Monday, April 5, 2010

Get out!! (and leave your kids at home, for once)

While we adore our children, all parents need time off to do things for ourselves: exercise, date night, doctor visits or just a random pampering! In our neighborhood, moms figured out a way to have occasional childcare without paying and transporting a sitter: A babysitting co-operative! Have an experienced parent you know and trust watch your babies for free! All you need to do is return the favor!

In our co-op, parents generally sit one night a month in return for one night a month in sitting (sits also occur during the day, but they’re harder to get since many moms work outside the home). It can be as structured or unstructured as you want. Two moms swapping time or, like our co-op, 15 families who earn babysitting points, tracked on the Babysitter Exchange website (which is free if your co-op is small). The site is really great because there’s never any mix-ups about who sat for whom last, or who owes who sitting. It’s all there!

For an overview of how our co-op works, check out this video from CNN!

And, for more details on how to start a co-op (with information on safety, legal, and organizational issues), I highly recommend the book The Smart Mom’s Babysitting Co-op Handbook. It’s easy to read and follow! You could be up and running in as little as a week! (Although, I will give the disclaimer that it took our co-op a few months, since we’re pretty big!)

Total cost: Start-up costs can be as the same as one hour to a few day’s sitting expenses, depending on your approach. The book is $15, the website is free but the advanced version is $165/year – a little pricey but split among 5-10 families is totally affordable. (Also the book also explains how to track sits without a website, if you want to keep costs down). The sitting is free and, since all our members are within walking distance, transport is free, too!

Total time: Start-up time can be as quick as walking across the street for a coffee chat, or in complicated circumstances like ours, we took about 3 hours/month for a few months to start up. After that, it’s as much as you want to sit and be sat for, plus a social activity or meeting (which often ends up being a social activity) a few hours per month to keep up with any issues or questions that may come up in the co-op, but more importantly to keep in touch with the other families and watch your kids playing together.

Result: Free sitting from experienced families you can trust, less transporting sitters around (if you live near enough), more and better friendships with your neighbors (more time spent enjoying each other on a regular basis, and less time wondering who owes whom for the last sitting favor), a stronger sense of community.

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