Virtual babysitting helps parents juggle double responsibilities during pandemic

For 40 minutes at a time, parents can be free of the kids for whatever they need

Alla Tanasyuk has found help juggling parenting duties and work responsibilities during the pandemic since stumbling upon virtual babysitting.

The Montreal-based French language teacher, 34, was surfing the internet one day when she came across SOS Sitter, a service that connects groups of six or seven children with a caretaker by Zoom for around an hour. Looking for a way to keep her four-year-old son, Adam, occupied over long days in lockdown, she gave a few lessons a try and quickly becoming hooked.

Tanasyuk now has Adam enrolled in a few hours of virtual care each morning, time she relishes to get her own work done.

“When I’m working, he’s busy too,” Tanasyuk says.

She’s one of many young Canadian parents finding solace in creative solutions to the sudden lack of childcare ushered in by COVID-19. Virtual babysitting is one of the solutions for working parents grappling with the double demands of a day job and parenting duties.

RELATED: Federal government commits $625 million in child care funding

RELATED: Companies get creative to help parents juggle work and kids during pandemic

Though Tanasyuk’s son is not yet old enough for kindergarten, she doesn’t plan to send him to daycare any time soon because Quebec’s daily coronavirus infection rate remain higher than she’d like. She’s grateful to know she has other options that work, and plans to use SOS Sitter to keep her son busy for at least part of each workday.

As an only child, it lets Adam can socialize with other children and adults — which has been a strugle for many kids with no siblings during social isolation.

“He likes to listen to others,” Tanasyuk says. “[The lessons offer] a lot of conversation from every kid, and he likes to hear his name. He wants to hear his name, he wants a teacher to call him, ask him if everything is good.”

Everyday, Tanasyuk sits him in front of the computer with materials SOS Sitter childcare providers have instructed her to prep in advance such as books to read, crayons for craft-themed sessions, or comprehension tools for Spanish-language lessons. Adam prefers to take his courses alone, Tanasyuk says, so she lets him enjoy his time independently while she works from another room.

Since pivoting SOS Sitter’s services online at the start of the pandemic, company founder Paulina Podgorska says she’s heard from a number of parents who are grateful to have pockets of free time.

“For 40 minutes at a time, parents can be free of kids and can organize the time to have that important meeting, call the client, talk to the boss … whatever they need,” Podgorska says.

Her company currently offers group sessions at $12 per time-slot, with discounted rates for sessions bought in bulk, but she’s working on orchestrating one-on-one sessions at a slightly higher fee.

Virtual care rates are slightly more affordable than traditional in-person babysitting, which typically hovers at around $15 an hour, primarily because the time and travel are cut from the equation, Podgorska says.

To Tanasyuk, the cost is worth it for parents who have the extra budget.

“I would recommend it,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to continue to learn while being at home.”

Though it’s too soon to say whether school reopenings across the country will affect demand for services like SOS Sitter, Podgorska remains hopeful that parents will continue to rely on virtual babysitting to break up evenings, weekends or days off.

“There are so many situations when [school is not necessarily] closed, but the child is at home today,” Podgorska says. “This service covers the need.”

Elize Shirdel, founder of Toronto-based virtual daycare platform HELM Life holds a similar views. She sees her service, which offers virtual daycare sessions for $9 each, as “a component of a rounded childcare strategy.”

A working parent herself, Shirdel admits she was originally skeptical about increasing screen time for her children. But after realizing that time spent learning via computer has a far different effect on young minds than recreational activities, she eagerly recommends remote learning to other millennial parents.

“When I put my kids in front of YouTube, or Netflix … that gets me back grouchy kids,” Shirdel says. “But when they do an online activity it’s different. They spend a little while drawing and creating and talking and playing, then we get back happy kids.”

Podgorska, too, believes technology can be an advantageous learning tool; she recalls the early days of the pandemic, when SOS Sitter had just launched its online services. She was surprised to learn quickly that Zoom came intuitively to even young children.

“We were so new to this whole thing: I was new to the virtual babysitting, my teachers were new, parents were new, and kids were new,” Podgorska says. “Guess which one took [it] on the best and the quickest? The kids.”

— Audrey Carleton, The Canadian Press

ChildcareCoronavirusInternet and Telecom

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

North District RCMP are urging the public’s assistance in locating Prince George resident Amber Weutz, 25, last seen Oct. 18 in the Canim Mahood Lake area east of 100 Mile House. (Photo submitted)
RCMP release more information on missing Prince George woman

Amber Weutz, 25, was last seen in the Canim and Mahood Lake area on Oct. 18

One of the new fees being proposed by the City of Quesnel for 2021 is a $50-per-tonne fee for all commercial cardboard going over the weigh scale, which is meant to help offset the cost of over $100 per tonne to process it. (City of Quesnel Facebook Photo)
New landfill fees being proposed in Quesnel for 2021

City council is reviewing fees and charges for municipal services, which would go into effect Jan. 1

From left, Cariboo Regional District director Barb Bachmeier, North Cariboo Seniors’ Council (NCSC) secretary Sally Service, NCSC president Brenda Gardiner and Quesnel Coun. Mitch Vik were all decked out in masks while at the NCSC open house Friday, Oct. 30 in Spirit Square in downtown Quesnel. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
North Cariboo Seniors’ Council aims to help Quesnel seniors

Council president Brenda Gardiner said COVID-19 has “ripped off the Band-Aid” for seniors’ issues

Two bridge players sit more than six metres apart while playing on iPads at the Quesnel Seniors’ Centre. (Cassidy Dankochik Photo - Quesnel Cariboo Observer)
Taking tricks again at the Quesnel Seniors’ Centre

Bridge is back, but now socially distanced using tablets

More than 1,500 vote-by-mail packages have been received by Cariboo North election officials. (Katya Slepian - Black Press Media)
B.C. VOTES 2020: All Cariboo North ballots will be counted Nov. 6

More than 1,500 vote-by-mail packages have been received by Elections BC

Over the years, Janice Blackie-Goodine’s home in Summerland has featured elaborate Halloween displays and decorations each October. (File photo)
QUIZ: How much do you really know about Halloween?

Oct. 31 is a night of frights. How much do you know about Halloween customs and traditions?

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 1987 file photo, actor Sean Connery holds a rose in his hand as he talks about his new movie “The Name of the Rose” at a news conference in London. Scottish actor Sean Connery, considered by many to have been the best James Bond, has died aged 90, according to an announcement from his family. (AP Photo/Gerald Penny, File)
Actor Sean Connery, the ‘original’ James Bond, dies at 90

Oscar-winner was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Michelle Stoney carved this pumpkin on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at her brother's home where their family gathers each year to carve pumpkins for Halloween. (Michelle Stoney, Gitxsan Artist Facebook photo)
Gitxsan artist carves culture in Halloween pumpkin

Michelle Stoney spent more than three hours on her latest holiday creation

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Most Read