sister. The mom always gave me detailed instructions and calmly corrected my mistakes (she only go mad if she thought something was not safe for her kids, which was understandable to me even then). She gave me more responsibilities as I got older and we all got to know one another better. I ended up babysitting for this family almost every week for 6 years. I'm still friendly with the family some 25 years later.

Your relationship employing her may be less clear if this girl is already a family friend or relative. Can you calmly explain your expectations to her in more detail? Perhaps if she knows you need to work on something for a set amount and you expect her not to bother your for an hour (or whatever amount of time you specify) unless there is an emergency. You could leave a note with any planned snack or meal and any tasks that you expect done that day.

You could try giving her feedback. Start with what she does well (your son loves playing with her) and then go over things you want to see improve. All families have their own style and it is not about maturity. Explain how you discipline (redirecting, time outs or whatever you do) and ask she not raise her voice to your son. But if she comes from a family of yellers, it might be a difficult habit she has to break. Finish up with something positive as well. You may need to give her reminders a few times if she doesn't get something. But if you just don't feel like it is working after a few conversations then maybe she isn't a good fit for what you need.

It might work if you plan to have a snack and 15-20 minutes to "visit" when she arrives and then perhaps she will not want to show you things all the time.

It seems like you could fold a load of laundry in about 10-15 minutes (that is how long it takes me). Perhaps if you ask her to fold 1 load or basket while she is there she will be able to get it done. She sounds like she gets distracted easily.

1 mom found this helpful

I'm afraid I agree with Jamie from Denver. You are expecting too much and offering too little. When I was a mother's helper 25 years ago, I got $6/hr for one kid and $10/hr for two. One family even gave me $20 for their two kids when I babysat them alone because, as the father said, "We know Nathan can be a real handful." (And, boy, was he!) If you want to stay at $5 and still have this girl help (and she is a girl, not a young woman), then ask her to just play with your child, tell her you don't approve of yelling and show her how to redirect, and then do your own chores.
I'm not judging you for hiring a helper; I wish we could have hired someone when my baby was little, but there were no teens in the area interested and it would have been a stretch for us financially anyway. I'm just saying that you need to decide if you need just a little distraction for your child so you can get some work done or if you truly want to hire a domestic helper. If you want the first, then don't expect more than a play date, but don't pay much more than you are; if you want the second, then hire someone older and more experienced, but plan to pay more, as well.

1 mom found this helpful

She is making more work for you. You need to find someone else and be very specific before you hire her as to what she is and is not to do.
I admire you trying to help her, but she needs more help than money.

1 mom found this helpful

In my opinion, no, you're not a jerk. You're a nice person who is expecting more than this particular girl can do. I would think that a 12 year old could fold laundry and take direction too... but maybe she's never had any real responsibility at home. As for shrieking at your son, I'm going to guess she doesn't have much experience with small kids and doesn't know how to redirect him. She probably got yelled at by her own parents rather than coached. If you think she's mature enough to handle it, you might be able to sit down with her and tell her that you aren't getting what you thought you'd get for your $5/hour. Give her specific examples (Please fold all the laundry. I expect it should take you 15 minutes. After that, you can take a break. Or, please don't yell at my son. When he does something that annoys you, you should respond by ____). I don't think I'd tell her that you don't want to spend time with her, so maybe address it by telling her that next time she comes over you need her to occupy your son for x number of minutes and that YOU will come check on them rather than the other way around.

All in all, though, it sounds like you've hired a kid rather than a responsible person and you're having to deal with her like another kid in the house. Good luck deciding what to do!

1 mom found this helpful

It sounds more like you're paying to babysit her:) Try a written list of things you want done. If it doesn't work out, you may want to find a gentle way to let her go...there's no point in making more work for yourself.

1 mom found this helpful

I think you're being totally unrealistic about this girl's maturity and ability. You get what you pay for but hopefully *you* won't end up "paying" for what you get.

She's a kid. I think parents who expect children anywhere from the age of 10 to about 14 to be competent with a young child, especially one that is not their sibiling are insane. They can not drive if there's an emergency. Most do not know CPR or have the basic coping skills to handle an emergency, nor the patience to deal with another screaming child. Sure there are babysitter training classes, but even these leave very few kids capable of handling a real emergency. If I caught her screeching at my kid, that would have been the last time she'd see the inside of my house. If she can't cope, then what's the next step for her? Disciplining my kid? Someone her age isn't equipped for that. My fear would be she might hit the child, or melt down herself if the baby had a tantrum.

