Wanted: Free Babysitting. Strangers Need Not Apply.

When my son, Elijah, was a newborn, I desperately sought other mothers to spend afternoons talking with, watching our little ones play, sipping coffee from unspillable mugs, and sharing our babies’ latest developments. By around Eli’s first birthday, I had happily found a solid group of play date partners. (In the process, I was kicked out of one group. Delisted actually. Lesson learned: when it takes moving mountains to leave the house with a somewhat colicky infant, don’t sign up for a play group with a mandatory attendance policy.)

When Eli was two, my working mom/guilt-ridden need to be around my child at nearly every waking moment loosened up, and I went on the prowl for mommas willing to hang out at night—maybe at a movie, maybe for dinner, maybe at a book club—without our toddlers. I hit the jackpot and connected with two moms’ night out groups!

Now Eli is three! Three! And developing strong interests and a close-knit group of friends of his own. Given that… I think I’m ready to bring back something that has been missing for too long: a regular date night for me and hubby! And who better to turn to than my girlfriends and Eli’s play pals to help make this happen.

I’m talking about a babysitting co-op. It is the latest, old-school trend coming back into action via the downturned economy. But economy, schmonomy—this is a good idea regardless. Let me brief you.

So, you’ve heard of co-ops before, probably related to food markets. Merriam-Webster defines a cooperative as “(noun) : an enterprise or organization owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services.” When applied to babysitting, this means that those wanting babysitting also provide babysitting. It’s kind of like bartering, except not just between two people— it can include as many people as you want (or can effectively manage); and not trading things you don’t want for things someone else doesn’t want. With babysitting co-ops, we’re sharing responsibility for the care of each others’ children (for very limited time periods) so you’ll only want to go into this “enterprise” with people you trust with your most valuable and loved natural resources. In other words, this is not something I would recruit for on Craigslist.

Don’t get me wrong. Likeminded families would do well to use the internet in starting a babysitting co-op. There’s The Smart Mom’s Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook, a step by step manual available online by Tukwila Publishing. There are hundreds of blogs and e-zine articles on individual experiences. And, my personal favorite, there’s an online co-op management system called Sitting Around, founded by a mom in March 2011 and already grabbing the attention of national media outlets like the New York Times, the Boston Herald, and Real Simple magazine.

How does it work? Sitting Around describes it this way on its site: “You get points when you sit for someone else, and you spend points when others are sitting for you. The Johnsons can sit for the Browns, the Browns can sit for the Smiths, and the Smiths can sit for the Johnsons. Because you are part of a group, you never have to worry about reciprocating directly with those sitting for you – eventually, it all gets around.”

I describe it this way: Sure we could just take turns watching each other’s children, but maybe that’s a little bit too much pressure. Hubby and I may want to go out on the very night that you and your family want to cuddle up alone together and watch a movie or play games. It’s okay. The beauty of a babysitting co-op is that when my best girlfriend down the street isn’t available to watch Junior, my best girlfriend down the highway might be, and she may actually be looking for the opportunity to score some points to have her own date night with her husband next week. And for the kids, they get to play together. Who could ask for more!

So, mom friends…who’s in?

Babysitting Co-Ops

Babysitting co-ops (or coops) are also known as babysitting swaps, exchanges, and childcare cooperatives. In general, this type of care is unlicensed, and is regarded as “family, friend, and neighbor care” by research bodies including the Annie E. Casey Foundation.


Categories: Little Ones