An interesting component to this co-op is that about half of the families were homeschooling school-aged children. Many homeschool parents already have a cooperative mentality. It's quite common for homeschooling parents to swap lessons, teach small groups, and to form interdependent relationships as they take on the huge task of educating their children. Let's see what Shari has to say about their co-op.
101: How does including homeschooling families affect a babysitting coop?
Shari: We didn’t see any significant difference because all the moms in the co-op were either stay-at-home moms or worked sporadically. I personally was a flight attendant during the beginning of my time in the co-op and not yet homeschooling. I worked mostly weekends and only 5-7 days a month. Once our kids started school, I did not see any difference and I had left my job. If I was watching other kids, we just worked school into it. If the kids were also h/s, we just did our work together. The ones that weren’t homeschooled were always under 4 anyway because they were in school during the day. At night, it was a non-issue.
101: Did you originally start with exchanging coupons or tickets and then switch to an electronic currency? If so, how did you manage the switch?
Shari: We used points. We had a notebook with a sheet for every family and it was all recorded by the secretary. Our system included a president that was in office for 3-6 months (2 terms) and was a volunteer. Our secretary started alphabetically and went through the roster monthly. It was required. Pre-internet and cell phone days look very different than co-ops of today. We got the books at the start of the month and would call everyone with their total points as well as letting them know they were the secretary for that month. Math was involved! If a mom needed a sit, she would call the secretary and let her know where she needed to go and when. The secretary would look through the list to see who was closest to the location and who had the lowest points. We were allowed to get our own sits as well. The sitter would then call in the points to the secretary to record. It sounds so archaic now, but it was a well-oiled machine from the beginning. The president received one point per quarter of service from the other families because they mainly were in charge of the meetings. Those were quarterly and an excuse to go out with the girls! The secretary got a point from each family as well. When anyone had a baby we gave a point then, too.
101: Did you always find families to participate in the co-op through Sunday School or word-of-mouth? Did you ever have to advertise to find more families?
Shari: We started with 20 families at the beginning and never had any issue replacing members if someone stepped out, until about 2003. A few years prior to that, we had agreed to allow 20% of the membership to come from outside the class if they were sponsored by someone in the co-op. In 2003, most of the families stopped having the need for it except for myself and maybe 2-3 other newer members. I have 6 children so I still had younger kids and my older ones were not babysitting yet whereas most of the other families had only 2-3 kids. At that point, we restructured a great deal of the books to an online spread sheet which we used about a year and a half. It worked well.
In 2005, we completely rewrote the bylaws to fit a non-Sunday School model. Our church had a women’s group that was like MOPS but not an official group. We had about 4 members left in the group, so we went to 2 SS classes and the mom’s group to market the program. We got about 10 families from that effort.
Our restructure included a punch card rather than the online program, books or a secretary. We only had a president. We still had meetings, but they were low attendance. Eventually, the co-op literally just fizzled sometime around 2009. The continuity of all of us being in the same SS class on a weekly basis was gone. Even having a secretary and books seemed to be a factor that created the “glue” that held us together.
101: What did you like best about participating in the co-op?
Shari: We created lifelong friends in the first 8 years, not only for us moms, but our kids as well. Now one of the kids is my sitter for our foster babies! She was 3 when I met her and she’s 18 now.
101: What did you like least?
Shari: About 1 year into the co-op, a family joined our class. They were a couple, but they were grandparents, albeit younger ones. They were raising 2 of their grandchildren, each from a different daughter. The kids were 4 months and 6 months. The mom/grandma was a very vocal, flamboyant person. After an announcement about our quarterly meeting, she asked to attend and become a member. The reason she had custody of her grandbabies was due to drug use by both daughters. We were at a loss. They had only been in our class a month or two; no one knew them and our structure was “in the sitter’s home.” I would have no problem watching her babies in my home but the daughters (and their boyfriends) had access to their home. There was no way I would put my own toddlers in her home. So we told her at that point we would vote on it and let her know. I came up with the idea that any new family had to be in the class for one year before they could be a member and they had to have sponsorship. That event was the catalyst to our first amendment in our bylaws as well as our first negative experience. She did not take it well and they left the class about 2 months later. It did, however, give us some extra street smarts when it comes to unusual situations. I think we were better prepared for other anomalies as they arose.
Thank you, Shari, for taking the time to share your babysitting co-op experience and wisdom!