This is a guest post by reader, Julie James. I like how Julie tells it straight — she doesn’t sugarcoat babysitting co-ops. But judging from her online point-tracking system, her babysitting exchange is alive and active. And that, coming from someone who has started a few co-ops herself, is a beautiful thing.
Last summer, I got accepted into grad school. My daughter Marlowe was almost two, and I’d been caring for her full-time since she was born. Our family was not crazy about the idea of daycare or a nanny. What to do?
My little heart’s desire was for my friends to take care of her on a regular basis. The days I didn’t have class, I figured, I could return the favor. The idea of a babysitting swap had fascinated me ever since I read about them online. All it would take was a couple of other families willing to give it a go. I started talking, found a few takers, and prayed for success. We were off!
I held a small, casual get-together in a friend’s sunny backyard to get the moms and kids mixing. We chowed on each other’s carrot sticks and crackers, watched ten kids run around together, and enjoyed the general frivolity. Later that night, my techie husband helped me make a simple Google website to manage our collective time, contact info, and calendar.
We keep point totals on a Google spreadsheet that has our names listed down the left side and the tally of each person’s points next to their name. We used to have each person take care of their own points, but repeats and confusion caused me to take care of it myself. We still tally our own points for each trade on each calendar entry, though.
I must admit, the swap has not gone exactly as I anticipated. We started with seven enthusiastic members, but to this day only five of us have participated. Four of us do exchange babysitting on a weekly basis, which has been extremely rewarding and helpful for us all.
My own babysitting calendar goes something like this: My friend Anna, who is an artist, watches Marlowe for me for four hours on Mondays, and I watch her daughter Pam on Thursdays. Mia, a massage therapist, has Marlowe over on Wednesday afternoons when I leave for class, and I have her daughter Evelyn when Mia has clients. Angela, a physical trainer, takes care of Marlowe during my Tuesday class, and I go to her house whenever she and her husband need a date night.
An added and unanticipated bonus of the swap is that our kids have grown to really love each other over the past year. “Pam, my best friend!” cheers Marlowe, when I fill her in on our plan to take her to Anna’s house. Just seeing our toddlers bear-hug and smooch upon meeting makes me melt into a little puddle. Of course, the inevitable sibling-like shoving and yelling does sometimes turn cuddly “best friends” into tiny despots, but I do think Marlowe is healthier for having experienced several parenting styles.
Something I didn’t anticipate about the swap is that my friends swap babysitting with me, but they don’t tend to swap with each other. At first I thought this was a big problem, but since I’m the one who seems to need the most coverage right now, I see that all of our needs are being met. My goal in starting the swap was not necessarily to get my friends babysitting each other’s kids; I just needed Marlowe cared for and enjoying life. So, I decided, all is well.
A babysitting swap is clearly not for everyone. It takes some management, flexibility, and time. I’m so grateful that ours has been running for over a year now, and I’m thrilled that, thanks to the swap, both Marlowe and I have enjoyed closer friendships, healthy interdependence within our community, and plenty of good times.
Thanks Julie! I love hearing how readers are finding solutions that save money and make life better. In the Detroit area, people are starting babysitting co-ops and time banks, where all sorts of services are exchanged like cooking, errands, and organizing. You can read more about it (plus some quotes from moi) in this article: Co-op networks lighten the load for overburdened families.