Here's the dilemma: You need to run several crucial errands, but you dread taking your preschooler and toddler along.
Here's another one: You're working at home on a deadline, but your preschooler wants to play and your toddler will not take a nap.
What about this: The sitter just called in sick, and you have a doctor's appointment in an hour.
Or even this: You and your spouse have not gone out alone since you had the baby over a year ago!
If you only had a reliable sitter for just an hour or two!
Smart moms -- and dads! -- have found the answer to the babysitting dilemma in a babysitting co-op. A co-op provides a sitter at just the crucial time they need to give them the room to work at home, to run an errand or to go out at night.
A babysitting co-op consists of a number of families in a community who decide to share free babysitting among themselves. The co-op can be used for errands, doctor's appointments or just some quiet time in a coffee shop. Work-at-home parents can use their co-op for a few precious hours of total concentration on work. Stay-at-home parents use the co-op to get something done or enjoy some free time without the hassle of finding a sitter and the expense of paying for one. The parents feel more comfortable knowing their children are watched by an adult they know and by someone with whom the children feel comfortable as well.
"Moms all over have discovered that best friends make the best babysitters," says Gary Myers, author of The Smart Mom's Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook (ISBN 0-9678748-0-7, $14.95). The book is based on the University Place Babysitting Co-op near Seattle, Washington, established in the early 1980s, and comes with a companion kit that can be downloaded free from http://www.BabysittingCoop.com .
A co-op requires little work to start or manage. In fact, any mom can invite a few friends over and start a co-op in one hour, according to Myers. For families new to an area, placing a few flyers in the community will attract those interested. Additional promotion and work are usually not necessary. Myers recommends keeping things simple in the co-op by establishing a rotating secretary position to coordinate the sits.
"The secretary keeps track of points and calls the mom with the biggest point deficit first to give her the chance to babysit and earn back points," explains Myers.
This eliminates the need for chips that some co-ops use and prevents those in need of a sitter from having to make several frustrating calls. To keep co-op duties balanced, Myers recommends allotting extra points to the person serving as secretary and having the secretary position rotate monthly among members. With a membership of about 10 families, each member would have to serve as secretary only about one month a year.
"Our co-op provides affordable, reliable and available babysitters, as well as a way to connect with others in the community," says Cheri Benz of Maroa, Ill., who started her co-op in conjunction with her playgroup. "My daughter enjoys playing with the other kids whenever I do a sit, which actually relieves me from having to be her exclusive playmate and entertainment."
Best of all, work-at-home parents agree that a co-op allows them to plan their day better. Knowing they will have reliable sitters at a certain time lets them schedule those important calls when the house will be quiet or lets them focus on a crucial project without interruption.
However, even single parents or those who work traditional weekday hours can benefit from participating in babysitting co-ops. As a matter of fact, parents such as these are the ones who founded BabysitterExchange.com, an online service for parents who already know each other to create groups that schedule and trade babysitting time. Co-op groups come from the neighborhood, the children's preschool, the local church, the soccer team or any other established community group.
As with most co-ops, BabysitterExchange.com uses a credit system. Although there is a small enrollment fee of $10 and an annual fee of $24, BabysitterExchange.com eleminates the need for a secretary because it manages all the administration of the groups, such as member profiles, credit accounting, and email communications, via the Internet.
For parents who do not have time to serve as secretary or to attend meetings, an online resource for babysitting has been very helpful, almost as helpful as the co-op itself.
"As a parent, whether working outside the home or not, you don't get a 'break.' There isn't any 'off time' at all," says Danielle Lee, a working mother in Mission Viejo, California. "Having a support system, I think, is somewhat therapeutic for all."
A babysitting co-op provides that support system crucial to any parent. Don't wait until the next time you need a sitter -- try solving your babysitting dilemma with a babysitting co-op today!
About the Author:
Carren W. Joye is the author of A Stay-at-Home Mom's Complete Guide to Playgroups (ISBN 0-595-14684-8). A homeschooling mom of four children, she has founded five successful playgroups and helped start countless other playgroups around the world. Visit her web site at http://www.OnlinePlaygroup.com for more information about playgroups.
Submitted by: Carren W. Joye *
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