5 easy steps to start your own babysitting co-op: how to build an abundant network of childcare and never scramble for a sitter again
We’ve all heard of them. The magical babysitting co-ops of the 1980’s. Your mother used to keep colored index cards in the pockets of her long button-down hand-sewn skirt, keeping track of how many sitter hours she’d accumulated watching the neighbors kids, yellow for 1 point, red for an evening or weekend sit and green equaled 1.5 points if she watched siblings.
You have visions of running across the street to play with your neighbor’s barbies. They were mormons and your single mama was a hippy. At your house, you ate steamed broccoli and tofu for dinner. They had a strange cheese casserole that baked in the microwave. While your mother may have instructed you that microwaves had toxic rays, you felt fine.
We’ve all had the babysitting co-op dream. Instead of paying $150 for a teen sitter who raids your cupboard and watches TV half the time while your baby sleeps (not to mention forking over an extra $40 bucks for the taxi ride home), imagine sharing childcare with your best friend, for FREE!
The average American spends 20% of their income on childcare. In large metropolitan areas like New York City and Los Angeles, it can get up to $30,000, $40,000 and $50,000 a year! But in a babysitting co-op, you pay nothing. Some parents have even gone beyond the traditional swap, to create entire preschools where parents trade teaching and caring.
The situation sounds like a piece of heaven. You get a date with your sexy significant other. Your child gets to play with their friend. And you can ditch the guilt at the doorstep knowing that a capable, caring trustworthy parent has your child in safe hands.
Many a parent has sought to create this coveted babysitting co-op, got a band of friends together, built their points spreadsheet and clicked the go button in high hopes….only to see their co-op dissolve into a disappointed dream. You host once, put out a request and then nothing happens. What a bummer.
At KidsClub.io , the company I founded to help parents share childcare, we set about to find out why some babysitting co-ops flourish and some, well, go bust…
Tip 1. Choose a structure. The biggest feedback I’ve heard from parents who have participated in both successful and less successful co-op is that babysitting co-ops that are a free-for-all never work. You can’t be all things to all people so decide what needs you want to fill and look for people who share those same needs. Some groups that have worked really well are ones where every parent is required to host once a month and book care at least once a month. It’s fine if no one comes to your time, but at least other families know it’s on the calendar if they need it. You can also use a points system where you earn points by the hour, more for siblings, more for evenings and more if you go to the other parent’s house. Everyone starts with 20 points and you’re allowed to go into a little debt, but not too much..Last but not least, there is the traditional swap or childcare share! This can be a bit easier to get going and maintain. In this method, 3 of you may decide you want to swap 3 days a week regularly, so one parent watches the kids 1 day a week, another the other day, etcetera. This last method requirs a little more careful vetting to make sure the kids and parents are a good fit, but it can be incredibly fulfilling. When I was a kid, my mom found 3 other parents who traded off and also shared a sitter to supplement the time. These kids became my best friends and even though we all ultimately moved to different cities, they (and their parents) are still an important part of my life now that we’re adults and I know I could always call on them if I was in need.
Tip 2. Recruit new members regularly. Some people interested in joining a babysitting co-op feel intimidated by the marketing part of the co-op, but it’s actually a lot easier than you think. Everyone wants free childcare! What I usually recommend is that parents join 10 or 20 online facebook or yahoo parenting groups in their area and post something like “Hi! I’m excited to share that we’re starting a new babysitting co-op in (name of your neighborhood). Our aim is to build a diverse, inclusive group of families sharing friendship and childcare. It takes a village to raise a child, so let’s help each other out!” Then you can include a link to a survey or to KidsClub which provides a sign-up process for families interested in sharing care.
Tip 3. Choose families who share your needs. While everyone wants free childcare, it’s important to connect with families have similar needs. For example, if some of the parents work full-time and need weekend coverage and the others are Stay-at-home parents who need care during the day, it can be hard to get a match. I am a huge fan of differentiated learning. It’s incredibly healthy and good to give your toddler an older surrogate sibling and visa versa, however if one child’s bedtime is way different than the others, it can cause issues with the swap serving your needs, especially if you have a baby with a more rigid sleep schedule.
Tip 3. Meet often. It’s important that your co-op meet regularly to build community. If you’re the main organizer behind the co-op, I recommend you set up a monthly or bi-monthly playground hangout or group potluck. While this is obviously a nice way for families and kids to get to know each other, many co-ops have found that this is the best part of all! Parents love the co-op meetups so much, sometimes they join the co-op just for that and never even request childcare! And it makes sense. Kids were meant to be raised in a village, not in a vacuum. So get your meetups going and enjoy the extra support. You deserve it!
Tip 4. Make requests. This is probably the most critical and most often overlooked element of making your babysitting co-op successful. You HAVE to make the first move and request childcare. Parents are often eager to host childcare but feel awkward asking. Just remember, if you don’t ask, your babysitting co-op will never take off. Ask often and encourage the other members in your group to do the same. Someone has to get the ball rolling and it might as well be you!
Tip 5. Remember kids will be kids. While your children will enjoy many terrific playdates and you’ll make awesome friends, not every evening you host will be peachy. A kid might cry for 2 hours straight. Your kid might like playdoh while your neighbor’s kids might only like legos. You might have different opinions about the definition of attachment parenting. Remember this is not a commercial daycare where you pay for a service and expect it to be delivered as exactly as described. You are building a village, a family that extends beyond your nuclear family — and real families can be challenging. But ultimately, the rewards of building a community to support your child will be worth it. Stick with it. Talk things through. Lead with your heart.
Want to learn more about babysitting co-ops? Post your questions below!
If you’d like support in building your co-op please visit our website at kidsclub.io to find parents near you who are interested in sharing care or contact us via the website to get a group going in your area!
Good luck with your journey!