The nuts and bolts of building a babysitting co-op
This is part 2 in a 3-part series called Child Care for the Mama Actor. In part 1, I brainwashed you into believing in the magic of a babysitting co-op. Seriously, it is one of the top resources in a mama actor’s child care toolkit. In part 2, I’ll share the inner workings of my new co-op, and give you some tips for making a co-op work for you. Grab a cup of tea, because we are going to take a deep dive into the nuts and bolts of co-op success.
What type of care do you need?
My co-op is designed for occasional, mom-to-mom babysitting jobs. There are co-ops designed for group or on-going care, but I wanted a flexible, small-scale co-op for individual babysitting swaps.
If you are looking to set up a regularly-scheduled, playgroup-style co-op, this article won’t really help you, so I’ll save you the next 977 words and give you my million-dollar solution to every problem: Google.
Who to invite into your co-op
The most daunting step! I am part of a moms club in my local area, and I reached out to the club members to start the co-op. If you aren’t part of an organized mom’s group, find one, mama! Get on the google and work your research skills.
If you decide to invite moms individually, think about the following things when deciding who to reach out to:
- Proximity. Keep your co-op local. I’d suggest a distance of no more than 15 minutes or a 3-5 mile radius.
- Availability & variety. Balance the group with moms who have different scheduling needs and different number/ages of kids. Don’t shy away from large families, but don’t populate your group with all large families. Same thing goes with actors. In my group, I am the lone actor in a group of SAHMs and flexie, part-time moms in non-acting disciplines. I mostly commit to evening and weekend jobs, while other moms always volunteer for mornings, etc.
- Trust. Bottom line: find moms you have a built-in level of trust with. Start with a local mom that you love and trust, and work together to build your co-op one reliable mom at a time.
- Numbers. Just like the three bears–not too big, not too small, but juuuuust right. This number will vary for every group and change over time. Small enough to know everyone, big enough to get everyone’s jobs covered. We have 11 moms in our group. I think 8-15 is a good ballpark.
Communicating about jobs
Once you’ve gathered your tribe, time to think about communication logistics. How you will tell them about your job so someone can take your gig? Though everyone’s communication habits are different, here’s the super-simple, voucher-free system that has worked for my co-op…
We set up a secret Facebook group administered by the mom who is in charge of point-tracking (not me, thank God). When a mama has a job, she posts it on the group page. All further communication about that job happens in the comments.
When the job is over, one of the moms makes a final comment describing the number of hours worked and any other relevant details that might affect the number of points exchanged. For example: “Lucy watched Emma for 3.5 hours at her place. She also picked her up from school.”
Our awesome admin mama created a spreadsheet and uses the Facebook info to regularly update the point totals. That document, along with a roster are pinned in the files section of the Facebook group.
Email and group texting were the other options we discussed, but they seemed too cumbersome. I also like the group identity that a Facebook group gives us–we named our co-op and often post cute pictures of our kids playing together.
NOTE: I will say that because most of my jobs are short notice (usually the day before as I’ve told my reps I don’t accept same day auditions), and not everyone is on Facebook throughout the day, sometimes I text a specific mama so that I can have immediate peace of mind knowing my job is covered. Then I go back and post the job info in the Facebook group so that the administrator can log the hours.
Accounting for hours
One of the best things about having a co-op is that it formalizes the exchanging of child care and creates a fair, points-based accounting system. We gave every mom 50 points to start with, and each point is worth 30 minutes of care for one child. So if I watch 2 children for 2 hours, I get 8 points. This evens it out for the mom of 4 who thinks no one will ever watch her kids.
We also decided to reward behaviors that go above & beyond the call of duty. Traveling to another mom’s house for a job, for example, merits an extra hour. Brainstorm with your group what types of things you’d consider “extra” (perhaps school pick up/drop off, meal preparation, evening or overnight jobs), and decide how to compensate them. Also, I’d give extra points to the administrator for the work they do logging hours. It’s not terribly hard but deserves to be rewarded.
We aren’t strict about a minimum number of points to stay active, but I think a general guideline is nice such as, “If you have 100 points, you need to get out more; if you have 0 points, you need to help out more.”
We don’t regulate much else. Most of the specific protocols are worked out mom-to-mom and job-to-job. You don’t have to map out every possible bad scenario and have a rule about it–we’re building a babysitting co-op, not writing tax code.
Plus, I’ve “interviewed these moms” by establishing trust with them prior to the co-op. I like how they talk to their kids at the park, I’ve been to their homes, I know who else lives with them and usually know their partners. Just as if I were hiring a sitter, I know what to tell them about my child and her schedule in order to give them the tools to keep her safe and happy.
That being said, some people simply prefer rules that are explicit and in writing. Because our co-op is more like a forum for finding a sitter than than a structured child care group, we don’t have written regulations or by-laws. If you want a written document, there are many sample agreements online to get you started, but that is the key–just get started!!
I’m so excited to hear about your adventures in co-op land! I’m happy to answer questions about my co-op, or offer humble, non-legally-binding advice. Stay tuned for Part 3 of the series Child Care for the Mama Actor, in which I’ll give you an exhausting list of possible solutions to your specific child care woes. You can connect with me in the comments below, on Twitter, or in our awesome TMA community group on Facebook.