How To Start a Babysitting Co-op
Can't find a sitter, and need a support network? A babysitting co-op can solve both problems!
If you have trouble finding reliable sitters for your children, try starting a babysitting co-op. This kind of group can ensure that you'll never worry about finding someone to watch your children, and the people who do watch your kids will be experienced parents like you.
What Is A Babysitting Co-op?
A babysitting co-op is a group of parents who agree to sit for each other's children on an as-needed basis. Sound simple? It can be, and it can also change your life. How? By bringing together a group of parents who are willing to care for each other's children, at its best a co-op can create a bond among families that is similar to the bonds usually found within extended families.
If you're not living near extended family who can help you out with your kids on occasion, or even if you do live near family, but you don't want to take advantage of them, a co-op may work for you.
Because parents babysit for each other with the understanding that they are all helping each other, no one in a co-op should feel taken advantage of or shortchanged.
A co-op should have a system of keeping track of the hours everyone sits. One co-op may have a central "secretary," whom everyone calls to report hours, while another co-op may use a system of chits that one earns for hours spent sitting. However your co-op chooses to do it, tracking the hours is crucial so that no one feels cheated or taken advantage of.
How It Works
Here's one scenario to illustrate how one type of co-op might work. Susie and Jane are in a babysitting co-op together. Susie has a dentist appointment on Monday morning at 10:00. She calls Jane and asks her if she's available to sit for her four-year-old daughter, Molly, from about 9:45 to 10:45. Jane, who has a daughter Molly's age named Sarah, says yes, thinking that she will be able to clean up her kitchen while Molly and Sarah play.
On Monday morning, Susie drops off Molly at Jane's house and goes off to her appointment. While Susie is gone, Molly and Sarah play with blocks and stuffed animals while Jane cleans out her fridge and washes her kitchen floor. When Susie returns, Jane asks her to stay for a cup of coffee so that the girls can play a little longer. After Susie and Molly leave an hour later, Jane calls Vicki, the co-op's secretary, to let her know that she sat for Susie for one hour. Vicki records the time in the co-op record book, adding one hour to Jane's balance and deducting one hour from Susie's. Vicki also earns two hours each month for serving as secretary. The role of secretary rotates, so that Vicki serves as secretary for six months before turning the books over to another co-op member, who will then serve her six-month term.
Benefits of this scenario: Susie got to go to her appointment, Jane got to clean her kitchen, Molly and Sarah got to play with each other, Susie and Jane had a chance to catch up a bit with each other, and Vicki earned time for keeping Susie and Jane's hours.
Another Possible System
Instead of keeping a balance sheet to record everyone's hours, a co-op might operate with chits. For instance, each member, upon joining the co-op, might be given 20 chits. For every hour Susie babysits in this co-op, the person she sits for gives her a chit. Then Susie can turn around and "pay" another member with chits to watch her child.
How To Start A Co-op
If you're starting a co-op from scratch, you can advertise for new members in the local newspaper, or on Craigslist [http://www.craigslist.com], or with a flyer at the local coffeeshop. Or you can ask friends to join you and invite their friends to join. You might feel more comfortable with other parents watching your child if you know that someone you know has invited them into the co-op. However, if you're new in town and don't really know any other parents to ask, going the route of local anouncements can work as long as you check the references of potential members.
Once you've rounded up your charter members, hold a meeting that everyone can attend to discuss how the co-op will work. Try to find solutions that everyone agrees with -- a co-op is like a little community within itself, and it's best if every member feels that he or she has a stake in it.
How A Co-op Can Change Your Life
Because you and your fellow co-op members will be watching each other's children, you'll want to get to know each other, probably pretty quickly. Suggest some casual playground get-togethers at first, where everyone can meet and hang out while the kids play. A monthly meeting is a good idea, too: members can take turns holding meetings at their homes, and they don't have to be all business. Meetings can take place over coffee in the morning or wine in the evening, and these get-togethers are a great way to find out who you like best and whom you want watching your kids the most.
Hold an all-co-op picnic in the spring and again in the fall, ideally at a local park where you can cook out and hang out and the kids can play. These picnics provide more opportunities for families to get to know one another.
If you all really like each other and are having fun as a group, a holiday party in December, complete with a potluck supper, can be a lot of fun. A weekend camping trip in the summer is also a great way for families to bond and begin to feel like a little community.
A co-op will change your life not only by providing you with the freedom of knowing you can get a sitter anytime, but also, if you're lucky, by creating for you a network of reliable, loyal friends. If you're new in town and need to find a "village" for yourself as you raise your child, think about starting a babysitting co-op.
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