Babysitting Co-ops

See also: Co-op Preschools ... Playgroups 

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • I'm super jealous of all the buzz about babysitting co-ops in other neighborhoods and would love to find or maybe create one in West Oakland. We're a queer couple with a 2yr old, hoping to have a second babe soonish, living on the Lower Bottoms for 15yrs, and I'm totally over paying $20+/hr for someone to sit on our couch while our baby sleeps. Pls, I love the idea of making some new parent friends in our hood.

    Any parents out there know of any existing groups in West Oakland, or a surrounding area (Emeryville, Downtown or Uptown Oakland, etc.)? I've scoured this site, seen some great suggestions for other neighborhoods, books to read, etc. and have taken notes but am really hoping there is something near us. Or, if others want to start it, please reach out! I would also love to talk directly with some folks who have done this - a co-op mentor perhaps? I can pay you back in coffee, baked goods or some other trade. I work full-time and am a little freaked out about doing on my own but we really need this resource; our friends have been amazing, but with no family around, we do not get out together nearly enough. 

    Thank you!

    I started a babysitting coop and am happy to provide some tips if you want to PM me. I think it is super important to find people who are close by (we moved two miles away from the center of our coop and even that feels far enough to make it harder for us to use it) and who you like (because one thing that makes it work well is hanging out enough that the kids all get to know the families so they'll be comfortable with whoever is babysitting them). I'm happy to share info about our point system and rules, etc,.

  • 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?  

    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. 

  • If you participate in casual babysitting co-op (email list serve of group of women who know each other where we trade babysitting), how do you handle behavior issues while babysitting or very difficult children? My kids are easy and are esp good when with strangers.  I had a woman babysit for a few hours in the evening and during that time my kids watched tv for a bit (no complaints there, we allow tv use), then they went upstairs, brushed teeth themselves and got into bed themselves.  She spent most of the time on the couch on her phone.  We came home to them sleeping about an hour later.  I have cameras so I know how the evening went.  In exchange, I babysat for her and her kids were very very very difficult.  She had a "no tv" rule, which was fine though I was upset that she put my kids in front of the tv for 30 min when she was not ok with me using it for her kids.  And her kids would not play independently, would run around screaming and crying at the smallest provocation, constant fighting, impossible to get to sleep, etc.  I might be spoiled by my kids but I babysat for friends before and I know that was objectively on the more difficult side.  At first I was upset I was not warned about it, but I got over it since I know she needed a babysitter and I would not have agreed if I knew how difficult her kids were.  Now, she says her kids really enjoyed me babysitting them and it worked out really well since I was actually able to feed them, and would love to trade babysitting again.  There is no way I'm agreeing to it as that was an absolutely hellish experience (and there is no way her spending a few hours playing on her phone while my kids watch tv or play by themselves is a fair trade), but I don't know how to tell her that without hurting her feelings.  I'm still part of the casual babysitting co-op and trade babysitting with other members (no issues with anyone else), but keep refusing her requests and I am at a point where I need to give a reason but I don't know how to phrase it.  I noticed other women are refusing her requests as well and not trading with her, so I'm not the only one.   We are not friends (and our kids are not friends) but know each other and run into each other in the community.  How would you handle it?

    I would just say something like " I just don't have the energy required to watch your lively children". Something like that. She should get the hint- if she asks for more info simply say that her kids require more than you can manage. I used to swap childcare informally with a friend and her son was destructive and did dangerous things my own children would not dream of doing. No judgement but at some point I said " I am afraid chris' energy is just too much for me ". She got it. Ps chris is now 21 and a fine young man

    I mean ... did this woman know you filmed her? I'm pretty sure if you say "our house is full of cameras, so we know you played on your phone after putting our kids to bed," she will run screaming away from you. Problem solved. 

    I feel like a simple "no thank you" would suffice in this case.  I also feel like compassion for this mom would be appropriate.  I'm a parent of a challenging but amazing kid, and I can tell you that a night of child care would make a huge difference in my ability to be a sane parent.  The behavior of children does not always reflect the parenting skills of the parent--some kids just come out that way, and I would be thankful yours are so easy!  I can't help but mention as well that the use of security cameras to monitor her behavior to me seems like a huge intrusion of privacy--did you mention it to her before the babysitting gig?

