Babysitting co-op rules and pros/cons

Babysitters in this area are soooo expensive that a few moms in my area are discussing doing a babysitting co-op where we help each other with babysitting -- the parent babysitting is getting playdates for own kids (which sometimes includes sleepovers) while the other parent gets to have kid-free time without having to worry about crazy cost of childcare in this area and gets someone they know and trust watching the kid.  The thing is that I already do it (and have been for a while) with a couple of very close friends but we are so close that we just do it naturally and casually with the kids staying in each others' houses whenever the need arose, the kids all like and play well together, the moms agree on key things and get along, and we have no rules, no points, or anything like that -- just whoever needs help will text the other two and see who can take the kids for a playdate/sleepover, sometimes even last minute, almost like one will text family.  It works well and likely will continue to work like this with those moms.  Some other mom-acquintaces heard about us watching each others' kids and suggested we do a babysitting co-op, invite more moms, and do it like a club, but since I only casually know some of those other moms it feels like the casual way we did it before won't work and we need rules, which we have been discussing.  Anyone has been in one of those babysitting co-ops and if so what rules did you have and what points system did you use to keep it fair?  I'm wondering how you address a situation where moms have different number of kids, different ages and potty training status and sleep ability, some kids being a lot more difficult than others, different parenting methods, etc.  We were excited about it at first, but now the more we discuss it, the more we are wondering if a more official expanded co-op is even worth it to us since there is already three of us who are close, with kids who are all easy and similar ages, and we already do it for each other and this will complicate matters and might make it less fun and a positive thing (since the kids of the other two moms are more like family at this point) and make it feel like transactional and like work.  If you did it, was it a good experience?  

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Frankly, if I were you, I'd stick with what you have and not try to create a larger group.  I did a co-op briefly, and even though it was a fairly small group, and it wasn't super complicated or problematic, it wasn't worth the effort.  Maybe I'm bitter because I put in way more hours than I ended up getting before the group disbanded. But I think in your situation the burdens will outweigh the benefits. You would definitely need to create more rules and devote more time to admin, and you will inevitably have a problem of some kind.  Since you have such a good thing going already, I would give the next level a miss.  

I founded a babysitting coop with five families and it has been wonderful. We are now eight families and I think having more has helped make more babysitting available - with a small number, sometimes you'll want a babysitter and nobody is available to help out. We are all friends, and our kids know each other and the other adults well - you are right that this is key, because you want your kid to be comfortable with whoever is babysitting them. So we get together regularly outside of just babysitting. But even among friends, I like having a point system because it keeps things fair. And having a system doesn't have to ruin the spontaneity - we sometimes have very last-minute babysitting requests via text or whatever, but we'll still record the points. Our system is simple and we just keep track in a google spreadsheet, so it doesn't feel like much work. Our point system is one point per hour when kids are asleep, two points if a kid is awake, and three points if it's two awake kids, so that addresses the different number of kids question. The system has evolved over time - we started with only post-bedtime sits when they were all babies, and we added a new rule when we started having second kids, and it will probably change again when we get to things like sleepovers. We don't adjust for child difficulty or age. As for parenting methods our rule is that if you're babysitting my kid, you follow my parenting rules - this comes up for things like, if your baby wakes up in the night, how long do you wait before you get them, or what foods can your kid eat. But in general we are aligned enough that we haven't had any parenting method conflicts. Expanding a bit has helped our group because it has increased the likelihood of having someone available to babysit when we want someone, but I wouldn't expand beyond 8-10 families because it's important to all know and trust each other - and if you add families, I'd suggest having some play dates so the kids and other parents can get to know each other. Our group decided not to add any new families unless someone in the group already knew them pretty well so we can maintain the community feel.

I joined a babysitting co-op when my kids were little. It was already established with rules as outlined in the Smart Mom's Babysitting Co-op Handbook. It worked for us for a few years as we don't have family nearby and hated to pay for a sitter when most of the time the kids were asleep. It was a nice community of families and we also had social gatherings to help build community. Ultimately, we left because it was a commitment to stay on top of the points even if you weren't requesting sits, and we had some friends we started to do more informal sleepover swaps with. The breaking point came when I was sitting for a couple of intense kids and realized I would rather be at home with my own than with these two. So if you already have something that works for you, I would probably stick with that. The only reasons I see to expand it is if you want to become closer with these other moms and/or the two other moms sometimes can not provide care for you when you need it -- having a larger circle guarantees your sits will always be filled.

It probably makes the most sense to form a second group, entirely separate from the current group for obvious reasons...

We did a very casual babysitting swap with just a few other close families as well. It was great. But my sister did a more structured coop. Each family put up some amount of money that represented the "cost" of one baby sitting session. If one of the families didn't do their turn sitting, they would forfeit the money and be barred from the coop until they did their turn. She said that several interested families no longer were interested once they heard the rule. None of the families who did join ever forfeited their money. I'm guessing noone thought they would get some free childcare then stick it to the others but for some reason that little rule put in place the knowledge there would be no free ride.

Sounds like you already have what you need, so why complicate things? I'd steer clear. Let the other parents organize together and deal with making rules. 

Agree with previous poster - you and your good friends have a solid system that works with the three of you.  Why take on this over head for little to no gain?  I would not mess with it- you are fortunate to have close friends you can trust with each others kids.  I would tell acquaintance mom that co-op is great idea and good luck with that. ;)

Your present system might be fine for your needs right now.

However, I was in a wonderful babysitting coop for several years (until my kids aged out).  The coop itself had been in existence for 20 years, and I took over and ran it for a couple of years before passing it on.  There were written rules covering many of the issues you mention:  points, families with different numbers of kids, different ages, potty training status and sleep, etc.  The written rules were explained to every family when they joined, so everyone knew what they were getting into.  (If you want to go into the details, feel free to contact me.) There were three great things about this coop.  First, it was neighborhood-based, so drop off and pick up were always convenient, and many of the kids knew each other.  Second, it was set up so that there was a host family available every Saturday and most Friday nights.  So you could usually decide at the last minute you wanted to go out, and then just drop off your kids.  Third, my kids really enjoyed hanging out with other kids instead of (what they thought of as) being stuck at home with a babysitter.

We belonged to 2 different babysitting coops when our child was young. One was fabulous, the other ok.,The fabulous one was started by a local woman and at the peak had about 15-20 families. It was based on points and all of us had babies or young kids. Family sizes ranged from 1-4 kids! There were social gathering that helped us all get to know each other. It worked well and we almost always got the coverage we needed at no cost! We eventually moved a bit out of the area but even then continued swaps with a couple of families for a year or so. Eventually we looked for a more local group and that was smaller, less organized and our kids were older. It was challenging to get sitters, there were very few social events so we didnt know folks well. Still it was helpful and worth it. I highly recommend it and the more organized the smoother.m

It sounds like you have an amazing setup with your two close friends! I wouldn’t mess with that. Kindly suggest to the moms who want you to expand the circle that they should setup something similar with their friends.