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How To Start A Babysitting Co-op

Although my boys are way-old now, I have many, many friends who still have young ones. A common complaint is that the cost of babysitting can make a kid-free outing financially stressful at best, financially impossible at worst.

One of my friends just posted a Facebook thread about this very topic and said that in checking around for a babysitter for her two young boys (five and nine), it would cost ten dollars an hour. If she and her husband decided to go out to an evening movie (including popcorn and drinks), the date would easily cost them in the neighborhood of $60-70. FOR A MOVIE.

I have been suggesting to her for a while now that she start a neighborhood babysitting co-op. Trading out babysitting with other parents in the area is a great idea both socially and financially, and it goes along with the idea that “It takes a village”. (Speaking of villages, check out this great reading from this year’s Listen To Your Mother Chicago. It goes with this post perfectly.) These days, people typically spend more time on the internet than they do getting to know the people who live right next door. A babysitting co-op is a great way to reach out to those around you.

When I was a part of a babysitting co-op, my boys were really little. I think I first became involved when D was four and J was one, and we stayed active until we moved across town two years later. The co-op consisted of approximately eighteen families and involved a monthly “meeting”, so all of the kids and moms (in our case there were no dads that came to the meetings: it was a mom thing…but I would highly encourage involving the dads!) could spend time together in a big group and we could observe which kids our own little ones gravitated towards, to make things easier when it was time to ask someone to babysit.

We had a ticket system: upon joining the co-op, a family was given a certain number of tickets, each representing one hour of babysitting. There was a list of names, addresses, and kids’ names and ages that everyone had on hand.

When someone needed a sitter, they would call someone on the list and set it up. If I was the one who needed a sitter and it was during the day, I would arrange the date and time with someone, and then bring my kids to their house as if it were a playdate. If I needed a sitter at night and it was going to be late, I would arrange for that mom to leave her kids at home with their dad and she would come to my house like a “real” babysitter so my kids could be put to bed at their normal time. If I remember correctly, if the sitting needs were at night we may have given a ticket and a half for each hour.

With our co-op, once you ran out of tickets you were out of babysitting credits. The only way to get more was to babysit someone else’s kids or purchase more credits through the person who was coordinating the co-op.

The argument was made in the aforementioned Facebook thread that it would be too difficult to run a babysitting co-op in this day and age because of all the activities a modern family has going on. I submit it is not difficult as long as you have plenty of families in the co-op. Besides, when the alternative is paying $30, $40, $50, and more for some time out on the town or just running errands without children in tow, it’s really not that big of a stretch to make this arrangement work.

There are obviously so many ways to do it, too. A simple internet search will pull up all kinds of examples. Here are just some of the things to think about when considering starting a babysitting co-op:

1. If all members must live in the same neighborhood, belong to the same church, or something else.
2. What your payment system will be. Tickets? Coupons? Poker chips? Nothing tangible, using an online chart instead?
3. How many families you want in the group
4. How often you will hold meetings
5. Whether families will earn tickets/coupons/chips/whatever as an incentive for coming to the meetings
6. How many credits each member will begin with
7. What to do when a member runs out of credits
8. How to handle when a member wants to leave the co-op

Starting or joining a babysitting co-op can be a life-changer, truly. Parenting can be so isolating. Finding a village of people who are willing to work together can be rewarding in so many ways beyond being able to run out to the store by yourself.

Have any of you ever been a part of a babysitting co-op? I’d love to hear about it!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • tracey October 17, 2012, 11:28 am

    It sounds awesome but also like a lot of organization. You know how I am about that. 😉 Hope Jen finds some ideas here!

    • Melisa October 17, 2012, 11:34 am

      Yes. 🙂

      I am just trying to make the point that if you want something badly enough, you can make it happen. Go for the gold! Reach for that brass ring! Girl power! Or something like that. Also, if you’re looking for a solution to a “problem”, there are likely many others out there who are looking for the same thing. You just have to find them…

  • TheNextMartha October 17, 2012, 1:19 pm

    I definitely love the idea as long as someone else is going to organize it. Like Tracey said, I don’t really want to add another “thing” to my plate that involves organization or time. I would join something like this though. It would be great to get a handful of families on board with this because I know I’m not the only one in this position.

    • Melisa October 18, 2012, 12:20 pm

      I have to believe they still exist in our area. Check out the latest comment on the post: it’s a really cool website for co-ops. I searched our town and nothing is listed on that site for it, but I’m guessing they’re out there…

  • Jennifer W October 17, 2012, 2:38 pm

    My 10 cents: I organized a babysitting coop for my single mom’s Meetup group when I lived in Naperville. I used BabysitterExchange.com (free version) for organizing those people interested in joining after attending one of our group meetups w/our kids. Obviously you want to meet the people watching your kid before you hand them over (I hope). The free version of BE has limits, but just have all the families split the monthly cost to make it customizable. Fifteen families = $1 a month. Way better than $40 for a sitter for one night, and the website does all the organization, communication, & token tracking. Less hassle over who did what & earned what. Anyway, we also had babysitting group rotation. One mom babysat a group of kids for a grownup-only outing, & we rotated who’s turn it was so everyone got a night out & everyone took a turn babysitting (usually). The group outings were small so as not to overwhelm the babysitting parent & to keep it fair. Turnover in our group sometimes made things…interesting. The important thing is having firm rules that everyone understands so there’s no misunderstandings or hurt feelings. I hope this helps someone else. I’m thinking about organizing one where I’m at now.

    • Melisa October 18, 2012, 12:22 pm

      I think getting the rules straight is, unfortunately, something that people don’t realize is important until something happens. This is great info. Thanks!

  • Erica October 18, 2012, 11:14 am

    Babysitting coops used to be a lot of work — which is exactly why I created SittingAround (http://sittingaround.com). It’s a website that lets you start and run a coop online (no need for tickets, we track all that).

    My family joined a coop a few years ago and I loved it, but wanted to make coops easier and more accessible to more people. And thus, SittingAround was born 🙂

    I’m happy to answer questions about coops or help people start their own. Feel free to email me directly: erica [at] sittingaround.com.

    • Melisa October 18, 2012, 12:18 pm

      Thanks for the info, Erica! The website looks great. I’ll share with my friends who are talking about doing this.