What is a Babysitting Co-op?

babysittingOne of the questions I get asked the most is "Where can I find a good babysitter?", and I don't always have a great answer because babysitters can be difficult to find, and once you find one, they might not be free when you need them. High school girls graduate, college students go home for the summer, and sometimes you find that you are sharing a babysitter with too many families and never seem to be able to book them. That's why when I heard about Babysitting Co-ops I immediately wanted to find out more.

A "co-op" is defined as an enterprise or institution owned and operated by the people who use its services, and a babysitting co-op is, basically, a group of parents who form a group together and agree to take turns watching each other's children. Sounds good, right?

The pros of a babysitter co-op are cost, you save a ton of money on sitters because it is babysitting trade. You watch their kids for free, they watch yours for free. The babysitting can also actually work out well for the kids too, think of it as a built in playdate for your own kids while you are watching a co-op member's children.

Another big pro is that having the peace of mind that your children are being looked after by another parent, maybe even a friend that you already know and trust. It takes the stress out of hiring an almost stranger or a teenager who might not have a ton of experience with kids. A fellow mom might be more reliable than a younger babysitter too, she's already going to be home with her own kids, so you have less of a worry that she might cancel at the last minute.

Setting up a co-op can be easy, if you know a group of moms already, see if they are willing to give the idea a try. A lot of babysitting co-ops have members set up a point system. Every hour (or portion thereof) of babysitting time is worth a specific number of points. Appoint a co-op secretary who can put together a point spreadsheet that you can tally up points on to keep track. When members accumulate enough points to "pay" for an upcoming outing, they ask another member to babysit.

Setting up some guidelines is a good idea once you get it going. Here are some tips on things to iron out once you get a group together:

  • Discuss with members if you want to do a point system, or even consider paying each other for the babysitting. (The money you put out for your own babysitting then comes back around when it is your turn, but could be an easier way of "keeping track" of who gets owed what).
  • Find out what kind of scheduling works best for the group, a weekly emailed schedule is an easy idea, and something the co-op secretary can also take care of. Consider having the secretary job rotate monthly so one person isn't always stuck with the spreadsheets and scheduling, or consider compensating the secretary with extra "free" hours of babysitting for the extra work.
  • Another idea to keep in mind is valuing the babysitting. Some households have more kids, will there be more of a "charge" per child, more of a charge for holiday or peak weekend hours? Setting up ground rules as far as canceling and scheduling in advance is also a good idea to make sure everyone is on the same page.

There are also a couple websites to check out that help you create a co-op online, Babysitter Exchange and Sitting Around. So tell me, would you try a co-op?