Every parent needs an opportunity to get out of the house for a "fun´ day: to see a movie, have a nice relaxing meal, do something special, or socialize with friends and spouses without having to dodge tossed food or break up fights between the children.
When I was pregnant, I told everyone that my husband and I would have a date night each month, and that I would go out with my friends at least every other month. I also promised to spend a little time each week doing something that I loved, alone.
Fast forward to the present. We have been out once for date night and I have been out with my friends only a handful of times, if that. Sometimes I run to the bookstore, grab a cup of coffee, and sit down with a magazine, but those times are few and far between.
While the idea of getting out sounds appealing, the reality has been very difficult. For one thing, we do not live around family, whom we would trust to watch our daughter. Also, we are new to the area and don´t have a lot of friends who might know someone who knows someone that babysits. Also, many of the friends that we have made have family in the area, so they do not know of babysitters either.
We recently found a nanny in our area that babysits on the side at night. This is when we discovered the second problem with hiring a babysitter: The cost. I assumed that the pay had gone up from the $5 an hour I made way back in the "80s, but I was pretty surprised to find that it had gone up to almost three time that price. My husband and I added up a possible night out only to find that if we did go to the movies and dinner and then stopped for a glass of wine before heading home, we would spend approximately $80 on eating, drinking, and movie watching and, big gasp here, almost anther $80 on the babysitter! Now, while we would love to get out for date night at some point, I´m not sure that we could afford $160 per month for five or six hours of alone time.
Work at home and stay at home mothers also run into this problem. While it is great to have the option of working or staying at home available if that is what you want to do, it is often difficult to get things done when you have at least one, if not several, children racing around the house at full speed all day long. Hiring someone for a few hours a day would be a great option, but again, if you aren´t making enough to cover a fifty-dollar a day babysitter that would stay only in the morning, then this is not an option.
So what can tired parents who are aching for a break do?
First, consider swapping babysitting with a neighbor or friend. I have done this several times with two separate friends, both of whom have children near my daughter´s age. I swapped nighttime babysitting with a friend of mine that I meant in a mommy and me class when our daughters were first born. She came over and watched our daughter one evening so we could go out on date night and then, the next weekend, I reciprocated. This worked perfectly, since we trusted the mother, knew her well, and could swap babysitting for free. I swap babysitting with another girl in the neighborhood occasionally, when I need to get some work done or run a few errands that would be easier done alone. She also sends her daughters down once a week or so for at least an hour so she can get some things done around the house. We live just a few doors down from one another, which is convenient, and we make plans several days or even weeks in advance. The girls enjoy the time that they spend together and we enjoy the opportunity to have a break during the day when we might need it and don´t want to pay a babysitter to come over and help out.
Babysitting co-ops are another option for trading babysitting. In a co-op, parents get together to swap babysitting services. The method is a bit more involved than just the babysitting swapping that I mentioned above. It includes a larger group of people, guidelines and rules for babysitting, and even a membership list of each person involved in the co-op. The idea is simple, though: A group of parents takes turns babysitting the children of the other members so that each parent has a chance to get out of the house without the children. Check out the following link for more information on setting up a co-op:http://www.babycenter.com/refcap/51.html
Mother´s Day Out programs are run by churches and offer mothers a "time out´ during the day. The cost is low and can be great for work at home or stay at home moms who just need a few hours out during the week to run errands, complete some work, or recharge. The program is also called Kid´s Day Out in some areas. If you do not know of a program in your area, you can contact local churches and ask.
Finding creative & affordable solutions to babysitting might take a little time, but it is time well spent.