Babysitting Cooperatives Save Money And Sanity

Organizing a babysitting cooperatives allows stay-at-home moms to save money and give themselves a break or just run errands and visit doctors.

Moms that stay at home with toddlers need a break once in a while but living on one income can limit the extra money for babysitters. A natural solution is to form a babysitting co-operative.

A babysitting coop is a group of like-minded mothers (or fathers) who agree to share responsibility for watching each others' little ones while Mom (or Dad) goes to the doctor, does her holiday shopping, writes the great American novel in peace, or simply takes a nap.

For some, it's an easy task to accomplish, that of finding nearby families in the same situation - preschoolers and mom at home. Others feel so isolated and out of the loop, looking for like-minded mothers appears an insurmountable obstacle. Over the years as part of organized babysitting coops, informal childcare exchanging, church Mom's mornings out and running a family daycare, I've seen what works and what really doesn't!

Here are the ways that brought mothers (and fathers) the most success in finding low to no-cost childcare.

Network with family and neighbors. Stash the kids in a stroller and walk around your neighborhood. Open yourself to the possibility that your elderly neighbor may have a connection that you need, and trust your instinct when it warns you not to invite someone into a babysitting coop. Ask family members - your cousin's new neighbor is expecting a baby, your husband's assistant's daughter is in your same situation.

Read local newsletters, newspapers and bulletin boards. Existing playgroups can provide you with an already established circle of mothers with whom to create a coop. Some will already have their own coop set up; spend some time to see if your parenting values are similar to theirs.

While playgroups may be structured so that parents and preschoolers rotate hosting the whole group or visiting a new park each week, some groups, or members, may be willing to trade mothering responsiblities for one or two mornings a week. Imagine finding just two mothers with the same goal you have - working from home and providing excellent childcare. One takes all kids on Monday, you have them on Wednesday and the third takes Friday duty. Suddenly you've become very busy one day a week, but have two whole days (or mornings) free. All without any money changing hands.

Another successful babysitting co-op's goal was to provide cover for evenings out for couples, but the theory would work for stay-at-home mom's days. A co-op secretary kept the books, but the lines showed hours, not dollars. If you were to babysit another's child for eight hours over one week, you could cash those in with anyone else in the co-op for an equal number of childfree hours. It required a lot of detailed recordkeeping, and took a year before the women involved had weeded out the abusers of the system. Secretary duties were traded every six months.

Find a home day care provider. Most will take an additional child or two on an irregular or regular basis for an hourly fee. Ask for references, always. The best situation is when a trusted neighbor provides childcare and is willing to exchange some day hours for two or three nights out with her husband.

Casual arrangements often work best for those who only seek the occasional morning out for doctor appointments, etc. Ask your friends how they feel about such an informal arrangement. Pay attention to what they aren't saying; some moms feel like a doormat if they agree, others take advantage of it. The best is when you meet a kindred spirit - one who needs a morning per month plus a few hours to get those new eyeglasses.

How do you end an unsatisfactory arrangement without ruining relationships? It may not be possible, just remember your children's safety and comfort come first.

The key to success is finding a person or group with simliar mothering styles and values to your own. And forget the guilt. You deserve some time off and you've done a wonderful thing by finding playmates for your children.

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