Babysitting Cooperatives Give Families Freedom
Do you ever have those times when a 15-minute run — alone — to the supermarket feels like a mini-vacation? Don’t worry; you’re not a bad parent.
Our children need time away from us as much as we need time from them. They build social skills when we’re not nearby to give in or anticipate their next request. And we parents need time together, and apart, but kid-less, to keep us refreshed and ready for life’s daily demands.
One way to accomplish all of these goals is through joining or establishing a babysitting cooperative (co-op). While babysitting cooperatives are not good for full-time childcare needs, they are excellent alternatives for those afternoons when you need a few hours to take care of business, or when parents want a night out but can’t afford a babysitter.
Babysitting cooperatives work best when more than a couple of families are involved. A rotating leader can be part of the structure, to maintain rules and keep everyone’s use honest. Or, if no one wants to take a management role, members can work out the babysitting exchanges themselves, and keep track of who owes whom babysitting hours.
Since part of the reason for joining a co-op is usually to give children regular playmates and more social interaction, parents should think about the structured dynamics of who will be part of the co-op. For example, parents with a newborn who don’t have time to care for other children would likely end up causing friction for a group. Also, parents who want to hand-pick their sitters would unlikely be good members.
Know What You’re Signing on for
“You have to set firm boundaries,” said Sheila Michaels. “We had parents who confused a co-op with day care, and would leave their children longer than the regular time. That doesn’t work, and if parents don’t keep to the guidelines, the co-op will often just fall apart.”
Members of co-ops are not necessarily going to have babysitter or CPR training. You need to ask questions about anything that is important to you. If your child has to eat or avoid certain foods or not be around particular animals, that’s something you need to address before joining. Also, families with older children, who soon may not need the co-op’s services, would not be good member candidates.
A Co-op Can be a Great Way to Create a Stronger Local Community
“We don’t have any family close by,” said Linda Ryan. “And with money always tight, being a part of a co-op meant not having to worry about paying the going rate for sitters. Plus, these were parents I knew, and I also gained from the relationships by sharing and getting needed parenting information.”
There are no hard and fast rules about co-ops. They can be a small group of close friends, or a large organized group of families who don’t know each other well before joining. If you are helping establish a group and its structure, you will have the luxury of deciding the size, formality, and rules.
Babysitting hours are gained and used by a point system.
- One point equals 15 minutes of babysitting time per child, with point totals maintained by co-op leader.
- Contact the leader when you need a sitter. Provide time and date needed. Depending on your group’s structure, she will either choose a sitter for you (based on who currently has the lowest point total), or ask for your preferences and see what can be accommodated.
- Leader records the exchange, credits the sitter with new points and subtracts points from your family’s total.
There are variations on the above. For example, if the sitter comes to your home, extra sitting credit is allowed, and the equivalent gets taken from your total. Holidays — like that romantic Valentine’s evening out — can provide bonus credit. Leaders also get extra credit because of the larger role they must play.
While babysitting cooperatives can be wonderful for their social value and frugality, just remember they are not one-sided. If someone keeps your kids, you’re going to have to return the favor later. So choose wisely.