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by Abigail Van Buren

Baby Sitting Experience Pays Off Later in Life

DEAR ABBY: This letter is in reference to the teen-age girl who feared that her mother's pregnancy would mean more baby-sitting duties.

I remarried when my daughter, Tracey, was 8 years old. Within the next four years, we added two more children to our family. After many discussions, it was agreed that Tracey would baby-sit with her two little brothers, without question and without pay, if the reason for needing the sitter was "for the good of the family." This covered doctor appointments, business meetings, etc.

It was also agreed that if we needed a baby sitter for any other reason, Tracey would be asked to baby-sit, with hourly pay. If she was unable to do so, we would contact a neighborhood baby sitter.

This worked beautifully. Tracey is now 33 years old and the mother of two biological children, two stepchildren and four foster children. Their home is a happy one, with children ranging from 3 to 14 years old. I understand that her 14-year-old daughter, Jessi, accepts the same "for the good of the family" agreement. -- JUDY WARREN VASILIAUSKAS, ESTES PARK, COLO.

DEAR JUDY: Thank you for sharing your personal experience. The arrangement you worked out with your daughter seems like a very fair one. I heard from many other readers who had baby-sat siblings when they were young. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I was the youngest of four children, and 8 years old when my parents had my younger sister. I spent countless hours changing diapers and often made plans with friends, only to have to cancel them when I was informed that I would be baby-sitting. By the time I was in high school, I resented the responsibility that had been forced on me. My sister was 5 and I was old enough to do most of the care when my older siblings were unavailable. I told my mother how I felt, and she told me that responsibilities like baby-sitting were part of what made a family.

I never received monetary compensation for the hours I spent with my sister, but I got something even better: I am now 24, my younger sister is 16, and we have a wonderful relationship. I feel closer to her than I do to any of my other siblings, and I would venture to say that she feels the same about me. I share her pain when she's having difficulty and am just as proud as any parent when it comes to her accomplishments. I had a hand in shaping her into the person she is today.

Please tell that teen-ager who is afraid that her mother's pregnancy is going to bring her responsibilities she doesn't want, that her parents are not unreasonable to expect her to be part of the family as far as child care duties are concerned. What she might now consider an unfair amount of responsibility will later be remembered as some of the best times in her life. -- RACHEL JOHNSTON FISHER, CHICAGO

DEAR RACHEL: I'm pleased your story has a happy ending. I'm printing your letter in the hope that it will lift the spirits not only of the teen-ager who wrote me about her concern, but also the legion of others who need to be reminded that baby-sitting can bring a wealth of future benefits.

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