I hear it all the time: parents flippantly calling their day care a “babysitter.” It irks me—silently eating away at the pride I carry in the work that I do.

You see, in my mind and heart, I am your child care provider, your child’s teacher. I’m the wiper of dirty faces and hugger of hurt feelings. I love and worry about your kid almost as much as you do. I know who has a poopy diaper by smell alone. I know your child’s favorite colors, songs, and funny little quirks.

I am not a babysitter. A sitter is the teenager who comes to watch movies, eat pizza, and put your kids to sleep so that you can enjoy a rare night off. She does less work and is paid more an hour per kid. She may make your kids laugh—but she won’t understand what brings joy to their hearts.

The truth is, I rarely sit—unless it’s with a baby snuggled in the safety of my arms while I feed him a freshly warmed bottle. Or because your child asked me to read Guess How Much I Love You for the 12th time today. (After all, we both know that lap sitting is the best way to listen to your favorite book.)

Most of the time, when you arrive during pick-up, I’m standing. I’m standing in the kitchen, washing a dish. I’m pulling a child off the furniture. I’m mediating an argument. I’m changing a diaper. A baby is probably slung on my back with my ever-essential Lillebaby and I’m guzzling the last dregs of my cold coffee. I may be found repeating (patiently, but with muzzled exasperation)“keep your hands to yourself” for the 10,000th time. My feet are unpolished, calloused, and aching. Chances are, I’ll be on them.

I will never be just your “sitter”—and here’s why. I am a provider. I provide comfort for boo-boos. I provide discipline, teaching your child right from wrong and showing them how to respect their friends. Together, they learn practical life skills, how to care for their environment (when they aren’t tearing everything apart in their play, because balance) and how to practice gentle hands when they get frustrated and hit a friend.

Related: An Open Letter to Parents… from Your Child’s Teacher

When the time comes, I potty-train them. We tie shoes, paint, and talk about shapes and colors. As babies, I help them learn to feed themselves. Every day, your kids are provided wholesome meals and a happy, clean(ish) home to spend their days in. When your children are in my care, they are stimulated. I provide them with sensory bins and paint, setting them up in situations where they learn problem-solving and build their vocabulary.

But most of all, I provide your child loveAnd as any parent who has ever had to leave their child with someone else knows, nothing is more vital to your conscience and your child’s development than being loved.

You see, being a child care provider is about so much more than passing the time with your child until you come to pick them up (although some days, it may feel like that). It’s not about finding a way to be at home with my own kids and still make money. 

I am a provider because I love kids. I am a provider because I love your kids. In my eyes, there is no job more vital than raising the next generation to be thoughtful, kind, brave, and confident.

A sitter is an insult to the care I feel for your children. Don’t get me wrong: I am not a replacement for you. No one will ever, ever replace mom. But we are a team, your family and mine. Our goal is to raise healthy, happy children—together.

Last year, one of my day care littles was baptized, and the family asked me to come to the baptism. Honored, I was so happy to go and sit with the family (who really feel like an extension of my own). But during the baptism, when they ushered me to the front, I stood with his Nana and sisters and cousins and aunts, because “You’re family, too.” I grinned awkwardly and inwardly danced with pride while I watched the little man be baptized.

After the service, their pastor introduced himself. “So, how are you related to the family?” he inquired, as his firm, wrinkled hands shook mine. That’s when my day care mom stepped in.

“Oh, well she’s our sitter—but she’s not. She’s so much more than that…sitter doesn’t really cover it, does it? She’s the one who raises our kids when I’m not there.” She knew, and I knew, how valuable we were to each other. How much I loved her children and how much she respected me for it. But that poor pastor’s face…

How do you explain the importance of the woman who helps raise your child? How do you explain the trust and bond between parent and provider? It’s not an easy choice, the decision to leave your child, for much of his or her day, in the care of someone else—particularly in the care of a stranger. It is, however, a decision that is made easier by the knowledge that you are leaving your child with a child care provider. And not just a “sitter.”

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