As for cleaning etc. Have you seen her room at home? Do you know what she's like with her own mother? Sounds like she's probably not used to housework at all if she's whining about folding clothes etc. Does she even know how to really clean things at all? And if not, do you want her learning the ropes at your house? Don't you have enough work to do already without having to double up and fix what she probably didn't get right in the first place?

Girl talk about Justin Bieber, clothes, Home Ec recipes and the such is prettty normal for a Tween, don't you think? She has no other experiences to draw from. That's why she's hanging with you, you know, to get experience.

I know you're home with the girl while she's helping but I think you'd be better off realizing this is more of a playdate with you as the caregiver, instead of the other way around.

If you want a real helper, you'd be better off hiring someone 16 or older, who has hopefully had a job, some real responsibility, and better coping skills under stress.

1 mom found this helpful

At 12, I was actually babysitting (parents gone for hours at a time). I know that my maturity was abnormal for 12, but while some of this girl's actions (wanting to "hang" with you) are perfectly normal for a tween, she doesn't seem to be "really mature."

If I were in your situation, I would have her play with my kids exclusively while I did the chores. To be honest, there are days where I need a break from my kids and doing chores is no chore at all!!! On these days, and I'm sure we ALL have them (!!), folding laundry is a refreshing break from playing cars or having a 16mo strapped to your leg screaming "UP! UP!" :)

Regardless, you should sit down with her and treat her with the respect any person deserves :) Try to come up with a solution WITH her, and arrange time either before or after her responsibilities to show interest in her. Ask her about a recipe she learned in Home Ec and maybe try it with your family and give your opinion the next time she comes over. The bad guitar I would pass on (hehe), but maybe take 5 minutes to listen to some music, or have the radio on low while she's playing and you're working.

Sometimes, it's not about the home situation, but more about wanting to seem "grown up" for other adults!

1 mom found this helpful

She sounds like she is not really ready to take on this job. There are many 12 year olds who could do this without issue. I hired a 12 year old to help with my daughters birthday party. She was responsible for helping the children with the craft and then she was in charge of keeping an eye on the kids whose parents left them at the party. She did a fantastic job and never once did I need to re-direct her or ask her to please do what I hired her to do. Now granted, this was for a 3 hour block of time, but based on her performance that day, I think she is the type of 12 year old that could take on a "mother's helper" role. I think you should maybe talk to the girl and explain to her what your expectations are once again, and let her know that if she can't do the job, you will have to find someone who can. She needs to know that she is there so that you can get your work done.

I'm not sure about this but I tought is against the law to hired someone younger than 14 year old,

I did this very sort of thing when my children were younger. I found it much easier to do the cleaning myself, and faster too, and to just let the "worker" play with my kids the whole time. It worked out better. And if I were you I would tell her that if you are not in the same room with her then you will not be able to have a conversation with her. Just tell her you are trying to get things done and you can't concentrate. I wouldn't say too much to her or it might spoil your friendship with her mom. And when she does mature you might be wanting her for a real babysitter sometime.

I have a 12 YO daughter. While I think she would LOVE to play with a child, I'm sure she would not love to do chores. The young lady sounds as if she doesn't get enough attention at home. The "I'm mature" attitude is part of the age. I'm unclear on the reason for you engaging her...do you actually need help? Are you trying to help the family out financially? Does the daughter pass on her wages to the family? Is she being "pushed" into helping to bring money into the home? Does she want to do this? Children parrot what they learn at home - if she's shrieking at your son that's because that's how her parents parent her. Scary, huh? I would talk to her and if SHE wants to help out and you want her to help out then work with it and give her guidance. Be very clear about your expectations. I think your expectations might be unrealistic but it really depends on how committed she is to wanting to help you out. Good-luck.

