Does Mommy need a time out? Maybe you’re frazzled, juggling too many work projects, or you simply need a break from the kiddos. But if money is tight or you just don’t have the time or energy to build a network of reliable sitters, here are five quick ways you can get your occasional child care needs met in a pinch. Free! Child care expert and owner of BabysittingWorld.com, Lisa McLellan offers a list of best practices.
1. Trade with a Friend
It’s as easy as picking up the phone and asking a friend to watch your kids for a few hours. Obviously your friend is someone you know and trust, and her kids are likely around the same age as yours – all signs of a mutually beneficial arrangement. Still, be clear about expectations and any rules you have, and then open your arms – and your home – the next time she calls with a last-minute child care need of her own.
2. Shop and Drop
Running errands without the help of little fingers flinging unwanted items into the shopping cart is a thing to behold. So consider retailers that offer free child care-while-you-shop facilities. Using IKEA as free child care is an obvious solution. Or this Annapolis Shopping Mall that offers two hours of child care. Other ideas: Nordstrom in south Seattle or grocery store chains with supervised, secure children’s play areas like Buehler’s KidzPark in Ohio. All are wonderful last-minute options that usually don’t require a reservation or too much paperwork. Yet MacLellan advises parents to be wary. “Some of these facilities do not do anything but watch your children and make sure they don’t get hurt,” she said. “If your toddler poops in his diaper 10 minutes after you drop him off, he may be sitting in it until you get back.” Others won’t allow your wee ones to step inside if they are still going we-we in the diaper, so be sure to check ahead of time.
3. Join the Gym
Having trouble finding time to get a workout in when you’re with the kids all day? Join the gym, preferably one that offers free on-site child care. That way you can get your exercise time and a bit of “me” time in for a few hours, returning to your kids after you’re fully energized. Again, the same rules apply as above. Check their policies and make sure the play area is safe and adequately supervised by someone with child care experience – and not a personal trainer who is simply on break.
4. Ask a Family Member
A loving grandparent or auntie is worth their weight in gold, which is why you should never abuse the privilege and develop a sense of entitlement when it comes to your extended family. True, many grandparents cherish every moment they get to have with their grandchildren, but remember that it is exhausting for them, especially for grandparents who are older and kids who are younger. “Parents should be conscious of this and not expect their elderly parents to care for three or four little ones, MacLellan said. “When grandparents or aunts and uncles just do the occasional babysitting on a Saturday night here and there, it makes this option tops. I can’t think of a better free childcare solution.”
5. Join a Co-op
When two New York City moms, Micaela Birmingham and Sharon Ng wanted to enjoy an occasional date night without the hassle of a nanny or a potentially unreliable sitter, they founded their own babysitting co-op. Members of the co-op trade sitting for points – parents earn points by babysitting and spend points by having someone babysit. All transactions are tracked through babysitterexchange.com. “As long as the co-op is run well and someone is keeping an accurate record of hours or points, this can be a fabulous way to get free child care,” said MacLellan. “Also, there is no guilt because you’re not dealing with money – you pay into the system with your time, so everything is shared equally.”
What free or low-cost child care arrangements have worked for you?