Five Steps to Start a Babysitting Exchange in Your Community
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Create your own village of affordable and reliable child care
One of the leading concerns among Solo Moms is finding affordable, reliable, and quality child care. Many don’t have a built-in village or family around to help care for their children. Increasingly, we’re seeing Solo Moms launch their own businesses or work virtually in an effort to spend more time with their children and to alleviate the heavy financial burden of child care.
But it’s still a problem because, as we know, even the best-laid plans backfire from time to time, such as when you have to go into the office for a meeting or phone in for a conference call when it’s not your child’s nap time, or you are expected to travel for work. What’s a Solo Mom to do? Start a babysitting exchange.
No, it’s not quite that easy, but it’s not nearly as hard as you may think. In fact, doing so requires only one other Solo Mom to get started. Other parents will hear about it, and you may get to a point where you’re turning people away. We hope not, but if that happens, refer them back to this article so they can start their own exchange.
Step 1: Figure out what you need
Do you need three hours of quiet time a week? One full day at the office? Or is your need more flexible? Figure out exactly what you need before asking someone else for help. If you require child care for two hours every Tuesday and Thursday morning, then your group needs to be able to meet that need. If you can be flexible with your work time, then your group can reflect that.
It’s essential that all group members include their needs and desires separately. These can change month to month, so reevaluating members’ needs and schedules on a regular basis is important. Be open and honest with those in your exchange so that no one is feeling taken advantage of.
Step 2: Find someone whose needs are opposite, or at least compatible
Clearly you cannot have an exchange full of parents who all need child care for the same five hours per week. You’ll need to find a balance. Some may even be willing to work with additional children at their house or while supervising them at a park. Some may be willing to carpool in the evenings in exchange for a few hours during the day.
Though you don’t need to find people whose needs are polar opposites, it’s important that each person be clear about what he or she needs and is willing to contribute. Finding people to share in your exchange may be a challenge if you don’t have any local connection to parent groups. Sites such as Care.com and Meetup are great places to start.
Step 3: Set ground rules
Many of us have memories of working on a group project for school with that one person in the group who never pulled his or her weight. Simply put, you don’t have time for that in this exchange. You need people who are committed and reliable; otherwise, you are just creating more work for yourself. Being honest and up front about this will help eliminate tough conversations later on. For the most part, however, working parents who are searching for this kind of child care aren’t going to let you down because they understand its importance and the level of responsibility required.
I’m a fan of doing this in even numbers, that way you can have two people paired up, and they can figure out the details on their own. Maybe you switch them up every month, or maybe you have a group formed of pairs. It will help the children be more comfortable with the other family, it will make pickup and drop-off less time consuming, and it gives you consistency. Whatever iteration your group decides to go with, make sure everyone sticks to it.
Step 4: Establish a trial period
Start with a month. See how things go. Perhaps one member isn’t able to commit as much as necessary, or someone else has too many last-minute schedule changes to make it work. An exchange isn’t going to be the right fit for everyone, so you’ll want to ensure that participants have an out if they realize it isn’t working. As you near the end of month one, ask people for their honest feedback. Is it working? What could make it better? Is there a problem family?
Don’t be afraid to change things up as the first few months go by. Everyone will be figuring out what is and isn’t working, and as people have reliable work time, their needs may change. As each new season approaches, there will be unique problems; for example, cold and flu season may bring up the topic of what you want to do about back-up care when any children or parents in the group are sick. Open, honest discussion is healthy—I promise!
Step 5: Add people who fit the group’s parameters
Chances are after a few months of successful exchanges, there will be plenty of people interested in joining your group. Don’t accept everyone! Make sure they mesh well with those already involved, are committed, and understand the purpose of the . Also, if you have been partnering people off in twos or threes, consider starting a waiting list until you have two or three people to add at one time. That way you aren’t disrupting the status quo.
The life of a working Solo Mom is hard. Anything that helps alleviate the challenges of child care is welcomed. Take some time, and see if starting an exchange is right for you.
Have you ever participated in a babysitting exchange? Do you have any additional tips for busy Solo Moms who are trying to get an exchange started?
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.