It’s nearly impossible to find a trustworthy babysitter these days for less than $10 a hour. And don’t even think about trying to find a babysitter for New Year’s Eve.
Dinner for two at a modest restaurant downtown could be a small fortune when you add the cost of drinks, parking and a babysitter for two kids. Unless of course, you belong to the Chestnut Hill/Mt. Airy babysitting co-op.
The babysitting co-op is essentially parents babysitting for parents.
Michelle Quirk, 44, of Mt. Airy, said members use a point system to provide and receive child care, based on the number of hours and whether the child is watched at the home of the sitter or the child.
Members take turns doing administrative tasks. Each month, a family is assigned secretarial duties – making sure that open sits get filled and keeping track of points.
Kaye Baluarte, 70, of Mt. Airy, joined the babysitting co-op, shortly after moving to Mt. Airy from the Midwest in 1973.
“It was sort of a moment in time,” said Baluarte, the former owner of Windfall Gallery in Chestnut Hill.
Baluarte, who was in the co-op for about six years, said she never felt nervous about leaving her kids with other parents.
“We just trusted that the other moms would take care of our kids and they did,” she said.
Linda Pollack-Johnson, of Mt. Airy, 54, who has been in the co-op for 18 years, called the babysitting co-op “the village we all need.”
“The babysitting co-op provided a network of easy access not only to babysitting but all these other quality-of-life issues that I never would have anticipated – from handing down clothes and recipes to recommendations for dentists or schools,” she said.
“The babysitting co-op often doubled as a play date,” Pollack-Johnson added. “Our kids looked forward to it. Eventually we ended up joining all of the different co-ops – first it was the babysitting co-op, then Tot-lot, Weavers Way and Project Learn School.”
Pollack-Johnson, whose two boys are more than 8 years apart, thought that once her older son turned 14, she would no longer need the babysitting co-op. But, she said that was not the case.
She explained that often her older son wasn’t available because he was busy with other activities like theater and sports.
“So, not only was he unavailable, but many times we wanted to see him perform or play in a game and we couldn’t always bring the little guy around,” Pollack-Johnson said. “ So, siblings are not always the answer.”
She shared a few anecdotes about the babysitting co-op and how it has changed since it first started more than 40 years ago.
Pollack-Johnson said, thanks to technology, scheduling is primarily handled through the computer, but in the beginning scheduling was done with little postcards you sent in and people would sign up for.
“That was before answering machines,” she said. “One of the first expense items on the babysitting co-op budget report was an answering machine. The co-op owned a communal answering machine that would travel from one household to the next – depending on who was the secretary for that month. If you needed a babysitter, you called the secretary, and she was responsible for finding someone to watch your child.”
Rebecca Dhondt, 38, of Mt. Airy, joined in 2005, after a neighbor who was a member of the co-op encouraged her to join.
“I like that it’s parents supporting other parents,” said Dhondt, the mother of three kids.
When asked if she ever felt worried about leaving her kids with someone she wasn’t good friends with she said “no.”
“I think in this world, the way we are now, we are taught to be afraid and worry and not trust anybody, and the co-op is kind of the opposite of that,” Dhondt said.
She said in order to be in the co-op, you have to be sponsored by someone in the group.
New members must have a primary sponsor and two seconding sponsors from within the current membership of the co-op. To join, candidates must be approved by everyone in the co-op.
“One thing, I always tell parents when I am talking about the babysitting co-op is that ‘it helps you as a parent,’” Dhondt said. “You go into other people’s houses and see how other people live. I grew up with a mom, who was so clean you could eat off her floor at any moment. I always thought ‘Oh, I am such a pig and then I was in the co-op and I realized that I’m not. My mom is just crazy.”
She added that the co-op helps you feel more confident as a parent and provides parents with a network of support.
“I think it takes a special kind of person to be OK with the babysitting co-op because literally you just open the door and say, ‘Hey, you must be the babysitter, and I never met you before in my life,’” Dhondt said.
Currently the babysitting co-op has between 25 and 30 members, who live in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Wyndmoor.
“Even if you don’t know anybody in the co-op, you can still join, but it takes time,” Dhondt said.
Dhondt recommends that people who are interested in joining the babysitting co-op attend the monthly socials, which are often held at local playgrounds or coffee shops. She also suggested residents contact Michelle Quirk at firstname.lastname@example.org.