How to Start a Date Night Babysitting Co-op

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Every couple with young kids loves a date night, right?! But those date nights come at a high price, because you’ve gotta pay the babysitter AND buy dinner, or movie tickets, or pay for whatever entertainment/activity you choose. To those parents with family in town who volunteer to keep the kiddos on the regular while you have a night out, I am happy for you. And a little jealous. For the rest, consider starting a date night babysitting co-op, which will earn you “free” babysitting for the low, low cost of occasionally watching someone else’s precious angel(s).

Now I’ll be honest, my family doesn’t participate in a co-op like this any more. But, when I was in graduate school and the budget for babysitting was zero dollars, my husband and I got together with three other couples who were in similar situations (small budgets, young kids) to together invest in healthy marriages. We called it a co-op (you know, cooperative) and it was absolutely fantastic for our stage of life. So, I invite you to read on about how you too can start your own babysitting co-op.

How to start a date night babysitting co-op

Choose the right people

This should go without saying, but you shouldn’t do a co-op with strangers. These people will watch your child(ren), in their home, with some level of regularity, so trust is key. When we set up our co-op, we chose to do it with three other families who were members of our church. They were not our closest friends, but we found them to be trustworthy and we felt secure taking our daughter to their homes.

Decide on the details

Next, decide on the details. How often will the co-op take place? In whose homes will babysitting occur? Will you always meet on the same night of the week? Certain time? All of these details should be clarified at the start so that there are no surprises or hurt feelings.

The details can and should vary depending on circumstances. Families with one child each may be able to meet weekly with 4-5 families involved while families with more kids might pair up with only one other family and swap the kids once a month. What we did worked well: four families, each with one child, took turns watching all four kids one Tuesday night per month. Thus, each couple got three date nights per month and one night of babysitting. We also decided that on months with five Tuesdays, we would spend the fifth Tuesday as a large group doing some type of activity. We had a cookout, went bowling, and similar events. This allowed us to get to know the other parents better, not just the kids.

Lay the ground rules

You also need ground rules for this to work. Decide beforehand what happens when your kid is sick, whether you’re the host or not. What will be done if a kid screams for two hours straight? Will you put kids to bed or do parents need to pick up before bed time? Can the kids eat marshmallows and cupcakes all night long? Equally great parents may disagree on how to handle these scenarios, so if the procedure to be followed is mapped out ahead of time, fewer disagreements and points of contention will occur. Everyone can enjoy the co-op more, and it’s more likely to last. The idea with a co-op isn’t to create rifts amongst friends (obviously) but instead to facilitate and encourage spouses/partners to spend kid-free time together, so set up a system of rules so everyone knows what to expect.

Require a commitment

This system won’t work if the members of the co-op flake out all the time. So while life happens and kids get sick or the car won’t start, for the most part, people should stick to their end of the bargain. A way to enforce this (and I use that term loosely) is to ask all of the members to commit to a certain time frame to see how it works. After that window of time is over, which may be a month or may be a year, everyone can re-evaluate their participation.

Communicate well

None of this works unless someone in the group isn’t afraid to step up and be the organizer. The most important quality of the organizer in the world of date night co-ops is communication. In my opinion, e-mail works best because everything is in writing and can be referred back to easily, but whatever method works for your group is of course fine. Someone should send a monthly e-mail (or text, groupme, etc.) with the schedule, phone numbers, addresses, kids’ allergies, and the like. Then sit back and enjoy your date nights!

Have you participated in a babysitting co-op? Tell us about your experience!

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Mallory grew up in Oklahoma, met her husband Dave in college there, and they have lived in Maryland, Michigan, and now Alabama since getting married in 2008. She graduated from Michigan State University with a PhD in exercise physiology in 2014, and her family then moved to Birmingham so she could start a job as a college professor. She is mom to five great kids ages nine and under, and considers it a tremendous joy to get to invest in the lives of both her kids and her students. In her free time, Mallory enjoys family walks around the neighborhood, reading to her kids, bargain hunting, home improvement projects, and being involved in the children’s and missions ministries at her church.