It’s not only the nights you have a plan with a friend to go to the movies, two grownups unaccompanied by rugrats, wth maybe dnner out first in a restaurant the kids would refuse to eat the food of but which you just love. It’s not only the nights you have a date. Sometimes you just need to get out of the house and—dare we say it?—away from the kids. (You love them, but they’re rapidly driving you crazy!)
Or maybe you simply have errands and grocery-shopping to do and know you could get them accomplished in half the time (or less!) if you didn’t have a three-year-old clinging to your legs and a five-year-old demanding you buy every candy bar he sees (and throwing a loud, wild tantrum in the middle of the store when you say, “No”).
In the old days, B.D. (Before Divorce, or Before Death if you’re a widow), you could have left your spouse watching the kids while you had a girls’ night out with your friend, went shopping unencumbered, or simply took yourself to the mall, to the park, or to a friend’s house to chill out. Now your options are a babysitter or “fuhgeddaboudit.” And you know how much babysitters charge these days!
But wait…. There is another option: a cooperative babysitting exchange. This can be as informal as you and a friend trading kids—“Can you watch my kids tonight while I do some shopping? And then I’ll watch yours when you need it”—to a whole network of parents who watch each other’s kids for credits overseen by an administrator (typically the parent who set up the exchange in the first place).
• The babysitting may or may not include dinner, may or may not include a sleepover. You decide in advance. Or take it on a case-by-case basis.
• If you’re trading with one friend, and you have an unequal number of kids (e.g. you have one and she has three), you may choose to trade “per child-hour”—that is, if you watch her three kids for two hours, you get credit for six hours. Or perhaps you’ll decide that a compromise is fairer: for a second child (and each additional one), you get credit for a half-hour for each hour the child is in your care. A similar arrangement would work in a large group as well.
• You can limit yourself to watching only those kids who are reasonably near your child’s or children’s age(s), and get along with your child(ren), so that they can all play together happily, or you can agree to watch a nine-year-old even though your child is only three.
• If this is a group arrangement, any parent should have the right to refuse to watch any child who is too disruptive, destructive, or otherwise hard to handle. On the other hand, any parent who is too picky and willing to watch only one or two kids out of a group of, say, 10, can certainly be excluded from the group.
• Similarly, while any parent has the right to decline to watch another parent’s child on a night that isn’t convenient, a participant who declines habitually can also be asked to leave the group.
• Decide if your group of parents will include all parents—dads as well as moms. Logically it should, but there are moms who justifiably don’t want an unfamiliar or even simply less-familiar man watching their daughters, and you should honor that.
Whether you simply come to an informal agreement with one friend or ambitiously set up a complete cooperative exchange with seven or a dozen or even 20 members, you may find that such an arrangement is very liberating. It frees you from being tied to your home and your kids every single night of the week, or from the usual alternative: pricey babysitters.
Freedom is at hand!
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Cynthia MacGregor is the author of over 100 books, many of them for parents or kids, many of which help with difficult situations. These include The Divorce Helpbook for Teens, The Divorce Helpbook for Kids, After Your Divorce, and Jigsaw Puzzle Family, all in print, and such e-books as Solo Parenting and “Step” This Way. Learn more about them at Cynthia’s website, www.cynthiamacgregor.com.
Cynthia is available for copywriting, ghostwriting, and editing. Email her at Cynthia@cynthiamacgregor.com.
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