On a recent trip to the UK, I was asked by my Mother in Law if I had a babysitting circle? I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, and when I Googled it I realized I didn’t have one and wow did I ever need one.
What is a babysitting circle, you ask? Well, in short, it’s a group (circle) of parents that know each other and agree to trade off nights of babysitting in exchange for points or tokens, so as parents, we can still have lives outside of our children.
How it works can be a little more complicated. It seems that the process has been formalized in the UK which makes it easier for us, Canadians, to adopt it. So here is the information that I found on setting up a babysitting circle.
To get started there needs to be 5 – 10 families. Ideally, they should all know each other. If not, each member should know at least two other members. It helps to get together socially from time to time with the children to make sure everyone is familiar with one another. It’s also an excellent way to meet new friends in your community. At the very least, before you get started you should arrange a meeting where you can decide the rules of how the group will run.
Here is a list of specifics to decide on at the first meeting:
- Form of payment. Each member starts with points or tokens to exchange. Choose whichever method works for the group. Personally, I feel tokens have less associated admin and can be bought from amazon.ca.
- Amount per ½ hour. For example. Every time you babysit you earn 1 point/token for each ½ hour before 11pm or midnight and 2 points for each ½ hour after 11pm or midnight. Some groups also double the points if it is before 7pm as bedtime is then the sitter’s responsibility. Time is rounded up to the nearest half an hour. When you go out, you give your points//tokens to the babysitter who came.
- Maximum tokens/points. Some groups recommend that members do not exceed a point or token amount – meaning they need to go out more. They also recommend a maximum negative number if you are working on a points system. Obviously, with tokens when you’re out you need to babysit to earn some more.
- Tracking points. If you’re using the points system, some groups have a bookholder where all the points are tallied. Others have each member with their own notebook (a school exercise book with columns drawn) in which points are recorded at the end of each babysitting night and signed by sitter and parent. Or, if you want to go digital, you can use mynightoff.com, a free site that organizes and keeps track for the group.
- Method of asking for a sitter. Do you want to have a group email? Call or text people?
- How to add new members. Some groups stipulate, new members can only join, if “approved” by two or more existing members.
- How to leave the group. Eg. In the event of a member leaving the circle, he/she should try to have an even starting balance, so they don’t get all the free babysitting and then quit.
- Acceptable situations. For example, some groups may decide that younger kids need to be in bed, older ones ready for bed and expected to put themselves in bed. Babies must be sleeping through the evening, but sitter may be asked to give a bottle, etc.
Once you have decided on the details with your circle members, then it’s time to make plans and have a night out. Whether you arrange nights out in advance at the monthly meetings or book them spontaneously, the key is to relax knowing that another parent is watching your sweet child and enjoy a nice night out!
- Members should only stay in the circle if they are contributing by going out and sitting reasonably often. Members who are not going out much should leave to make room for others.
- Encourage both parents to do their fair share of the sitting, but state who is coming mom or dad.
- Try not to exclude single parents just because they may not be able to babysit for others in the evening. They might be able to baby sit in the day/ pick up from school etc.
- Try to spread the points around by using different members of the circle. BUT ONLY LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN WITH SOMEONE YOU KNOW AND TRUST. You don’t have to accept someone to sit for you just because they are in the circle.
- More than a dozen members risk splitting into subgroups. If this happens it is probably better to split into two separate groups.
Things to leave with your sitter
- Estimated time of return to be agreed with sitter
- Emergency contact details
Where clean bedding is kept
- Where clean PJs are
- Handy hints to settle those who wake (they always settle quicker if it’s done the same way as mommy/daddy)
- Tips on how to work the TV