Build a Child-Care Co-op
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Align with other Solo Moms to avoid breaking the bank on child care
When a Solo Mom is looking to find child care that doesn’t break the bank, a child-care cooperative can be a good solution. In deciding whether this option is for you, it is important to realistically consider your needs. Moreover, it is important to assess your ability to fully reciprocate in the cooperative arrangement.
Ask yourself important questions about the idea of cooperative child care, and be sure to factor in your solo status. What would you do if your child was sick on a day you were slated to act as the provider? What would you do if your part-time work schedule suddenly changed? You may have fewer options than families with another parent in the picture, and though these are not necessarily deal breakers, it is important to anticipate these and other situations that could arise.
You might even consider recruiting other Solo Moms to join your cooperative. At their best, these co-ops can become important in the lives of the families participating. Other Solo Moms may have needs similar to your own, and they might also face obstacles and challenges similar to those that you struggle with. Ask around, or use online community and parenting groups to reach out, such as music classes, toddler yoga, etc.
A well-planned and successful child-care cooperative is economical and reliable, and serves almost as an extension of family. Participating children spend a good deal of time together and can benefit from lasting friendships. On the other hand, a poorly planned child-care cooperative will sometimes engender bad feelings among families, strain cherished relationships, and turn into more of a burden, so it’s important to always consider the pros and cons the best you can before jumping into an agreement.
Consider these dos and don’ts when building a child-care co-op:
Do take the time to decide what kind of cooperative you will be. Are you going to allow babysitting with flexible, need-based arrangements? Or will you offer a more structured day-care-like program? Make sure that everyone who is considering participating is completely clear on the specific commitments governing structure and time.
Do find like-minded families. If possible, try to recruit some other Solo Moms and/or single dads. For participating families with two parents, be sure that they are mindful of your status as a Solo Mom. This means that your need for the child care they promised to provide is paramount. Unless the circumstances are exceptional, they cannot flake out. You are relying on them to provide an agreed-upon service.
Do establish the correct size for your co-op. This will depend on the structure of your entity. If it is essentially a babysitting pool/cooperative, you can have more members than if it is a smaller day-care-type arrangement. In the former, the Solo Mom in question will be able to call on several members to help her—and someone should be available. In the latter, care is more intense, with a larger number of children being present at once.
Do “staff” your cooperative appropriately, and decide up front on the minimum age of children. Make sure that there are enough adults on hand to make the co-op experience a dependable one for the children.
Do establish and maintain a point system. Since the point of the cooperative is not to trade in money, points are where it’s at. Make sure to clearly define how points are acquired and how they are expended. Will you get points according to the number of children? Their ages? The hours you provided or used? If you decide using points is right for your group, make sure to be very clear about how the points work to avoid confusion.
Do create a standard procedures manual that details expectations and requirements. Consider points such as whether or not parents will be required to be CPR-certified. Will the provider parents be given the authority to make medical decisions if a parent cannot be reached?
Do agree on disciplinary measures. Children argue, irritate one another (sometimes on purpose), and act out. Parents involved in the cooperative should agree on whether a time-out chair or other standard responses are appropriate.
Do agree about media. Will any screen time be permitted? If so, what kind and for how long? Is educational television OK but not Disney Channel programs? Clarify what kind of technology and how much time the children spend with it is acceptable.
Do agree about health issues such as vaccinations. Have a policy about sick kids in the cooperative? If they are ill but on antibiotics, when can they return to care? After two doses? What if they are ill with a virus? A Solo Mom may have fewer options than homes with two parents if her child becomes ill—she’ll want to know about policies and procedures for a sick child in care.
For a group of committed and budget-conscious people with an attitude that reflects the “it takes a village” credo, cooperative child care can be a great answer to a pressing problem. In an effort to highlight the positive end of child-care co-ops, I have focused more on the Dos rather than on the Don’ts; and I leave you with a summation of the Don’ts as the converse of what is laid out above, plus a few more:
Don’t change the rules midstream.
Don’t forget to be very clear about expectations.
Don’t strain friendships by forgetting to be incredibly communicative, gracious, and courteous throughout.
Don’t forget to celebrate a successful reciprocal arrangement. This kind of arrangement has the potential to be uniquely helpful to a Solo Mom. It can provide a familial, cousinly atmosphere for all involved. It is right and important to celebrate that in all its chaotic and finger-painted glory.
Ever wonder how other Solo Moms organize child care? Sister Chat is the ideal venue to find out.
Tara Shafer is the cofounder of Reconceiving Loss, an online resource center for families coping with pregnancy and infant loss. She is a contributing blogger to the Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and BabyCenter. Her work has appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio. You can follow her on Twitter at @reconceivinglos.
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