Have you ever considered childcare trades with other moms who write or otherwise work from home?
Here’s how it worked for me, with a few tips on how to make it work out well:
I found it very helpful, when my kids were preschoolers, doing childcare trades one or two days a week with another self-employed mom. That meant, of course, that one or two days a week I took care of someone else’s child, in exchange. But this had its perks too.
On days I had my friend’s child, I devoted myself to playing hard with both kids, which benefited us all. And when the kids played together without me, I got caught up on household tasks.
On days my daughter was at her friend’s home, she got to try different fun things I wouldn’t have thought of. I think I got more writing done on those days than I do now, even with my kids all grown and the house quiet all day. There is something about being pressured to get writing done in a shorter amount of time that can be very motivating. I think I sold more articles and wrote more book chapters during these times than any other, because I knew I needed to produce writing during those precious workdays!
I traded childcare with both my daughters, at different times (they were born six years apart). My first daughter, Aimee, was in preschool with Eric, and really liked playing with him. It turned out his mom worked from home doing drafting and art. (See this recent article about my friend Joanne and her artwork!) Since the kids loved being together anyway, and we had similar parenting styles, it was a win-win. Free childcare at least one day a week was wonderful for us, and the kids had a blast. We did the trades until the kids entered elementary school.
Six years later I thought it would be fun to do this again, with my youngest daughter Elisa, so I prayed for a good match. We started a church small group and a couple came who had a daughter the same age. As the girls had fun together, and my friend was also interested in writing, we then traded a day a week too, for several years. I also had the pleasure of seeing that friend’s own book published! (See my friend Barbara’s fun book, Growing Toward God: Life Lessons Inspired by the Wonderful Words of Kids.)
With both families we retained long-term friendships, and it is fun now seeing what’s happening with the kids now they are grown.
If you do the math, one day a week of free childcare for several years adds up to quite a savings, considering typical childcare rates. But the trades also gave me a bit of extra joy each week.
I have so many fun, fond memories of my playtimes with the kids and seeing how my daughters interacted with their buddies. I still remember how Alexandra loved it when I got out the vacuum and I pretended to be a vacuum monster. I got housework done and she would giggle as I periodically swiped the vacuum at her, growling. She would ask me to get out the vacuum monster when she came over! We also had fun making cornstarch goop. Cheap fun, and easy to clean up. We have many fun videos of the girls playing together.
My other daughter’s friend, Eric was adorable. Funny how some of his little words and phrases stuck in my mind. He called Tyrannosaurus Rex “Meteors” (meat-eaters) and I still do that now sometimes and laugh. He also called bad guys “bad doyes” and that also became part of our family’s vocabulary. The kids are now all out of college yet I caught myself yesterday calling a villain in a movie a bad doye! And I have the cutest videos of our kids dancing together at three years old.
This kind of arrangement can work out great if/when you:
1) Pray for a good match of parenting styles and kids’ personalities.
2) If you have more than one child and so does your friend, consider whether or not you can handle four instead of two kids. Two (my child and theirs) was perfect for me.
3) Be willing to take a day of the week to play hard – it benefits all. But know too if you play hard and the kids still take naps you can wear them out, then get a little work done during their nap times.
4) Be realistic about how many days you trade would be right for you without adding stress. One day a week might be perfect, two, too much. But you can alter how much you trade depending on how busy you and your friends’ workloads are at any given time.
5) Think ahead a bit about activities to do with the kids. I had a double stroller (a Runabout I could add a second bike seat to) and we often went on walks to town. At home I had fun things handy for the kids to get into, including an ever-expanding dress up box, art supplies, and kids’ music.
6) Be honest about any issues that come up – keep lines of communication open. If one parent does not approve of certain types of movies, honor that. But it’s ideal if the kids aren’t plugged into the TV all day anyway. You will also want to be sure both kids are safe in each others’ homes, which could be impacted by other family members in the household. It helps to become friends with the families first and become familiar with their parenting styles and family dynamics.
7) Let it bring out the child in you on the play days! Then on your workdays, work hard!
8) Honor your commitments, of course, so the relationship doesn’t become lopsided. If it’s not working out, you can always stop the trades while ideally retaining the relationships.
[Image by greyerbaby]