I see some mixed things here. The first thought I had was about the folding of the clothes. Personally, I find that after ten to fifteen minutes of folding clothes, I like a little bit of break. Now, how long that break lasts and the fact that you say she doesn't go back to it on her own, but requires a reminder from you.. that may be a problem.
I also picked up on the problem of her "shrieking" at your 2 year old for knocking over the pile of clothes. You had already stated that you don't have her watching him and doing chores at the same time, but this sounds like she was probably folding the clothing and he got into them. Were you watching him and he got away from you, or was she actually watching him while she was folding clothes? Unless a twelve year old has had experience in how to handle such a situation, she is almost naturally going to "shriek". You may need to keep on explaining how you want her to talk to your son until she 'gets' it.
I agree with the person who said it sounds like she may not be getting the attention she needs at home (and perhaps not the training she should be getting either). This may be a result of her parents trying to make ends meet and not having the time, energy... or perhaps even the understanding... to give her what she needs in these areas.
I think perhaps you should re-think what duties you want her to perform, and only give her one or two things that she is responsible to accomplish. Maybe even change those from week to week to keep her duties from becoming routine and boring. In this way you can possibly help her learn a good work ethic, without making more work for yourself than what she is saving you.
Definitely do keep the childcare and chores duties separated, though. It's difficult enough for adults to handle those together. Some twelve year olds can do a reasonable job of it, but I think most are not ready to juggle those responsibilities.

I think you're right and you should be firm with her! She needs to understand that when you get a job she needs to be commited or she will be fired! But the way you wrote about how she wants you to pay attentio to her makes me think she may not get alot a attention. Even though you know her mother doesn't mean she get attention behind closed doors!
It is completely up to you to control what happens in your house and who you hire and fire!

P.S sorry it's a little late

I had the responsibility of taking care of 2 kids (about 4 & 7) by myself all summer when I was 12, 13, & 14. My mom was across the street if anything went wrong and we had an emergency. I NEVER yelled at the kids or broke anything. Once, some juice was spilled on their rug but things happen. I did my best to clean it. I remember once the dad came home from lunch and didn't like that I had let the kids take the cushions off the couch. They were playing like the ground was hot lava. I'd played this as a kid too, so I thought it was okay. I was so embarrassed.
I don't think this girl is very responsible for her age. Maybe you can hire her to tutor your son when he starts school or hire her to do some gardening or something. Doesn't sound like she's going to be ready to be a mother's helper anytime soon.

Your question and description take me back 67 years to when I was a 12 year old baby sitter. I was never expected to do cleaning except when the children were asleep. I was expected to keep the children safe and happy and I did, having learned a lot with my two younger sisters. I do remember wanting to be teated like and adult by the mothers I worked for and admired. And I did want to talk with them when they were around. Mostly I was baby sitting while they were away.

A twelve year old usually does not have the skills to re-direct two year olds or think of ways to keep them from doing dangerous things. It is not unreasonable to discuss or instruct her about what works with your son and what she should and should not do and when to call for your help. Even if she does act as though she thinks of herself as mature (maybe she has been told this by her own mom or wants to believe it) getting a job description and instructions as to how to perform the job to your specifications is only normal for any age or maturity level.

I have worked recently as a nanny with some families I love and I really love to talk with the parents at the beginning and end of the time I am there. Maybe you can start out that way and then gently let her know that you will be busy and do not wish to be interrupted unless there is an emergency or an issue with the child she needs help with.

Another thing, I know how much I enjoyed having someone else fold laundry when I had three little children in diapers all at the same time and occasional break downs of my old washers or dryers.

But I also know that most two year olds know if you are not paying complete attention to them and will act up to get your attention so unless the child is with you or in the high chair of someplace where he does not need her attention, it is best not to expect her to fold laundry or any other household chore.

Nice of you to try to help out this family, and it is obvious the child wants to impress you and please you, but after giving clear instructions if she doesn't help your situation, you do not need the aggravation and you can let her know that it isn't working out and why (in a way that teaches her and does not destroy her self esteem). It is important to be clear about your expectations and to let her know what she does well in addition to what needs improvement.

Blessings on you all and best of luck


12 is just too young. She can watch your son for short amounts of time while maybe you do something but you can't expect good decisions etc. out of a 12 year old. she is just too young.


12 is just too young. She can watch your son for short amounts of time while maybe you do something but you can't expect good decisions etc. out of a 12 year old. she is just too young.

I've never heard of a "mother's helper"....

I wouldn't feel comfortable asking a child to do my chores. I'd ask a girl her age to keep my girls occupied while I took care of my own housework. For $5 an hour I don't think my expectations would be very high, at all. Babysitters around here run $10 an hour- that's just for watching the kid(s). I remember 25 years ago, my neighbor used to pay me $5 an hour to watch her kids- no chores included.

If you're just hiring the girl out of pity for her family- then maybe you should reduce her responsibility to watching your child so you can do your own work. I think $5 an hour so you can finish your housework is more than fair.

Good luck-

You are kidding me, really? A 12 year old bully, who needs attention and you let her loose on your child!

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