Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The North Side Babysitting Co-op in Chicago

Chicago's North Side Babysitting Co-op has been a community fixture for more than 25 years. Originally part of the North Side Parents' Network, the co-op now functions independently and currently involves about 35 families, including families from the South and East sides of town as well.

I had the good fortune to interview Monica Lasky, the co-op's current coordinator. Lasky has been involved with the co-op for nine years, and she has coordinated it for the last four years.

benefits of participating in a babysitting co-op

When Lasky was expecting her first child back in 2003, she felt the need for support. She didn't have any family in town to help with child care or general parenting support, so she began looking for a babysitting co-op before her daughter was even born. She found the family-like network she was looking for in the co-op, and says the co-op has been a way of forging a sense of community in a large city like Chicago. 

Members of the North Side Babysitting Co-op appreciate having other parents watching their children as opposed to young people who don't have any children of their own. That said, Lasky herself uses a combination of co-op parents and hired teenagers and college students to watch her children from time to time.

co-op changes over time

The North Side Babysitting Co-op has fluctuated between 20 and 35 members. Currently the co-op is about at its maximum capacity. But that's not the only change the co-op has experienced over the years.

Like other organizations, the co-op has adapted to changes in technology to make their operations easier. In the past, co-op members attended meetings six times per year to tally up their sits and discuss problems and organizational matters. Lasky reports that this method was time consuming and downright awful at times: sometimes there were disagreements about hours and terms. 

A couple of years ago, the co-op switched to an online tracking system. One of the members of the co-op was a computer programmer, and she wrote a custom system for keeping track of hours. Co-op members would log on to the website and fill out a basic form that would update everyone's hours. It worked beautifully, but unfortunately, this co-op computer whiz moved away, and the co-op didn't have the resources or know-how to maintain the system.

So now, the co-op is in the midst of switching to a pre-fab online program ( for keeping track of their hours. The site isn't free to use, but the North Side Babysitting Co-op charges a $10 joiner fee, and when people withdraw from the co-op with negative hours (which is discouraged), they pay the co-op $8/hour for each negative hour. Between these fees, the co-op should be able to use the pre-fab site without charging members extra fees, although Lasky says they reserve the right to collect annual dues if it becomes necessary.

The co-op has used a google group for communicating and posting sits, and that has worked well. Once their new site is up-and-running, they'll probably migrate to using sittingaround's communication feature.

a real community

Lasky likes to emphasize to members of the co-op that it's a marketplace. Parents can negotiate sits however they see fit. They may decide to pay more for difficult sits, late sits, or hours on New Year's Eve. As the coordinator, Lasky receives additional hours for her administrative services, so sometimes she uses her hours for pet sitting, which I find simply ingenious. 

The North Side Babysitting Co-op has never had any problems with its members as far as people being uncomfortable leaving their children with certain parents. Lasky believes the group is self-selecting; they're responsible, sociable people with a common goal, and they get along great.

The group continues to have meetings six times a year for organizational purposes and to welcome new members. These meetings rotate among the homes of the members, but two meetings per year are potlucks, and these potlucks are fun family events that parents and kids alike look forward to.

If you're just starting your own co-op, the North Side Babysitting Co-op in Chicago is an excellent example to follow. Many thanks to the generous Monica Lasky, a personable woman with a great sense of humor. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

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