Monday, September 25, 2006

Making a Co-Op Work

By Heather Pohlabel

With the average babysitting rate at $5.00 per hour, many parents are trying to find better ways to do what they have to do without spending all of their hard earned money on someone to watch the baby! A co-op is a wonderful idea and a great experience if done correctly. There are a few things you should be prepared to do when entering into a co-op or when looking to start one. With the right people and a little care, the co-op will be beneficial to all involved, both parents and adults.

To start a co-op or to find a workable cooperative situation, be on the lookout for the right people. The right people are essential to making anything work, and a co-op is no exception. By "right" people, I mean people that you trust, can get along well with, and who are reliable.

It is important to have a respectful relationship with the people who will be spending time with your children. Always take their needs and personality into consideration when making the decision to include them. Are they drug and alcohol free? Do they smoke? Do they have adequate housing or reliable transportation? Do they live in a clean and safe environment? What is their personality like? Do they speak well or curse a lot? Have you observed them with their own children? Would you trust them with yours?

Spend some time outside of the home with your potential co-opers and see how they handle their children in public or in a stressful situation. Make several home visits and invite them to your home as well. It is important to have some sort of friendship or level of comfort and trust before leaving your children in their care or caring for their children. You need to know what they expect and they need to know the same. Figuring out elements of both the parents and the children's personality before entering into the co=op will make the experience much easier; there will be fewer surprises.

Trust and reliability are paramount when considering a co-op situation. Don't get left stuck, and don't stick anyone else. You should fully trust someone to be with your children before you leave them there and you should also earn the trust of other parents and prove to them time and time again that you have their children's best interest at heart.

Scheduling is a main priority with co-oping once you get your group going. Everyone's schedules need to be understood very clearly and stuck to. If something changes, everyone needs to notified immediately. If there is a slight variation in schedule, give as much advanced notice as possible. If there is a possibility of running late or being early, inform the other involved parties so that no one is inconvenienced and left wondering what happened to you! Be sure to provide enough emergency contacts so that if something actually does happen, they are able to contact someone to come and get your children.

If you can work out a cooperative situation with someone whom you have known for a long time, that is wonderful. You can pretty much skip the initiation process and be frank with each other about payment, favors, discipline, and all other issues related to co-oping with children.

I have had the fortune to work closely with someone who I have known for about ten years. We had watched each other's children on and off for years. With the birth of my third child, both of us happened to be home full time. We decided to use each other as back up babysitters for our parents that we babysat for and to help give a break to each other when needed. She watches my children when I have something to do and I do the same for her. Sometimes we pay each other; sometimes it's for babysitting time.

You can find all types of co-op situations. Maybe a hairdresser will cut your family's hair every six weeks if you watch her kids once a month so she can go out for an evening. The lady across the street could take the kids to school every morning if you could pick them up. A friend could gather information for you at the PTO meeting that you're going to miss and catch you up over coffee that you buy the next morning.

Co-oping can be very fun and a great social time and wonderful experience for all involved if done correctly.

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