You and your spouse finally find a free weekend night on your calendar. If you’re anything like Lori Huffman, a mother of four, you know “it’s hard to find a good, experienced babysitter who’s old enough to trust and not too expensive.” If, like Lori, the headache of finding a good sitter keeps you from getting out, maybe your family could benefit from one of these four types of babysitting exchanges.

The One-on-One Exchange
Trading babysitting with another parent is the simplest type of exchange. A neighbor watches your kids while you run to an appointment, and you reciprocate when she’s in need. Two stay-at-home moms might, for instance, take turns watching each other’s kids on Tuesdays so each gets a morning to herself.
Jill Savage, CEO of Hearts at Home (hearts-at-home.org), knows two single moms who trade babysitting once a month. One mom keeps the other’s kids from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon, and the next month, she takes her break. With a one-on-one exchange, the options are limitless.

The Four-Family Date Swap
Kristen O’Quinn, mother of three boys, borrowed this idea of a four-family babysitting exchange from a friend. Once a year, four families sit down together and schedule one babysitting night a month in their calendars. The families rotate houses, and two couples stay with the children while the other two enjoy their night out on the town with free babysitting. The rules are simple: The kids are fed before they come, and the parents have to be prompt in picking them up. And the routine is: free play, make a craft, and snacks, rounded out with popcorn and a movie.

The 3-Week Group Exchange
Stephanie Trenaman and her husband organized a three-week babysitting exchange for 15 young families last summer. A co-op like the Trenamans’ works best for large groups who prefer using a central location instead of individual homes. Each couple works one week as sitters and, in exchange, they can use the free babysitting the other two weeks. Trenaman suggests beginning your evening with high-energy activities and moving into slower-paced activities as bedtime nears. Break the time into 30-minute segments.

The Ongoing Co-op
Being new to town with a frequently-travelling husband, Janie Werner says she feels blessed by the quality childcare she received during the years she participated in a babysitting co-op. Parents earned points based on the hours they watched other members’ children, and redeemed points when others babysat for them. Some groups appoint a secretary who keeps track of each member’s hours while others trade coupons or poker chips. Werner says she feels like geography is a key to success for co-ops: If members live within a well-defined area, they are more likely to use each other’s services. She also suggests capping the babysitting hours that a person can use before working them off so that no one takes advantage of the system. If you are interested in starting your own co-op, visit sittingaround.com, which helps parents organize their own groups.

Whatever Works for You
Ask your friends if they’re also looking for alternatives to traditional babysitting. Swapping services is a win-win situation: your children get to play with their friends, you can have confidence that they are in good hands, and it’s free. f

Sandi Haustein is a freelance writer and mom to three boys. When she and her husband don’t have big bucks for a sitter, they beg their friends to trade babysitting.

 

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