    Thanks for the comments.  I'm the original poster.  Just wanted to comment regarding the cameras -- they are very visible and she knew that they were on and we were going to use them to check on the kids throughout the evenings.  The cameras were not recording (at least not permanently) but rather allowed us a chance to peek in throughout the evening to see how the kids were doing (they are our home security cameras/child monitors system).  She asked us ahead of time if we allow tv and we said yes, so she did not violate house rules but definitely took the easy way out when she was not ok with us turning on the tv for her kids.  Totally understand the need for a child-free evening but as others said I don't have the energy to deal with difficult kids in the evening after a full work-day, and I'll rather swap with someone whose kids are similar in behavior to my own and who have similar house rules.  I followed the advice below and kept it simple -- I told her I'm not at this point comfortable babysitting her kids as I was having a hard time following her house rules and her kids are more active in the evenings than what I'm used to. 

Archived Q&A and Reviews



Structure for babysitting co-ops

August 2001

A friend and I are thinking of starting a babysitting co-op and were wondering about how to structure it. Specifically,
--Does it work better to keep it small (3-5 families)? I've heard of very large ones with 10-12 families, but can't quite imagine how it all comes together.
--How do you deal with some families having one and other families more kids? Do you assign points or something so that babysitting more kids uses up more points? Or is it better to do the trades with families that have the same number of kids?
--Do people formalize the tracking of the trades, or just keep rough track? (We babysat for the Jones last week, so maybe we'll ask them to babysit for us next month vs. Every other Friday the Jones' babysit for us and every third Wednesday we trade with the Smith's...) or something else?
Thanks for any info you might have on what's worked or not worked for you! Elaine

I'm in a neighborhood babysitting co-op that has been in existance for about 30 years. There have always been aprox. 22 families. They've found that less or more just doesn't work very well. We work with points. There is a monthly book-keeper. When you want a sit you call the book keeper and that person calls various families to see who can sit. They start with the people with the more negative points first. Then the sitter calls the sittee to arrange specifics. There are certain amounts of points just for doing the sit (4), other points if it's a weekend or holiday, points per kid, points if the child is served a meal at your house and points for after 1AM. I'd say on an average night out with 2 kids a sitter will earn between 20-30 points or so. You can't accumulate above or below 120 points. You can call the sitters directly for a last minute sit and then call the bookkeeper. It's all kept track of in a binder book and at the end of the month the points all have to work out to zero (don't ask me how, it just does). The sitter calls the book keeper to report points after the sit, within 2 weeks. We have 2 co-op chairs or coordinators (I'm one). When a new family comes into the co-op (always referred by a member) we go to their house and meet them. Though it's pretty loose, we just need to get a feel of who they are, how they diciplin, how safe is their house (though most sits are done in the sittees home) and if they have any firearms in the house (so far, none do). It seems like people with little babies tend to sit for others with little babies (you can sometimes, if appropriate request a sitter, and certainly request NOT to have a certain sitter) but not necessarily. If it's a day sit often the child comes to your house (this is when it's nice to have similar age kids to your own). We've been in the co-op for over 2 years now and it's been fabulous (We were on a waiting list for a year). We never have to worry about where to find a sitter. If we know a week or more in advance we're guaranteed to have a sitter. There are some times that it's harder....everyone wants sitters around holiday times, and people are gone a lot in the summer, but usually it's a great thing.

We've made some good friends, met more of our neighbors and also have brought some of our local friends into the co-op. Twice a year we have a business meeting pot-luck get together. I'd be happy to talk to you further about this. I could show you the forms we use for book keeping. Good luck. June

I formed a babysitting co-op with some friends of mine that I met in a mother's group. We have been very casual about it and it worked really well. There were three of us in the group when the babies were really young. As soon as they were over a year or so, we added another person. Basically we just had two people stay with the three babies and one person got to go out. We started at two hours and then went to three. In the beginning, it was the only free time any of us got from the kids during the day. We just switched off every week. If one of the kids was sick, we just skipped that week and that person got their turn the next week - very casual.

We also did an weekend evening swap with another couple. Each weekend we would switch off for three hours. Again, very casual. If one couple had plans, we put it off to the next weekend. It has really worked for us. And, it's really nice to have something that's reciprocal. That way you never feel guilty about having someone watch your child because you'll be watching theirs next week. Good luck! Nancy

I belong to a well established one, with 20 families and would be happy to tell you how it works if you want to give me a call. Briefly: it is run on a point system per child: 4 pts per hour for the 1st kid and 2 pts for each additional kid in that family, per hour. We have formal by-laws, meetings, and a secretary position to keep track of points and other business. It works well! Carrie

Oh, I loved the baby sitting coop we were in (North Cleveland Park Baby Sitting Coop in Washington, DC) when my children were little. It worked really well for us.

