5 Tips to Make a Babysitting Co-Op Work for You

babysitting co-op tipsIs there anything better than free childcare? Perhaps free massages and wine. But if you have a great babysitting co-op, you can afford a massage and a glass of wine because you're not paying cash money for a sitter. Win/win, I say. As babysitting co-ops gain in popularity, more neighbors and friends are opting into the "You watch mine, and I'll watch yours" organization. A seemingly simple arrangement where kids get to hang out with their little friends, or make new ones, while mom and dad get a less expensive night out on the town.

As a former member of a very successful babysitting co-op, I will admit that there can be drawbacks. But if you follow these 5 rules, you'll be out on the town, with extra cash in your pocket in no time.


1. Make Sure Kids Are the Same Age

You're parents, not caregivers, which means you know exactly what a 3-year-old is like when you have a 3-year-old. Much older kids could throw you, and other members, for a loop. Much younger kids could mean you have a kindergartner and an infant to watch for the afternoon and no idea how to make that combo work.

2. Reciprocity Matters

You can't be a member of a babysitting co-op and only make requests to other parents to watch your kids. Most co-ops have a points system built in so this doesn't happen, but you can always find a way around payback. Alternately, don't be a point hoarder and only babysit, but never use other parents as sitters. Yes, this happens.

3. Have a Plan

It really is different watching two (or more) kids than just having your own at home. While your child may be easily distracted by Candy Land, others might not. Be sure you build in fun activities for the babysitting time or it will be a lot of work, on your part, trying to come up with ways to entertain the crowd. Never forget to ask about feeding schedules and food allergies!

4. Connect Outside the Shifts

If you only see each other while one couple is heading out, and one is babysitting, you may not get to know each other well enough to continue the relationship. Having periodic mixers is a good way to not only get to know each other and your kids, but to meet any new members that may be a great babysitting match for your family.

5. Agree on the Rules

And the most important part of a successful babysitting co-op: Set up rules that everyone can agree upon. You don't want members with new babies feeling ripped off, nor night shifts where the kids are sleeping the whole time to be considered a boon for one family and a bust for another. Agree on the standards and make sure everyone is clear on all of the terms, and you'll have a happy co-op.

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