Before I became a stay-at-home mom, I had no idea how expensive babysitting would be, how difficult it would be to “get things done” during the day, or how critical new mom friends would be for my day-to-day survival. Initially, I created a group on Meetup for new moms to connect. Through this group, I met some wonderful moms and adorable babies. After spending every day with these moms for almost a year and a half, I realized that what I needed to create was a babysitting co-op. If you don’t know what that is, you MUST read this and consider organizing your own with your group of fabulous moms. It has changed my life in ways that only a mom can appreciate.
What is a co-op? A co-op is basically a group of moms who get together and offer babysitting services to one another in exchange for some time off for themselves. When I heard this initially, I found it a bit awkward. How do you approach your mom friends and say, “Hey, does anyone want to watch my kid so that I can get some laundry done in peace?” So, I began to think of some ways that this co-op could be interactive. The goal would be to allow the children to socialize, allow the moms who were babysitting to enjoy the company of other moms, and give a few moms some time off. Enter the play date co-op.
Play date co-op: In my circle of eight, I approached each of them and asked if they might even consider the idea of a co-op before I began to craft my evil plot to get more errands done during the day. Out of eight, there were seven resounding “YES!” responses, and just one hesitation. I now had a group of women who were willing to take part in my experiment! We decided on a few rules before creating a master schedule: Everyone was required to host, there would be three moms on duty and three moms who would be “off” each week, there would be a set day and time each week, and there would be a two hour limit on the co-op. Once we established these rules, I got to work on creating a master schedule. The schedule took forever, I’m not going to lie. Because we began around the holidays, there were appointments, family visits, travels, and other events to work around. On the flip side, each one of us had two full hours at least once before the holidays to shop, bake, clean, or run errands. AMAZING! With this kind of co-op, all six toddlers would be at one location with three supervising adults. The children would have the opportunity to socialize and play with new toys and books, while moms on duty would be in the company of other moms. The benefits were endless.
Scheduling: To keep the scheduling fair, I created a hosting list in alphabetical order. Each person would host one time, be on duty two more times, and have three mornings off. I used an excel spreadsheet to track and monitor dates and locations, and was able to verify that each mom only had three working days and three days off. Although we have been able to supervise six children with only two on duty, we felt that scheduling three moms on duty would allow for cancellations due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances. With only two moms on duty, should one of those moms need to cancel, the entire co-op would have to be rescheduled on that particular week. After creating the spreadsheet, I sent it via email to all participants for approval. Occasionaly, someone would need to switch a hosting day or switch a day off, and it would be easy to do an exchange between the moms. I also created a Facebook page for only the moms participating in the co-op so that we could communicate regarding dates, changes in location, or post pictures from the co-op dates.
Benefits of the co-op: One of the most obvious benefits for the children is the socialization aspect. Each week, our children come together and while most are still in the “parallel play” phase, they have learned to do some preliminary sharing and interaction with one another. For those of us who had stage 5 clingers (myself included) during the dreaded separation anxiety phase, we were able to see some real improvements in independence. Since we have all known one another for almost two years, our babies are surrounded by moms who love and care for them in the same manner that they would be at home. A safe environment is the best way to tackle those fears. Moms who participate also have a great deal of benefits. Aside from having a scheduled day to get out of the house (absolutely imperative in the winter time), our moms get to spend some time with two other moms during the play date. They can share ideas, vent, ask questions, and watch their own child at play with others the same age. Of course, I can’t forget to mention that our moms get three mornings off in a cycle. That is a whole SIX hours of free time a month! The best part is that our moms can spend that time any way they want. We’ve done everything from Christmas shopping to napping, making phone calls to grabbing coffee, eyebrow waxing to pedicures, and everything in between.
Some simple strategies to get your own co-op started:
- Find a group of moms you know and trust
- Setup some ground rules regarding hosting, number of hours working and off, consistency, and protocol for “in case” situations
- Plan, plan, plan ahead
- Keep open communication with all members via email or Facebook group
- Enjoy your time with one another and your time off
Thinking about starting a co-op? Run it by your network of mommy friends and you will be glad you did! Have one already? How do you make yours run smoothly?