Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Childcare Swap

My best parenting "hack" is the Childcare Swap. Why this idea hasn't caught on with people like me who don't live around (helpful) family and who don't have a money tree in their yard is a total mystery, because I think it is genius.

We used to have the common problem of not having enough uninterrupted couple time, plus not having enough time alone in our home without the kids. Turns out the Childcare Swap is the free solution to these problems. Love it!

Here's how it works. You find another family nearby, preferably with the same number of kids and with similarly-aged kids as your own. You agree to take care of all the kids at your house for a day, and they agree to take care all of the kids at their house some other day. Simple.

Here's how we arrange it. The family we Childcare Swap with has 2 kids; our boys are 10 months apart, and our girls are 3 weeks apart. Neither family has any helpful relatives nearby. We started doing this last year when our kids were 3.5 and 1.5. When we first proposed the idea, the other family jumped at it.

We watch all the kids at our house once a quarter, usually on a Sunday at the beginning of the quarter. Then, several weeks, later the other family reciprocates. Bizarrely, we've noticed that taking care of all 4 kids is so much easier than just taking care of our own 2 kids - because they are totally entertained by each other all day long. The kids absolutely love it and beg us to put more dates on our calendars.

Today is one of the happy days that the other family will watch our kids at their house, so DH and I are off to have a free, day-long date. Ta ta!

Try it, you'll like it!


Anonymous said...

This was such a usual thing growing up... but these days it seems like parents aren't willing to let their kids have playdates without the parents as well. They won't even drop kids off at birthday parties, and instead one or both parents are always present. It's a different world.

hush said...

@N&M - It's a different world - so true. The norms have totally changed. In the 80s, parents could leave kids alone in the car in the store parking lot without anyone thinking twice about it. Today they'd call CPS.

I wonder how much this has to do with married working parents feeling like they "should" be with their kids all weekend long (I don't!)... Or with the reality that people judge other people's parenting too damn much - so of course no one else quite measures up... Or with people in general being afraid to ask for help. Hmm...

Anonymous said...

I think there's also the worry that someone else's father is going to turn out to be a child molester, kind of like all the women I see (on my way to work) waiting with their elementary schoolers at the bus stop because they're worried about their kids getting kidnapped.

We offered to look after DC's neighborhood friend when his parents were foster-to-adopting a couple of children (it didn't work out), but they wouldn't even let us walk him around their block without their mother's helper present too. I don't *think* we're particularly sketchy parents, especially since they'd randomly drop in for playdates all the time. (The mother got her PhD and they have since moved to another state.) Most of the other neighborhood boys DC's age are kind of bullies, so we haven't really sought out any other playdates. (DC goes to a private school so there's nobody from school local.)

Nataliya said...

this is such a great opportunity to just be.
I agree that we need not be with our kids 24/7. But I also agree that it is incredibly hard to find people who's parenting style agrees with you.

Congrats on finding and enjoying such a great arrangement!

mom2boy said...

The parents of Tate's best same aged friend and I have always done this sort of play date swap. I don't think I appreciated early on what a gem of a mom friend I had in her. Birthday parties are still not the drop off kind yet :(

hush said...

@N&M - "all the women I see (on my way to work) waiting with their elementary schoolers at the bus stop because they're worried about their kids getting kidnapped." Yes, and also, in some public school districts, the bus driver is required not to allow any elementary school-aged kid to get on or off at the bus stop unless an adult is also present. Luckily, in our district, the kids are allowed to catch the bus by themselves starting in 1st grade.

@Nataliya - I also think my kids have benefitted from being around other kids' parents whose styles are pretty different from ours. My kids now know that the "house rules" are different everywhere.

@mom2boy - Yay for moms who are gems and will help you out! I wonder at what age will drop off parties will become the norm? DS is going to have a 5th bday party this fall at our house. It will probably be about 3 hours long, and we're going to let folks know they can drop off. Most of his friends are 2-3 years older though.

Mrs. 5C said...

I found your blog through a refreshing comment that you posted on "Trapped In North Jersey" regarding children's birthday parties. I think you are my new hero! My little girl is only 7 weeks old, but you've nailed some of the parenting principles I want to have. Maybe I'm not crazy? There are other people out there that think the way I do? Thank you! :)

hush said...

@Mrs. 5C - Welcome and thank you for your sweet comment! And congratulations on the birth of your daughter. ;)

Claudia said...

I'm quite thankful that in these respects, it still is the 70s and 80s here in Denmark.
Kids have loads more independence than the situations you describe.
Case in point: Last week we were camping at one of those campgrounds with everyone's campers parked within 15 feet of everyone else's. Before I had my daughter, I thought I'd never set foot in such a place, but here we are, since it's delightful for the kids. In the course of 4 days, DD (6 years old) made friends with about 5 kids, and we let her go over to their camps, ride her bike around with them, completely out of sight of us. It was easy enough to find her, and it was a great time to let her spread her wings a bit. She's very outgoing and handles most situations with aplomb, so I'm sure personality is a factor here. But I am American, so it nevertheless felt weird to let her go off with strangers, essentially. But all was well and I think since it's the culture here to be a little more relaxed, the adults are generally keeping an eye out for everyone, rather than expecting each kid's parents to be hovering/checking in. We did meet the parents of some of these kids, but very casually, just sort of to be able to recognize them.

hush said...

@Claudia - There's also that same more relaxed 70s/80s culture you describe in some parts of rural America, too. Guess it's one of the few upsides to living in Podunkville or Bumfuck Denmark I suppose! ;)