How to Start a Babysitting Co-Op

babysitting co-op

When it comes to date night, my husband and I used to be great.

From the very beginning of our relationship, we always made time for each other and we went on some pretty fantastic dates – a night at a Royals game, a show at Starlight, a tour of Boulevard Brewery, a concert at Sprint Center, a limo ride around downtown to see the Christmas lights, a weekend away at a B&B. We were able to make even a simple stroll around the Plaza into an amazing and memorable event. We were even able to go to the movies on a regular basis.

Then we had our daughter.

Suddenly, date nights were reserved for special occasions like our anniversary. It’s been three and half years since our daughter was born and we have been out on our own less than five times. For a couple who used to have date night at least once, if not two or three times a week, this was a major adjustment. These days, the only movies we see in a theatre are animated and our date nights have become family outings instead.

Don’t get me wrong, we love our time with our daughter.

It is exciting to see the world through her eyes and to teach her to love all of the things we used to love doing together – trips to Paradise Park, the Kansas City Zoo or family bowling nights. These are all amazing and fun and we wouldn’t trade these memory-making moments for anything. But, I have to admit that sometimes I miss having time with just the two of us.

Finding a babysitter has been a challenge.

There aren’t a lot of people we trust with our girl, and paying $10-15 an hour for a sitter gets a little pricey when you are planning a night out. So, lately I have been researching baby-sitting swaps and co-ops.

The idea is genius.

You find a group of parents who you trust and you all trade nights of watching each other’s children while the other couple gets a night out. You get a date night, your kids get a play date – it sounds like a total win-win.

babysitting co-op

Here are five of the most important things I have learned along the way:

  1. Define Your Network.

    You need to decide if this will be a group made up of neighborhood families, families from your office or church group, etc. Once you know who you want to open the group up to, it makes it easier to decide who you will ask to participate.

  2. Find a Way to Track Babysitting Time.

    Most swaps/co-ops work on a point system. You watch my child for three hours, you earn three points. Then you have three points you can “spend” to have someone watch your child. These points can be tracked in a Google Docs Spreadsheet or through an online tracking service such as Sit4Sit.

  3. List Your Rules and Guidelines.

    When you are dealing with children, it is always a good idea to have some clear and defined guidelines. Will swaps be a one for one deal or can you bank up babysitting to be used with any member at any time? Are dinner or snacks to be expected? Will sitters come to you or will you bring the kids to the sitters? Can you ask for a sitter even if you don’t have any points built up? How will new members be added? I would suggest only adding people that you actually know and have met in real life. When you are asking others to watch your child(ren) you want to be 110% certain that they are people you can trust with their lives and potentially in your home. That fellow mom from your Facebook mom group that you share nap tricks with but haven’t actually met face-to-face might not be the best person to add.

  4. Set Up a Facebook Group.

    A Facebook group makes an easy way to request a sitter, get to know each other, and share information on your children. This can also become a great community for support and encouragement among fellow parents. It’s a great way to coordinate schedules and announce any special events. You might plan a group playdate or other fun family events that would benefit the co-op.

  5. Invite Families to Participate.

    Once you have defined your overall group and set up some guidelines, it is time to invite others. You will need at least one or two other families. You may want to start small, inviting others once you have figured out the logistics of the babysitting swap. Once you actually start swapping, you might find that more rules and guidelines are needed. It is easier to clear those up with just 3 members than it is with 33. Have families that you are inviting fill out a form with contact information, emergency contacts, and information about their child(ren). This would include listing any special needs, allergies and medical needs that would be important for a sitter to know.

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