As a parent, your calendar is likely filled with field trips, soccer games, dance recitals, music lessons, pizza parties, and more. How come your kids get to have all the fun? Well, finding a qualified sitter isn’t an easy task for most parents. Teens are busier these days with their own jobs and social networking. And, if you’re lucky enough to find a good one, there’s always the expense. By the time you pay for a sitter, and maybe dinner and a movie, you’re easily looking at $70 or more.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a core group of responsible parents willing to trade babysitting hours?
Sense of Community
Consider joining a babysitting co-op, where no money is exchanged. Moms (and dads can, too) sit for each other’s children for points. When you watch another parent’s kids you earn points and when you need a parent to sit for your own, points are deducted from your balance. A babysitting co-op’s appeal may be free babysitting, but co-ops can be so much more.
Cynthia Sullivan of Hunting Woods can’t stop singing the praises of the one she belongs to. The group must have the right formula for success, as it’s been in existence for over 38 years and includes second-generation families.
Getting free, reliable babysitting isn’t even the best thing about a co-op according to Sullivan. “We love our Huntington Woods Babysitting Co-op for numerous reasons, but ultimately we love the sense of community it has provided for our family. We have made so many wonderful friends and acquaintances, all while receiving the benefits of having free childcare provided to our children by responsible adults who are also parents.”
Her co-op also hosts monthly family-friendly events like going to a petting zoo or park, a “mom’s night out,” and couples events. The one-time $20 membership fee covers the expense of these events.
Anne Yambor, director of Drayton Avenue Babysitting Co-op in Ferndale, and mother of two, shares the same enthusiasm about her co-op. “The babysitting co-op is so much more than babysitting,” she explains. “When I needed something like a double stroller, I put it out via email to the group, and when I have things to pass along, I offer it to the group. We have “mom only” patio parties, play dates for the kids, and even a toy swap in December.”
For Yambor and Sullivan, the co-op provides a sense of community. Parents support and encourage each other, and life-long friendships are created between them and among the kids, too. Because they all live relatively close,the kids are likely to attend the same school and have a core group of friends to lean on and grow with as they get older.
Many Hands Make Light Work
A babysitting co-op involves a lot of organization to run smoothly. The Huntington Woods Co-op elects officers each year, but the bookkeeper changes every month. Since there are around 30 families in the co-op, a mom only has to serve as bookkeeper once every two- and one-half years. Each bookkeeper has the co-op laptop to keep track of things, and the directory of parents and kids is updated monthly. Likes, dislikes, food allergies, medical conditions and other important details for each child and family are kept in the system.
Monthly meetings keep everyone informed of upcoming events and any issues that need to be addressed. New families must have a face-to-face interview and for safety reasons, background checks.
Can’t find a Babysitting Co-op near you? Start your own!
If you can’t find a babysitting co-op, think about starting one yourself. It’s easier than you think, says Gary Meyers, who was so impressed with the co-op his family was in, he shared the idea with other parents and wrote the widely utilized “Smart Mom’s Babysitting Co-op Handbook,” and created babysittingcoop.com.
Some of Meyers’ tips to get started include:
- Start with three friends who are within about 15 minutes of each other.
- Current members should all agree on any new parents before offering memberships. Safety is a priority, so personal referrals are ideal.
- Parenting styles should be similar. If a potential new member doesn’t share the same style, offer to help them start their own co-op.