House Sitting as a Family
By Leisha Sagan
House Sitting as a Family: Accessible to all
The very mention of House Sitting conjures up images of travel to exotic lands, snuggling up to fantastic pooches, cats, and maybe even a horse or two, picking up spontaneously with just a backpack or a small suitcase filled with the bare essentials for living and moving into someone else’s home for a few days, weeks, or even months.
It sounds so easy, and the adventures that await sound too good to be true, but what about when you’ve got your own house full of children to take care of?
House Sitting with children can indeed seem a bit intimidating at times. For our little family, it has indeed been the most rewarding way to travel and also to immerse our children in different cultures and ways of living that they otherwise wouldn’t experience.
House Sitting as a Family: How to start?
My partner and I both loved to travel before we decided to start a tiny family. We are lucky in that his work is seasonal - as a farmer in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, the work just doesn’t happen from December - March (and sometimes beyond). We live on a tiny island in the North Atlantic where spring can be non-existent, icebergs bring frosty temperatures and winter comes with whiteout wind storms that knock over greenhouses.
It’s also a perfect time to pick up and leave for a while, if possible.
Our first Housesit ever happened on a last-minute whim - I had joined a few House Sitting groups on Facebook, curious about this new-to-me way of travelling - and a request for a House Sitter in Montreal spoke to us both. It took place over Christmas, part way through the winter, and was for a friendly and loveable dog and snuggly old cat in a family home on the edge of Little Italy in Montreal.
We set up a profile on a House Sitting platform.
We collected references quickly from prior local House sits that I had done, and character references for us both.
And when we heard back from the Homeowner, we set up a Skype interview for all of us - our almost 3-year old included.
This was a perfect first housesit for us as a family – House Sitting for another family, who understood what its like to live with children and whose animals are also used to having children around.
After those 2 months in Montreal, we were hooked!
The following year came a Farm sit in rural Costa Rica - also family-friendly, and then a year later we spent 2 months in Brittany, France with two cats. This year found us back in Costa Rica again, looking after a friendly, kid-loving dog in the hills of Mount Chirripo.
House Sitting as a Family: Finding a match
For all those naysayers who say that it’s impossible to find a House sit that will take children - not true, it can be done!
We’re living proof, and there are many other families who make their way around the world House Sitting.
We look for a House sit the conventional way - using House Sitting platforms, with references from previous sits.
We have our profile that talks about our little family, what strengths we bring to a House sit and why should someone choose us over a single person or a couple. We try to allay any concerns right in our profile and pique a Homeowner’s interest right away.
Certainly, there are more difficulties in finding a Housesit.
The most common concern we’ve found from Homeowners as we apply to jobs is this: will the pet and home be well-taken care of and well-loved when most of your attention is on your children?
We have found there seem to be two types of Homeowners out there - kid-friendly House sits and non-kid-friendly.
The ones that are not kid-friendly most frequently have expressed concern to us through our application that our main attention will be on our children, and they want our main attention to be on the animal.
We see no reason why these two things need to remain mutually exclusive - many families have pets of their own as their children grow up. The pets are an integral part of any family, well-loved by children and parents alike, and are indeed a member of that family. Why should it be different when House Sitting and taking care of someone else’s pet?
The second concern we encounter is whether or not the Homeowner’s house itself is kid-friendly.
In applying for House sits, Homeowners have expressed to us that their home is not set up for kids - they may be worried that it’s too dangerous (Costa Rica House sits that are perched on high cliffs or houses with pools), that they have too many valuables, or perhaps they have not been around many children and are concerned about how their homes will fare.
One Homeowner in a public transit-friendly city expressed concern for us being on a bus all the time with our kids as they couldn’t provide a vehicle.
We find that these Homeowners are not familiar with kids and are likely not going to take time to go through with the House Sitter how it may be feasible to have a family House sit. That’s okay too. Ideally a good House sit job should be a good match on both sides - for both the Homeowner and the House Sitter, to help avoid any conflict.
It’s true that you are living in someone’s home for a period of time - there should be some level of comfort and also mutual agreement as to the terms of the House sit before starting the job. A Homeowner that is not comfortable with children at all is simply not going to be a good match.
House Sitting as a Family: The benefits
And what of those concerns?
Well, just as we don’t want our children to destroy our own house, why would we allow them to destroy someone else’s house?
Part of our interest in House Sitting is to teach our children a care and respect for other people, to take care of others and animals, and to experience different cultures with a great care and responsibility of realizing that are guests and visitors in these other cultures.
This extends to the home itself, the animals we’re caring for, and the culture that we’re so lucky to be visiting and learning from.
Through House Sitting our children have met so many amazing people - neighbours and friends of the Homeowners who have taken time to talk with us, share a meal, and share their experiences.
We have met amazing animals that our children have come to love and care for. They have been exposed to different languages and foods.
And they take care with a different way of living - someone else’s home is not our home. A home is a window to another person, and it’s important to be respectful of that.
And of course they experience the joy and difficulty that comes in travelling and living away for a period of time.
Travelling is not without misadventures and difficulties - whether it be experiencing homesickness, missing friends and school activities, or trying to navigate the healthcare system of another country in a different language.
But it is also full of new adventures and experiences - our children have looked after chickens and horses in another country, tried to order food in Spanish with all their young mispronunciation, attended birthday gatherings and played with other children who they couldn’t speak to or understand.
They are learning that play is universal - they don’t need to talk to understand someone or become friends.
And they are experiencing landscape in new ways and learning about concepts of home - where is home, what do they make of it?
Is it with their parents?
Is it with their friends in our hometown?
And for the Homeowners that have taken us into their home, we wonder sometimes if they realize the gift they have given us. They too have told us that having a House Sitting family ensures that their animals are well-looked after, have lots of playmates and company.
Our children love making their new animal friends and taking responsibility for feeding them, helping to clean their kitty litter or make sure they have lots of toys and a cozy bed.
Our older child took responsibility in Costa Rica for gathering chicken eggs every morning and helping to gather the free-roaming chickens at the end of the day to put them to bed.
A house with children in it may be a bit more chaotic at times, but the animals are never lacking for love. This is what many Homeowners who take House Sitting families appreciate.
House Sitting as a Family: Coming home
When we return from our House sits we find ourselves with a new appreciation of both other places and culture around the world, an excitement as we look forward to new House sits in the future (it just whets our appetite for travel!), and also an appreciation for the place that we return to.
The children love their homeland anew and appreciate the land and place and people even more.
They are excited to discover new things and welcome back the springtime.
This is the best of both worlds and we continue to be excited for new adventures to come, both at home and away.
Leisha is a freelance writer who lives, alongside her partner Jeremy and her two children, on a farm in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
During farming’s off months, they enjoy the benefits that House Sitting brings to their family; providing love and care to pets and exploring new places.
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