By Heather Pohlabel
Raising your baby is a very wonderful yet time consuming endeavor. Regardless of whether you choose to stay home or go to work, you need to have a support system to help you. The old cliche "it takes a village to raise a child" is not too far from the truth. You may think you can do it all, and you are perfectly capable, but why wear yourself out when you can enroll the help of like minded moms and dads to make not only each other's lives easier, but the lives of your children as well.
There are numerous benefits of a cooperative parenting / child care situation. Not all co-ops are created equally, however. You should choose one that you are most comfortable with or start your own amongst a group of friends. If you don't have any friends in your area or know anyone with children, put an ad in the paper or on-line, or post flyers at places like churches, supermarkets, or laundromats. There are probably many mothers in your area who would love to stat a group to help each other out and just don't realize that the need is there, or, they, like you, do not know anyone either.
Co-ops are great for stay at home moms or dads. Many people think that stay at home parents do just that - stay at home. The fact of the matter is, stay at home parents still have lives! They still have appointments to keep. They still go to the doctor and the dentist; they still like to go out to lunch or have coffee with friends. They might like to go to the gym to work out, especially moms with infants and young children, as we all know that their bodies take the brunt of childbirth!
Co-ops provide that limited freedom that parents need to get things done. When I had our third child, our second child was already 9 years old and had grown accustomed to certain things that I always did for her like volunteering in her school. While I can't be there nearly as much as I did in the past, I can still attend field trips and volunteer once a week in her classroom for a few hours because I have another mom to do back up babysitting and relief babysitting for me! I get a break from my baby and the other baby that I babysit for, and I get to be around my daughter during her school day and help out her teachers and her peers. It means a lot to her that I am there, and I would really miss that time with her if I were not able to find someone to help me out! I have the advantage of frequent communication with her teachers and the ability to meet her friends and gain their trust.
Co-ops make sure the children always have a provider and that parents can always go to work. If you choose to enroll your child in daycare, chances are very slim that it will ever be closed (this does happen from time to time when diseases, lice, or flu shows up in an overwhelming population of the children or providers in the day care, or if there is something wrong with the facility, but more often than not, a day care is open and reliable). Babysitters, on the other hand, don't have substitutes if they get sick or need to go to an appointment. That is why having another parent or two on back up is a wonderful idea. This saves the parent having to find multiple sitters (some of whom will quit due to lack of work or income). Babysitters working together can watch each other's broods for short periods of time or for unexpected illnesses or emergencies. Parents can stay at work, and the children are safe, much like in a day care, but with all of the benefits that having a private babysitter affords!
Co-ops also allow the children a break from their regular surroundings and care givers. We as adults know that we sometimes need a break; it is not much different for children. A new face or a new toy from time to time will help the children adjust to change and will expand their peer group. New playmates can be fun and exciting!
Forming or joining in a co-op will provide you with a much needed support system as you raise your children. I am from a very small town, and it is reassuring to me that wherever my children go, someone will likely know them, and if anything should ever happen to them, someone will contact me. I also have many people I can call to car pool kids to school or to back up babysit or to catch a ride with to a PTO meeting. If I'm short on cash, it's very likely that one of my other parent friends will be able to spare whatever I need to get by until I'm back on track.
A great advantage to a co-op is having like minded parents to talk to. If you are having issues with your children and aren't sure what to do, advice from other parents can sometimes be helpful. Often times, if you are "out of the loop" on current events or goings on in your community, your co-op can catch you up so you don't miss anything. Sometimes, too, it's just nice to have someone to vent to when you need it.
A co-op doesn't have to be fancy or extensive. A few reliable, friendly parents will do. There is so much benefit to joining or forming a co-op to help you with your responsibilities as a parent!