How the 80s and 90s Demonized the Babysitter

How films such as Addams Family Values, Uncle Buck, and Adventures In Babysitting turned the babysitter into someone to worry about...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Chances are, whoever you are, you’ve been babysat once upon a time. Chances are, it was largely uneventful. But there’s also a chance that it’s since been dramatized out of all proportion. As memory serves, our babysitter was the most amazing woman ever and although there was a whopping 15 year age difference between this writer (then a primary school student) and her, we were destined to be together. Sadly, she spent most of her babysitting shift abusing my parents’ telephone landline while I ate dry penne pasta out of the box.

What was this article about again? Oh yeah.

As if any further proof were needed than the penne incident alone, how any of this babysitting malarkey is still a thing nowadays is just as baffling as The Cloverfield Paradox. Not its premise, just its existence. Have today’s parents seen any of the babysitting-centric movies of the late ’80s and early ’90s? Because they’re acting like they haven’t. So consider this a public service announcement on why you’re statistically safer to send them to nursery than to hire a babysitter…

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They’ll rob you blind

If you’re finding it rough dealing with your adolescent son and daughter constantly trying to decapitate, decimate or assassinate your new born baby, why not throw a babysitter into the mix as a preventative measure? Just consult Addams Family Values to learn why not.

After interviewing a typical tree-hugger (“Let’s learn about how to prevent forest fires!”) and the woman who used to chase Tom and Jerry around with a broom, the Addams’ settle on Debbie Jellinsky (Joan Cusack in outstandingly hoochy form). If warning signs weren’t already flashing when she suggestively sucks on Thing’s finger (this is PG, right?), she then demonstrates the ultimate indication of 90s opulence: her eyes light up at the thought that they have cable TV. Her plot to marry, kill, and inherit from Uncle Fester soon unfurls as does her secret identity as a professional widow. She ain’t Mary Poppins, y’all.

Although Jellinsky eventually ends up as a pile of ash, her untimely end does bring the youngest of the Addams Family together in unholy unity, so, y’know, swings and roundabouts. Still not having it though.

They’ll endanger your kids and pets

Who do you turn to if, God forbid, your father has a heart attack and you need someone to look after the kids? Your closest friends, right? Then you’d try your neighbors. Then, when you’ve exhausted all your options, you try your Uncle Buck.

Uncle Buck (John Candy) heals the rift between Cindy Russell and her wayward teenage daughter Tia, without the mother having to lift a finger, issue an apology or come to a compromise. But the chaos he leaves in his wake is admittedly hilarious but ultimately hazardous. In the process of a few weeks, Buck ruins the youngsters’ diets and contributes to America’s obesity epidemic. Forcing the little ‘uns to exclaim: “He’s cooking our garbage!” and rustling up a stack of pancakes so immense that the sight sends shooting pains up and down your left arm, he clogs their arteries long before he heals their hearts.

What’s that famous saying about how dogs cannot survive on beer and Toilet Duck alone? Because Buck’s never heard it. He physically assaults the son’s birthday clown just because he’s had a few drinks and he verbally abuses the children’s headmistress for simply trying to instil some discipline.

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Sounds like the family was better off as disjointed. At least they had their health, their future and their dog. Still, it does prove that common film theory: babysitting is a cure for bachelorhood. If it can convert Mahoney, Magnum PI and Sam from Cheers, a la Three Men And A Baby, then maybe it does have its merits.

They’ll circumvent the law

Having said that, have you ever really looked at your babysitter? No, like, really looked? Well, maybe you should. You might just catch something that the Disclosure and Barring Service didn’t.

Having failed to heed the warning signs throughout his unhealthy marriage, Mrs. Doubtfire’s David Hillard (Robin Williams) goes to the kind of lengths that would put Fathers for Justice’s Buckingham Palace stunt to shame. With his children in mind and a flagrant disregard for the law, Hillard creates Mrs Doubtfire: a casually racist elderly woman with a compulsion for elaborate lies and highly flammable boobs.

Sure, it’s all fun and games until someone gets a mild concussion following a run-by fruiting, succumbs to severe Jambalaya poisoning or overdoses on capers. And just because this situation resulted in a happy ending for the Hillard family, that’s not always the case and hiring a babysitter or a housekeeper is a risk that too many are willing to take. Won’t someone please think of the children?

If it’s not the fathers trying to worm their way back in, it’s the babysitter trying to steal the family away. The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’s Peyton Flanders (Rebecca De Mornay) set Home Alone-style death traps, framed the gardener as a paedophile and even got her hair wet in an attempt to lure Claire Bartel’s family away from her. If nothing else, the film serves as a reminder that a competitive hourly rate is not always an assurance of quality.

They’ll lie through their teeth

It shouldn’t just be the bachelors, psychos and professional widows who get all the bad babysitting press. Teenagers whose high school prom plans have fallen through are particularly dangerous, not necessarily in themselves, but in their sense of reckless abandon. One phone call from a friend on the rough side of town and Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) proves this hypothesis by upending her charges and dragging them through down-town Chi-town in Adventures In Babysitting.

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All in the name of helping a friend, Chris gets Brad (Keith Coogan) in to a subway knife fight with the cast of Michael Jackson’s Bad video, dangles Sarah (Maia Brewton) off of a skyscraper and leaves young Daryl (Anthony Rapp) unattended while he nearly cops off with someone old enough to be his mother!

It may be some small consolation that Chris has them back in bed before the folks get home, but by then the damage has already been done. And that’s the damage of a lie. She could have at least blamed it on those Babysitting Blues.

They’ll cancel last minute

Just when you think you’ve finally found the dream babysitter, they keel over and croak it, as seen in Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. When the mother of ‘Swell’ Sue Ellen (Christina Applegate) goes Down Under for two months, it looks like a summer of TP’ing, tie-dying t-shirts and all-day MTV sessions. That is, until Mrs Sturak turns up.

This lovely old lady strives to dissuade them from smoking, puts reasonable limitations on their television viewing habits and tries to teach them self-respect and discipline. All she gets for it in return is a massive coronary and disrespected as a corpse.

Before rigor mortis has even set in, the kids including Kenny (Keith Coogan again – what is it with this kid’s parents?) are soon left eating cereal for dinner, committing identity theft to pay their way and practising clay pigeon shooting with Mom’s finest crockery. Enough said.

All too often, it is the attitude of those such as Addams Family Values’ Gomez Addams who allow this situation to reoccur: “I hope that someday you will know the indescribable joy of having children… and of paying someone else to raise them.”

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Our advice? Save your money. Do it yourself.