There were about 15 or so families, all of us lived in upper NW DC (north of Cleveland Park, actually, but that was where it had started), and most of us (those with school age children) had children at the same pre-k-6th public elementary school.

It operated via scrip which you used to pay for baby sitting. (Two scrip per hour per child in the evening, the baby sitter came to your house. One scrip per hour per child in the daytime, the child/ren came to the baby sitter's house.) You got some number of scrip when you joined. Each month, one family was the secretary (you got 50 scrip for being secretary) and the job rotated. If you needed a sitter, you could either arrange it privately, then call the secretary to let him/her know OR (this was the best part) you could call the secretary, tell the secretary when you needed the sitter, and the secretary would find someone for you!

In the three years we were members, we always got a sitter when we needed one. Being secretary (which, I think we did two or three times) was a hassle, but seems would be MUCH easier now with computers and email. Some people liked being secretary better than doing baby-sitting. Also, when you were secretary, you had first choice for the sits if you needed some scrip. The coop had a yearly picnic so you could meet people, but I think that everyone joined through friends so most people were known. A couple of teachers at the elementary school were also members which added to the community sense of this group.

One of the other really nice things about this (besides having adult sitters, not costing anything, getting to know people in your community) was that it was possible to get sitters for really long times or if you were going to be out very late.

People tended to move on as their kids reached 11, 12 years (unless their other children were much younger). We moved to California, but I think that it would have been great to have some adult child sitting available when my children were in middle school!

If I can answer any other questions about the logistics of this group, just write me. I'd be happy to tell you anything else I remember about how it worked. Emily

I was in a playgroup with 4 other moms that evolved into a very successful babysitting co-op that lasted for many years. We all had at least 2 kids, the oldest were about kindergarten age, and we always had between 5 and 7 families participating. The way it worked: every other Friday night it is someone's turn to host the babysitting night. All the kids go to that person's house, have a big party with a movie and snacks. The parents drop the kids off and then go out. Sometimes we would have it on a Saturday afternoon instead so parents could run errands without kids. Since there were 5-7 families, your turn to host only came around every 2-3 months. Not bad. Plus, the hosting parents didn't have to do much because the kids all played together and entertained themselves. We had a rule that babies in diapers weren't included, though you could make a special arrangement with the host parents if they were willing. When the kids got older, we would sometimes have a sleepover. The kids really loved babysitting coop night because they had known each other a long time from playgroup, and were like cousins, and liked to see each other. The parents liked it because unlike the more formal babysitting co-ops, we didn't have to plan ahead to arrange for a babysitter, we always knew we'd have a date every other Friday night (though there were times when people dropped their kids off and then went back home to sleep for a few hours.) Ginger

We were in a very successful babysitting coop in the midwest before we moved here, which worked essentially as follows no matter the size of the family, it was a straight hour-for-hour trade. In other words, if you sat for an hour, you earned an hour credit. We rotated keeping the book which recorded plus and minus hours by family. Every quarter or so, we met & everyone got a tally of how far into the plus or minus range you were. The people in the minus range were the most likely to want to sit, so they were often called first. However, people whose kids were friends tended to call each other. When you sat for someone, it was your responsibility to call your hours in to the secretary for the month. We all kept a personal tally and reconciled them at the meetings, which were also social occasions. We also did a campout, a picnic, a Christmas party, a swim party, etc. every year.

When you wanted someone to sit, you negotiated your own terms if you wanted it at someone else's house, fine. If the parent on the other end was only willing to do it at their own house & you wanted it at yours (maybe because you didn't want to rouse your kids to bring them home) you tried the next person on the list.

There were probably 15 families--maybe more--and all had been screened. They had to have a personal invitation from someone who knew them, and the president or someone visited their house. (This because we discovered belatedly that a former member had a spouse with a history of physical abuse towards wife and kids.) The president and bookeeper earned hours for the administrative tasks performed. There were some extremely modest dues, to cover postage.

When our kids were small this was a godsend. We found we were much more secure, knowing adults who were parents were taking care of our wee ones who couldn't talk yet. This allowed us to relax more on the rare occasions we went out. Also, if something sudden came up, you could always count on our sitter. We bankrolled our hours like precious gold. If we went in the hole it felt worse than credit card debt or a second mortgage--although whenn we were in the hole, we would always get called.

