So, we child-care share. Or co-op or whatever else you want to call it. Bottom line is we don't pay for child care because God has lead us into this awesome relationship that we believe not only benefits our wallets, but also our kiddo(s). It is working, and all systems seem to be at go for next year as well. Christian has to get his schedule and then we will figure out the details, but both our and Elizabeth's desire is to continue the arrangement next year. (I was a little nervous when I got pregnant, it is like, "Hey you will have an extra infant next year I hope you don't mind"....when she told me she hoped it was the twins I was so relieved. But if God gives us another kid pretty soon....which we are hoping Hdoesn't.....or if this is the twins.....I don't think so but you never know, I just know they are coming.........He will have to giver her a new van. Which we are praying God will do anyway. Lady needs air conditioning, and a radio, and maybe some remote sliding doors!)
Our arrangement rocks, and I have had more than one person ask me about it because it works so well for us. And because it has NOT worked for some other people I have talked to. It also seems to be a very popular idea recently. I have seen a lot written about it. I think my generation likes to put a label on things (join a child-care co-op!) our parents and grand parents have been doing for years (watching each others kids...duh) and then claiming them as a bold new-fangled parenting solution for the modern world! As I have been thinking about this I have figured out some things that make our arrangement particularly succesful.
Parenting Styles: We parent in a very similar way as Elizabeth. If you aren't down with the way someone parents that is fine, but I think it is unreasonable to drop your kid off at their house with their kids and then insist that you do XYZ with little Logan, please follow the same rules. Food allergies and other legitimatly special needs issues are different. But don't expect your friend to take care of your kid with a whole different set of rules than she takes care of hers. And mostly we follow the who/how rule. I trust who I leave my kids with so I don't worry about how every single thing goes down. If you are a micro-manager then you need to pay some one. That way it isn't uncomfortable when you boss them around.
Friendly arrangement or Business: Decide early, is this a business arrangement with set times, or a set number of hours a week? Or is it more loosey goosey like we have a mutual understanding that when we call each other we will say yes if at all possible? Are extra times "allowed"? Will you try to keep that even-stephen too? We started with set times. The peanut went there Tuesday and Thursday and we watched the Grimes clan on Monday and Friday. Now we have a general two day two night arrangement. Elizabeth lets us know when she is working when she gets her schedule and the Peanut goes over there when Christian decides is best for him. If we need extra, we ask but don't expect anything. It works for us.
How many: Elizabeth has three kids, we only have one. It doesn't bother us. We don't have some sort of formula where our hours equal more becuase there are more kids. Her kids are older so I don't have to dress or change all but her youngest. They aren't likely to eat something and force me to call poison control because they have surpassed the "stick everything in your mouth" stage (I'm looking at you Peanut....). I can leave them in a room for a minute and trust they aren't going to hurt themselves. Plus, we put the kids to bed not very long after Elizabeth leaves, so half of our time babysitting is spent watching Netflix on the couch. But for some people number of kids is a big deal. Not everyone would sign up to watch 5 children 6 and under......welcome to January '12!
The Age Gap: For some having everyone in the same stage is helpfu, for us I think it works better that they are not in the same age range. Part of it is personality.....adult personality. I love my babies but I am not a baby snatcher by nature. I won't stalk you at church to grab your new born and smell her tiny head. I have found the Peanut much more enjoyable to spend the day with since about her birthday. But Elizabeth, holy baby lover. The teeny feet, the little cries she loves to walk around with a baby in the sling (which is good because in just a few short months I have a tenant for that sling!) and lament how much bigger they have gotten in the week she hasn't seen them. She doesn't find the infant stage to be as draining as I do. Meanwhile, I dig school age kids. I like answering "why" and explaining things in a way a kid understands. I just find kids funnier and much easier to deal with when we can actually understand each other. Christian is pretty even in the developmental preferences so that evens everything out. I guess.
Grace: Ultimately it takes some grace to make this arrangement work. You have to give it, and you have to make sure you are not taking advantage of too much grace taken not enough extended. That shakes out a little differently for everyone, but too many arrangements that I have heard of erode into one person being the free baby-sitter for the other family and quietly resenting it.
Can you speak up: If you need to re-work, or end the arrangement are you the kind of person who can? If you keep saying "yes" then some of that frustration you are feeling needs to rest on you. Do you trust God enough to know when this relationship ends another way will open up? At some point Elizabeth may get a day job, our kids will be in school when I am, Christian may get a ridiculously high paying job and I will homeschool, Elizabeth will become a best selling author and go on her book tour for two months. We will both be best selling authors and go on matching book tours and leave all the kids with Christian for two months (Thanks honey, you are the best!) Whatever the case may be, it ain't forever. And that is okay. But when the time comes, somebody needs to say something.
I think that God put this relationship in our lap for a variety of reasons. One of the pastors at our church said that us doing this for each other is the gospel being lived out. It sure feels like it. And imagine if this were the norm at churches, that people truly live lives together and meet each others needs. Heck, if people were regularly doing this for each other I think people would show up at churches in droves just to get in on the action!