How to Start a Babysitting Co-op or Exchange

sittingHave you ever wanted to go on a date with your spouse but you couldn’t find a good babysitter? I love the summertime because all the teens in my neighborhood are home and ready to work. During the school year, however, it’s a lot more difficult to find someone at the last minute. Furthermore, it can be a drain on the wallet – in many cases, a night out can require $20 or more spent on babysitting before you even get your first appetizer.

However, a babysitting co-op is one way to solve this dilemma. By getting together with several friends, you can create an arrangement where you always have babysitting services on hand – as long as you’re happy to reciprocate. It’s an awesome way to get some free time and make new friends, while your kids get some much-needed playtime. Babysitting co-ops can be anything from a small group of friends to a network of dozens of families.

Starting a Babysitting Co-op

A babysitting co-op allows you to swap sitting services with your friends: You watch a friend’s child in exchange for his or her watching yours for the same amount of time at a later date – and you both save on babysitter fees.

1. Start Small

When putting together your co-op, it’s always best to start with two or three parents instead of 20. While some babysitting co-ops are huge, starting small means you can work out those inevitable kinks before inviting more people in.

Get together with two or three friends and discuss logistics. As you get more comfortable with scheduling, hours, and rules, you can start adding more members. When choosing other families to be a part of your co-op, make sure that they have a similar number of children (it’s not fair if one member has five and another has one) and, most importantly, that they’re families you trust to care for your kids.

2. Set Rules

Without a solid set of rules, members could abuse┬áthe system and end up getting more out of your group than others. Rules should include a maximum amount of sitting time, how many children each parent is allowed to bring, and what’s provided for the kids (for instance, are the co-op parents supposed to provide snacks and entertainment, or are they just watching the kids and letting them play?).

Once you’ve agreed upon standards, type them up and send two copies to all of the involved families so everyone knows what’s expected. Ask co-op parents to sign and return one of the copies – people are more likely to follow the rules (and read them) if they sign their name.


3. Pick a Time

Babysitting co-ops can work one of two ways. The first type requires that you choose a time every day when the co-op babysitting occurs. This means that all the parents drop off their kids at the host’s house simultaneously, and then go about their day. The location of the co-op rotates to another person’s house at the same time on a later date. This is a great arrangement for stay-at-home parents.

The second type of co-op involves trading babysitting services whenever the need arises. If you prefer this method, you’ll need a Google Doc or some other shared online file system to keep track of the hours so that if a person uses the co-op, he or she has to babysit for someone else later.

4. Put It on Facebook

Create a Facebook page and invite all the people involved. If you make the page private, you can discuss addresses and phone numbers. Give your co-op a simple name so when someone needs an impromptu babysitter, has to swap days with someone, or can’t make it, it’s easy to post on the Facebook page and everyone can access the message.

5. Be Polite

Friendliness and good etiquette always make things run smoother. If someone babysits for you, you must reciprocate, no questions asked. If you need a babysitter next Friday, make arrangements with a co-op family well in advance so no one feels inconvenienced. Also, it’s a good idea to become friends with the other parents in the co-op. When you trust another family and enjoy their company, it’s a great way to build your circle of friends, and it ensures you’re comfortable with them caring for your kids.

Politeness also comes in handy when a family doesn’t play by the rules. If one parent continually cancels their turn babysitting, constantly calls for last-minute sitters, and doesn’t care for the kids in the way he or she should, it’s fine to play referee. Give a wayward member a warning and explain that all families have to play by the rules to reap the benefits of the co-op. If the behavior continues, just explain that you need to address the issue and remove the family from the co-op list. There might be some hurt feelings, especially if you’re good friends, but you need to ensure that the co-op is easy, convenient, and comfortable for everyone.

Final Word

Parents are notoriously pressed for time and rarely get a spare second to themselves. By swapping babysitting services with a few friends, you make it easy and cheap to snag a few moments for yourself, run errands, or even go on a date. As long as the outline is clear from the get-go, you can run a successful babysitting co-op without any “mama drama,” and without having to pay a traditional babysitter.

Have you ever swapped babysitting services? What was the experience like?

  • Mike Lewis

    This would be an excellent idea for young single mothers who often work in low paid, hourly jobs with fluctuating schedules like retail. Dropping a child into the average daycare center effectively teaches them at a young age that antisocial behavior more likely gets attention and rewards than empathy or sympathy. Mothers are far more likely to give all of the kids under their care the care that leads to responsible citizenship and caring for others than a lowly-paid, harassed daycare aide.

  • Long Pham

    Great idea. I wish more of my friends lived closer to me though. I only have one child so far and my wife and I work opposite schedules, so babysitting isn’t as much of a concern right now. I just imagine that if we participated in an exchange, it would be hard to enforce the slackers who don’t “pay back” sort of speak.

  • Steve Ingkavet

    I created a helpful tool, an app named uSit iSit, to help automate the unpleasant parts of the co-op; tracking sits, schedules, and points. And communicating sit requests and responses just requires one tap. Plus, it eliminates the risk of strangers in your co-op. Maybe you’ll find it very useful.