Can’t afford the on-base child development center? Do you have a doctor’s appointment and don’t have anyone to watch your toddler? Want to go grocery shopping without the kids while your husband is TDY? Craving a date night with your spouse, but can’t find a babysitter?
Military families looking for affordable and flexible child care should consider joining a babysitting co-op.
What is a babysitting co-op?
A babysitting co-op is a group of parents who agree to exchange babysitting time and most operate on a point system. When you watch someone’s child, you earn points that you trade in when someone else watches your child. It’s an alternative to traditional child care and it’s free.
Babysitting co-op members can choose to watch other people’s children at their convenience. During the day, the child is dropped off at the sitter’s house. In the evening, typically the sitter comes to the children’s house.
When we were stationed in Monterey, Calif., there was a babysitting co-op for military families. But it was only for families who lived in government housing. Since we rented a house off-base we weren’t eligible to participate. But I was definitely interested in it and heard good things about it from my friends.
Let’s say you recently moved to your duty station and you’re wondering if there’s already a babysitting co-op, the easiest way to find out is through the local military spouses’ Facebook group. You can post the question there or search the files section to see if it’s already listed there.
For bases with a babysitting co-op, there is usually a separate closed Facebook group for its participants. For example, the one in Colorado Springs gives this information on its Facebook group,
A group where fellow military wives in the Colorado Springs Area ONLY! can come together to have a close group where we watch each others children, dogs, houses on a point system. To earn points-simply help another member out by watching their kids, dog, or house. If you try to join this group your profile MUST be open and information MUST be available to show that you live here.
But what if there isn’t an existing babysitting co-op? How do I start a babysitting co-op on my base? Here are 3 things you need to do to start a babysitting co-op at your military installation.
Who can join this group? Will you limit the amount of members? Will you require an application for membership? What are the rules for joining or leaving the group?
Like I said before, there was a group at the base in Monterey. But it wasn’t open to everyone in the military. It was only for families who lived on base. Don’t be shy about establishing narrow boundaries for your babysitting co-op. You want the families involved to trust each other and have a good comfortable level.
Establish a Point System that Works for Your Group
There can be unstructured babysitting co-ops, but I think the system works better with guidelines and boundaries. That way every participant knows what is expected of him or her.
The next step in start a babysitting co-op is deciding how you will record and track babysitting points. Some groups use a spreadsheet on Google docs that every participant has access to. There’s an honor system used and members can update that document with their points. Other co-ops have cards that they hand out to parents after they babysit. They can later redeem these cards for babysitting. Search online for templates and printables before designing your own. It will save you a lot of time.
Have a Plan for Handling Disputes Among Members
A good way to avoid drama among the members of the babysitting co-op is to have a plan for resolving disputes. Every group will have parents who haven’t earned as much time as they have used. How will your group handled that? Members need to know how much notice they need to give when requesting child care. Is it 24 hours notice? Or 7 days? Other issues that may come up are bedtime, snacks, taking the children to a playground or park, television and discipline.
I think a babysitting co-op would be a great way to earn free babysitting as a military family. With initial planning and organization, the group can run effectively and efficiently for the parents and the children.