Two summers ago, I was having coffee with two mom friends when one of them suggested a novel idea. “What if,” she said, “we did a kid swap this summer? Each of us could watch all of our kids one day a week — take them to the park or at our house to play games or whatever — then each of us would have two free days without any kids. What do you think?”
Each of us has three children ranging from 3 to 14 years old. That would mean one day a week, we’d each be watching nine children. But then we’d have two days with no children. That sounded like an amazing plan.
So we put cooperative parenting into action. Before the week started, we’d figure out our work schedules (each of us works more than one part-time job) and decide which days we could take. Since the one mom who works out of the house worked 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and the other two of us made our own schedules working at home, we decided 10:45 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. would be our kid swapping hours. We’d send lunches and snacks with our own kids, and make sure they had water bottles and sunscreen if they were going to be outside.
We weren’t sure how it would go. Would the kids get sick of each other? Would the beauty of two free days outweigh the chaos of a day with nine kids?
As it turned out, our fears were unfounded. We’ve just wrapped up our second kids-swapping summer, and literally the only thing we’d change about our arrangement is adding a 12-passenger van to the mix. We’ve had our swap days at parks, movie theaters, pools, and backyards. The kids play games and run around, sometimes all together, sometimes in small groups or pairs. The big kids help out with the little kids, and everyone wins.
At this point after doing it for two years, I’ve decided that three-way kid swapping is one of the greatest ideas anyone has ever come up with. Nine kids actually isn’t that difficult to have for half a day, since everyone has someone they can hang out with. And most of the time they play outside, so there’s actually very little hands-on work from us moms.
The kids exercise their creativity and ingenuity coming up with things to do. The other day, all but the very oldest kids spent almost the whole time playing Spirit Animals in our front entryway. All of our board games and cards are getting great use. They make up variations of hide-and-seek, organize contests like who can squat for the longest, and basically do the unstructured play everyone laments kids not doing these days.
Occasionally, one of us moms comes up with a fun activity involving science experiments or arts and crafts or sports equipment, but we’ve found that the kids come up with the most fun all on their own. They really don’t need us to tell them what to do. Nine kids, a cupboard of games, and free reign over the great outdoors seems to be plenty.
On rainy days or on the occasional afternoon when the wheels seem to be coming off the cart (it does happen once in a while), we’ll put on a show or a movie or let them play Wii for a bit. But most of the time, they don’t need the screens to keep the peace or beat boredom. These kid swap days have been awesome for our kids’ socialization and creativity.
And of course, they’ve been awesome for us moms. Two days a week of free childcare, knowing our kids are in good hands with good friends. Nine hours of uninterrupted work time. A quiet house that stays clean for at least a little bit. It’s glorious.
Cooperative parenting is the answer to so many woes, I tell you. I highly recommend finding two or three other like-minded families who are willing to kid swap and figure out a system that works for you. It’s definitely worth it.