During Ella’s first year of life, she never went to a babysitter. She didn’t need one with two grandmas in such close proximity. Right around her first birthday, my husband accepted a job offer across the country and we moved our family from the Seattle area to a small central Illinois town. We suddenly found ourselves in the position of needing a babysitter to go out, but balked at the cost of a date, plus babysitter. Tim and I are no strangers to “date nights in” with a movie or games, but there’s something to be said for actually going out together.
Over time, we made friends with a few couples in our local congregation One couple is from the area, while the rest of us are transplants who relocated for work. This created an ideal situation for initiating a babysitting swap, since we all wanted to go out, but didn’t want to hire a babysitter each weekend. Our friend Heather, the social planner of the group, approached us with the idea of a babysitting swap, where each couple took everyone’s kids one Friday night a month and then enjoyed three Friday night dates of free babysitting.
I wondered at first if this would be worth it – we had one child at the time, one couple had 2, and the other had 3 each. It didn’t seem like a very fair trade, but there wasn’t much that could be done about it. While we’ve experienced some rough nights (fighting, chaos, diarrhea, crying babies, bored kids), I would definitely say it’s been worth it. If you’re considering a similar type of babysitting swap, I highly recommend it. Here are a few suggestions to make things run smoothly:
1. Agree on a set time frame for each Friday and commit to it. We do 6pm to 10 pm (I wish it were 9pm). You can bring your kids as late as you like, but you must return by 10 sharp.
2. Swap babysitting during other times, if you can, to help familiarize kids with each other’s homes. This comfort level makes all the difference and is invaluable for doctor’s appointments, etc.
3. Assign couples a regular Friday to eliminate confusion and extra work planning a calendar each month. Couples can easily trade nights if they need to.
4. Don’t stress over the Fridays where you don’t use babysitting. This is bound to happen, but you still need to hold up your end of the babysitting bargain.
5. Make sure you’re on the same page about dinner, snacks, etc. We didn’t have a plan for this at first and it created some confusion. We decided that it’s easiest just to have kids eat dinner at the babysitter’s since the other couples are usually headed out to dinner. Other than that, each home decides if they want to provide snacks.
6. Be courteous. Don’t bring your child if they’re sick or overly tired.
7. Have realistic expectations. If a couple is watching a houseful of kids, your toddler’s wet diaper might not be a priority until it smells. (This has been a challenge for me).
8. Enjoy your free nights and keep them in mind when it’s your turn to babysit. They make it all worth it!