As kids grew up, parents dropped out--usually honorably, either with even hours or a positive balance that got distributed between the members. As I recall, the coop had existed since the 60's & was still going strong when we left. Good luck--it is a worthwhile endeavor. Mary Ann

Check with Bananas (on Claremont at Telegraph) -- I've heard that they have a hand-out on how to structure a babysitting co-op. Sarah

I've been meaning to write to add my two cents, for those who want yet more information about forming a babysitting co-op. I was part of a babysitting co-op in the East Bay which was formed by some folks to used a How to Start a Baby Sitting Co-op Book to get them started. Since we've moved to Madison and I have started a co-op out here which has now been going strong for about a year and a half. We even have a waiting list. I think one thing that has made our co-op successful is having detailed, specific by-laws. Also we have monthly socials and while all families don't attend every one, there are enough socials, that families see each other frequently enough to feel part of a community. There are also group sits at least once a month-- kind of like kids' parties where the host family racks up a bunch of hours by taking as many kids as they can handle at once. These have been great for helping the children further develop relationships with other kids in the co-op. I feel good about using the co-op since i trust all the parents and my son loves to go play with the other kids. One day when a sit got cancelled, he cried! I'd highly recommend a babysitting co-op. Our lives are so much richer for having this community which also allows us to do yoga, have dates, clean the house, take classes....If you're interested, in hearing more, I'd be happy to send you a copy of our bylaws which as I mentioned are pretty detailed and specific. We have modified the east bay co-op's by-laws several times. Please email if you'd like a copy. Susan

How to start a babysitting co-op

March 2000

Hi I'm starting a babysitting coop and wanted to see if others here have done this and how they've set it up. How do you keep track of hours? What info do you need from parents to set it up? How do you deal with families with a different number of children, say one family that has a single child and another that has a same-aged child and an infant? Do you record per child or something in between? Are there any pitfalls to look out for? How much maintenance does this kind of scheme take? Sophie

I loved the babysitting coop we belong to in Washington, DC. It created a great community. We were in it about five years. People tended to leave as their children reached middle school age. (We moved and GREATLY missed having it until our children were old enough to stay home alone.) There were about 15 families and there was a yearly picnic so you could meet everyone. (Many of the families when we belonged had children at two DC pre-K to 6th grade public school and nearby pre-schools.) Here's how it worked: points ( scrip,I think I still have some in a drawer) which you exchanged with each other. You got points for each sit that you did (per hour, per child). You got more points (per hour, per child) in the evening or on weekends. The person babysitting came to your house in the evening. During the day, however, the child or children came to the babysitter's house. Weekend days were up to the people involved. When you joined the coop you got enough scrip for quite a few sits (even with three children).

Each month there was a record keeper (the secretary). You got LOTS of extra points for doing this job (which rotated). If you needed a sitter, you called the record keeper who then called the members until finding you a sitter. You could also make arrangements on your own. Then you were supposed to call the record keeper so he or she could update the master record. (The idea was to call people for sits who were low on scrip so they could earn more.) I would guess that this would be much easier and faster with email. (We left about seven years ago before many people had email at home. I remember that the first use of the computer was to develop an easy-to-read graphic format for record keeping.) I'd be happy to fill you in on more of the details. We almost always got a sitter. Occasionally when we were doing the record keeping, it would be hard to fill a request. But almost always, it worked very smoothly. It was great for people with very cash, with small babies (since the sitters were all parents), for late nights, on weeknights, for long weekend days. Later on, my kids enjoyed teenage babysitters, but generally that was a much less reliable route, and I missed the coop. Emily

I was in a babysitting co-op with 5 other families. We started out as a playgroup for pre-preschool children but as they got older, we wanted to try babysitting for each other at night. We each had 2-3 children where the youngest were toddlers and the oldest were 1-2 grade. One person had an infant, but infants weren't included because of the overhead. Every other week there would be a co-op party at somebody's house, usually on Saturday night but sometimes Sat. afternoon. Each family took a turn hosting one of these parties, and your turn would be about once every two months. All the kids would go to the party, where there would be a movie and popcorn or some other snack (the kids would have had dinner already). The kids had a great time socializing with each other, and parents had time to go to a movie or out to dinner or just relax at home without the kids for 3 hours. Usually everyone came, because the kids really looked forward to it, even when the parents were too tired to go out! It really was not much work to host a party because the kids all played so well togther that it was actually easier than being at home with just yours. It worked really well I think because it was a regular time, and everyone knew whose turn it was, and the kids really liked coming. Ginger

Nov 2002

I'm one of the people who asked this question before. I finally did start a babysitting coop. What got it going is that we use which was advertised on this list a while ago. I believe the service is still free though that may change. The one major drawback is that it only works on Explorer. Otherwise, the website keeps track of babysitting requests and transfers credit-hours. ---Sophie