Let's Bring Back The Childcare Co-Op To Save Our Sanity

by Meredith Ethington
Originally Published: 
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If you’ve ever passed by a mirror at, say, around 4 p.m., and literally recoiled from the terrifying sight of a haggard woman counting down the seconds until bedtime staring back at you, then you’re my kind of people. Mothering is hard, and without a lot of family help in my corner, I look like a weary old woman most days. Let me rephrase: I am a weary old woman, and I just want some damn help, okay?

When I moved into my neighborhood, I remarked to a new mom friend that I had no grandparents down the street eagerly waiting to take my kids, and no siblings nearby to lighten the load. “That’s okay. We’ll be your family,” she said without hesitation. And bless her precious little heart, she’s kept her word. I’d like to think our friendship goes both ways, and I help her out just as much.

We each have three kids who love each other. Both of us have a girl and two boys — in the same order and of the same ages — and we’re living at the same level of chaos. Having someone to commiserate with over the trials and tribulations of parenting has saved my sanity on many occasions. But what’s even better is this kid-swap thing we have going on.

For three years now, we’ve done a kid swap with each other. One day a week, while our older kids are in school, she takes my youngest for several hours, and another day of the week, I take hers. Our boys are the best of friends, so it works out great. I look forward to that day every week when I’m kid-free for five solid hours. On rare occasions, we’ve even done overnight swaps, so we could get some alone time with our husbands. Our kid swap is like manna falling from the heavens, and I couldn’t survive without it.

The other day, I was chatting with my mom on the phone about this heavenly arrangement with my friend, and she mentioned something I had never heard of: a childcare co-op. When she was raising my older siblings in the ’70s, they lived in an apartment complex full of young families. One genius mother came up with the idea of the co-op, and it changed my mom’s life forever.

With a childcare co-op, you have five or so moms who want to participate. You appoint a secretary (this can be a rotating role, of course), and then you start helping each other out with childcare. When you need help, there is no need to explain yourself . You just say, “I need two hours on this day,” and whoever is available steps up and takes your kid(s). By doing so, they are banking hours in the co-op for when they need a nap, a pedicure, or just some quiet time in the future. You simply call the secretary so she can track everyone’s hours, and the rest is child-free bliss.

I’m kind of obsessed with this idea. Besides the convenience and affordability factors, a childcare co-op motivates us to step outside of our comfort zones. We get to know our neighbors or the mom in the preschool pickup line. And with that, I enthusiastically say, let’s bring back the childcare co-op — stat.

There are countless ways this can work. All you really need to do to get started is set up some rules with your trusted mom friends in the co-op. I asked my mom, “What if I have three kids, and someone in the co-op only has one?” She said that part was actually easy. For example, if someone watches my three kids for two hours, then I’ve used six hours of the time I’ve already banked. And if I go into the hole, I can always make it up by watching someone else’s kids. If someone only has one kid, and they need someone for just an hour, they only use an hour of time. It’s that simple. And of course, you can adjust it according to your group’s needs.

Um…mind blown.

Working moms, imagine having a free evening after work to run errands or just take a pre-dinner nap. Stay-at-home moms, this could simply save your sanity on a tough day, giving you a kid-free hour (or three) to hit up Target. Work-from-home moms, how awesome would it be to meet that deadline without a toddler screaming from the next room, “Mom! I just pooped!”?

The possibilities are freaking endless — and glorious.

If the idea of a co-op seems overwhelming, consider just doing a kid swap with one good mom friend (bonus if your kids are close in age). It has literally saved me week after week for years. And we both try to be flexible. Sometimes, we have to adjust things, skip a week, or change our regular days of the week. But usually, every Monday I can count on having a few hours alone in silence and actually get stuff done.

I’m convinced that the saying “It takes a village” was invented by a freaking genius who just needed some time away from her kids and was brave enough to ask her mom friends for a little help. So I say, let’s bring back the childcare co-op — because it never hurt a mom in the history of ever to have a little break from her kids for a couple of hours. In fact, it probably saved her sanity.

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