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Why not start a Babysitting Circle?

Once you have had your baby and the immediate flush of new parenthood has worn off and you are feeling less tired than you were, your attention may suddenly turn to your partner.  That person you used to focus all your love and adoration on who has been standing quietly in the background since you fell in love with your new baby may come back in to your sights…  perhaps a night out together may be a good idea?  But who do you trust to leave your baby with?  Nubile 16 year olds are all very well, but would they really know what to do if the house caught fire or your baby was unwell?  In addition you need to consider the costs, a trip to the cinema which is already pricey, can be almost doubled if you add in £5 an hour for the babysitter.  Suddenly popping down to the pub can seem like an extravagant option.  But you must.  You must try to spend time with your partner away from your children because your family is only as strong as the weakest link and nurturing your partner and yourself should be as important as nurturing your baby.

In my group of peers, we have found a fabulous (and hardly original) solution to this:  we set up a babysitting circle.  If it sounds like something that would suit you, please learn from our tried and tested method and pinch it for yourselves.  We found a group of likeminded, relatively close (geographically) families who were enthusiastic and began a self-policing community who babysit for each other.  Nothing changes hands, just points which are kept in a book held in turn by each member.

We found that the circle works best with about 15 families, all of whom have kids of various ages and preferably are at different schools (so a parents’ evening or a school function can be attended by members whilst other members can sit for them).  A “book” is set up (we use an old loose leaf file folder) which contains contact details for everyone in the group and information about their children.  It also holds a holds  a record of points (exchanged for babysitting) and forms to help you organise sits.  

The principle behind it goes like this:  Everyone is given 20 points to start with.  A rota is set up where one person holds the book for a month at a time.  This is the person you call if you need a babysitter.  The person holding the book makes a note of your request (dated in case someone else needs a sitter on the same night so it can be a first come first serve basis) and then makes phone calls to the various other members of the circle to find a suitable person who is available to sit for you that night.  They phone in reverse order to the number of points the various members have, so the person who has the fewest points (who has used a babysitter more than they have babysat) is phoned first to see if they can sit.  The next person who is phoned has the next least number of points and so on, until a babysitter is found.  The person with the book then confirms with the requester who is sitting for them and the babysitter and the requester get in touch on the day to double check that everything is still on.  Exact hours sat are reported back to the person who is holding the book as soon as a sit has been completed.  At the end of every month a tally of the points earned and lost is updated and the next month begins with the order of phone calls to find a babysitter adjusted to reflect that new balance.  In this way, anyone who has done a lot of babysitting will not be asked to do any more until their points balance is back down to the same level as everyone else, meaning that the whole system is self-policing.

Over the nine years that ours has been running we have come up with some ground rules which are as follows:


1.    1 hour equals one point, using increments of a quarter of an hour/point.
2.    One extra point for sitting on a Saturday night.
3.    Points double after midnight.
4.    Report the number of hours the sit was as soon as possible to the person holding the book, but at least before the end of the month.
5.    Children should be in bed when sitter arrives unless previously arranged.
6.    Try to leave a glass of wine and perhaps a nibble for your babysitter and explain the workings of the telly/phone etc before leaving.
7.    Daytime sits which involve food/bath can be negotiated between the sitter and requester.
8.    If you have to cancel a babysit you have agreed to do, please arrange for a replacement yourself rather than asking the person holding the book to do it.
9.    Please phone the person holding the book as soon as you need a babysitter.  If you need someone at very short notice, you may phone the group yourself.
10.    If cancelling (either way) with less than 24 hours notice, one point will be given (in recognition of any inconvenience).
11.    If you are holding the book, please phone the person with the lowest number of points first.
12.    Please reply to a request for babysitting as soon as possible, saying yes or no.  If you can sit you should sit.
13.    Please contact the person you are expecting to sit for you before the sit to confirm times.  Try to give a rough ballpark of when you will return.
14.    If you are going on holiday, please notify the person with the book.

This system has worked very well for us and we have also had the benefit of meeting some really lovely families we may not otherwise had contact with, not to mention the bonus of spending time with our lovely partners reminding ourselves why we fell in love with them in the first place.  It is also important to spend some social time together as a group of mothers… OK, that is slightly less important but we try to have a wine and cheese evening every quarter to just keep in touch with each other and also try to do things as a family two or three times a year: meet in a park for a picnic in the summer, have an Easter Egg hunt at Easter, etc.  To download the forms we use, please go to the link here.  But most importantly, go out and enjoy!

Posted on Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 11:45AM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | Comments1 Comment | References10 References

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Reader Comments (1)

What happens when despite the phone calls some members' credits go down to zero and NEVER or RARELY babysit themselves....or even leave the group with this effective deficit then set in stone. All the people who have built up credits then look to be "repaid" by new members....itself perpetuating an unfair situation.

Anyone experienced this or, better yet, figured out a solution?
January 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllen Charlton

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