“Free Babysitting.” The flyer on the wall at Amy Brooks Murphy’s postpartum play group sounded too good to be true.
I was intrigued. With no grandparents in town or trusted teenage neighbors to call for date-night sitting, I was looking for babysitting options. Too shy to pull one of the tabs and e-mail the contact, I asked a more experienced mama friend what it was all about.
It turns out the ad wasn’t for a pro-bono fairy godmother, but a startup babysitting co-op of families who would take turns watching each other’s kids.
Free babysitting, and a new parent friend base? Sign me up!
My friend was a part of it, and introduced me to the group before moving to Pella and gifting me her “points.” That was in 2013, and our little co-op has remained an amazing support group that has enriched my experience as a new mom.
- Instead of exchanging money for babysitting, we use a points system.
- Each new member gets 25 points to start.
- An hour of babysitting “costs” two points, with each additional kid running an extra point per hour.
- Members can earn points by participating in play dates or hosting our meetings and outings.
- We have bylaws and elect admins each year to keep everything running smoothly.
- We utilize the free SittingAround.com platform to administer our group. We also have a closed Facebook group to share resources, post events, and ask questions between meetings.
We try and keep about 10 families in the group, all with kids around the same age as ours (mostly between 1-4 years at this point). This helps with having age-appropriate toys and building little friendships among the kids.
Existing members can invite a friend to join – we require some connection to keep it safe and tight-knit.
This being Des Moines, I’m amazed at how many mutual friends I’ve had with co-op members, but might never have met if it weren’t for our group. The first time I sent my son on a “sit”, he was just a few blocks away with a woman who is such a kindred spirit yet had been off my radar until I joined the co-op.
The dads are just as active as the moms in co-op activities, and as our kids have grown we’ve branched out and tried new experiences. Everyone is into cycling, so we’ve gone on long bike rides as a group, and even done camping trips! We took over the group site at Ledges this summer with 10 kids under 5. It wasn’t the most peaceful night, I think we’re all grateful to each other for encouraging fun in the outdoors.
We’re even alternating moms/dads nights out with big group hangouts and socializing, so our relationships are less transactional and we can support each other and have fun, too.
The whole “it takes a village” concept might sound corny, but our babysitting co-op has been a wonderful resource of “I thought I was the only one!” affirmation, hand-me-down clothes, potty-training tips, laughs, and so much more.
I highly recommend organizing with a core group of friends and branching out to meet amazing parents who can become your tribe!
Brianne Sanchez is a writer and community engagement professional who calls herself an “Iowan by Choice.” A transplant from Chicagoland, she moved to Des Moines in 2007 and acquired a house, husband, dog, son Emmett (June 2013) and Eileen (October 2015), which means she now has deep roots in this place. Brianne blogs at bsinthemidwest.com and is a frequent contributor at DSM Magazine. When she finds free time, she spends it crafting, reading, hiking, biking and volunteering, but never cleaning.