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The Big Answer

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Smart Mom's Baby-sitting Co-op Handbook

a book by Gary Myers

(our site's book review)

A baby-sitting co-op can give parents the time they need to take care of kids as well as have a life. Mothers who try to be all things for all people end up doing crummy childcare as well as taking crummy care of themselves. Mothers who use baby-sitting co-ops end up with enough opportunity to do childcare better and care for themselves better as well. That summarizes this book, except for the fact that the details of how to start and run a co-op are given.

Myers says that: “Two things are certain—all moms need help sometimes, and no matter how good your network, friends and family need a break too.”

A baby-sitting co-op is a group of moms that agree to trade baby-sitting hours. This will be done on a point basis. The moms take turns leading a few meetings (being the Leader) and acting as the Secretary to provide the simple bookkeeping needed. It is a long time between turns where you need to serve as either of these roles.

You can use the co-op as much or as little as you want—it is always a fair trade, so you get out of it what you put into it. When you request a sitter, you spend points and when you babysit for another mom, you earn points. Call for a sitter whenever you want. The points will work out because the secretary will track everything for you.

The Handbook is a rule book which tells sitters what to expect, how to score things, how to start a babysitting co-op, etc. Always have enough moms so there will always be someone available when a sitter is needed. Sitters are moms, not teenagers. Ten to twenty moms is a good number to shoot for in your co-op. Participants pay 12 dollars each September to cover the costs of get-well cards, stamps, envelopes, cookies, and registration. The Secretary's term is one month and the Leader's term is six months. There are 6 meetings per year.

There are 2 kinds of baby-sitting co-ops: co-ops that have a Sec­retary to coordinate sits and co-ops that coordinate sits participant-to-participant. Co-ops that do not have a Secretary use tokens such as poker chips or playing cards to keep track of points.

Myers says that “the purpose of the baby-sitting co-op is to help mothers of preschoolers have time out so they can better care for themselves, their families, and each other.” The moms become friends and sometimes get sitters so they can go have dinner together, see a movie, or talk uninterrupted.

Moms need a break from the huge job of caring for small children. Moms need to have a trusted friend (another loving mom) available to step in and care for the children.

Follow up with the Leader if there's a problem, such as suspecting that a certain mom’s home is unsafe. Verify the problem and then work to resolve it as soon as possible.

Each September the Leader will ask each mom to renew her registration. At the meeting, discuss safety and the legal stuff such as verifying that everyone's homeowner's insurance is current. Find ways to have meaningful and productive discussions about safety, liability, and co-op standards.

Moms find that they can get more housework and chores done if their child has a playmate to play with, such as when they're acting as a sitter. The kids like it too.

Babysitting co-ops are a great idea. They can be a godsend for moms overwhelmed with their children, or simply a great convenience for moms not yet overwhelmed. They can be a great way for moms to make friends, since they often have no time to make friends any other way. They can be a great way for kids to get play-dates with other kids when their moms have little time to arrange such things any other way.

The childcare may or may not be better than that from daycare centers or homecare scenes or relatives or friends, but it will very likely be better than childcare from a teenager. Many daycare centers have organized activities and educational content which may be lacking in co-op scenes. On the other hand, co-ops are staffed by members who are moms that you trust to give good childcare to your kids and they trust you to do the same for their kids. Moms have a vested interest in satisfying one another.

There are a few weaknesses to the co-op method of childcare:

  1. the moms may live in the same general area of a town, but it usually will require chauffeuring a kid to the other home, requiring time and gas money

  2. without a mom having access to a working car (the spouse or teenage son may have it), she has to prevail upon the sitter to come and pick her kid up, and if this sitter is already doing sitting, this can get inconvenient or downright infeasible

  3. what are these other moms, their homes, their boyfriends, their neighborhoods really like when no outsider mom is watching? One can only wonder. Of course, the same can be said for daycare and homecare scenes, and even nanny childcare providers.

The chauffeuring costs for babysitting co-ops are similar to daycare chauffeuring; MCs have NONE of these expenses
The chauffeuring costs for babysitting co-ops are similar to daycare chauffeuring; MCs have NONE of these expenses

It is our opinion that there's an even bigger weakness to co-ops—a weakness that also exists in ALL current childcare scenes, regardless of whether kids are being cared for by their own mom or some other mom. The mother arranges her kid’s caregiver, and the kid has little or, more likely, no input. In spite of the fact that the act of choosing lets a kid feel autonomous, in charge, at cause, powerful, and self-directed, few parents ever consider giving choices in this area. They let kids choose what to wear (within limits) and what to eat (within limits) and what to play, but not who will care for them. This is a bigger, more meaningful choice that parents make based upon convenience, reliability, habit, and planning. They have no way to allow their child to choose who they want to take care of them. So the parent chooses. If the caregiver(s) happen to be tired, overworked, distracted, overwhelmed, stressed out, in a bad mood, ill, or irritable, it cannot be helped. The kid is the loser in all this. And we all know that caregivers that are tired, overworked, distracted, overwhelmed, stressed out, in a bad mood, ill, or irritable are a fairly common occurrence in most children’s lives, and the child’s mom (or dad or babysitting relative) is often the culprit.

MCs (microcommunities) have NONE of the weaknesses listed above. Here: Why Register for an MC? you can see why you may wish to start an MC so that your children may begin receiving optimal childcare, INCLUDING choosing their caregiver.

The babysitting co-op is surely the second best option. (But see 101 Things You Can Do For Our Children's Future.) Childcare is free except for twelve bucks a year for expenses and much more than that for chauffeuring costs. But even though MC childcare is truly free, it is optimal, as you'll learn here: Why Register for an MC?.

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match