- A casual acquaintance from a moms’ group asked whether I would consider exchanging child care.
- I watched her daughter two days a week, and she watched mine two days a week.
- The swap saved us each about $US10,000 ($AU13,286) in child-care costs over the two years we did it.
In 2015 I moved hours away from where I grew up. My husband was working outrageously long hours, and my freelancing income was in a gray area where I wasn’t making enough to afford child care, but I needed kid-free time to get work done. That’s when I got the text message from a mom I had met at a local playgroup.
I knew that Maria, like me, worked from home, but I hadn’t given it much thought. At the meetup, we were too busy chasing after our toddlers to connect much.
She had a proposal: Would I consider exchanging child care? Maria’s message felt like a lucky break. “I’m definitely in,” I replied.
We decided to start with two full days each week, loosely following day-care rules. We sent whatever food and accessories our kids needed; the mother who was child free for the day dropped off and picked up her child, and we stuck to the schedule with precision.
For the next two years, Maria and I swapped care without fail. We quickly increased the swap to four days each week. That meant that I had 18 hours of free child care every week. It felt priceless, but it had a real monetary value: roughly $US5,000 ($AU6,643) per year.
That means over the course of the swap, Maria and I saved each other about $US10,000 ($AU13,286) in child-care costs.
I quickly discovered that even on the days when I had Maria’s daughter I got more done because the girls entertained themselves more than my daughter did when she was home alone with me. Because of that, I would take on more work even when I had the kids.
The swap was more helpful than I ever could have imagined. The only reason we stopped was because Maria’s family moved away.
The ground rules of setting up a child-care swap
We set up ground rules so there would be no surprises for either of us, which is especially important for working parents.
We committed early on to keep our schedule. Sure, the occasional sick kid or family trip threw off the routine, but I always made sure to schedule appointments or other obligations around our swap days. We viewed this as a professional arrangement and treated it as such, which was key to our success.
At the time, I had only one child, who was 18 months old when we started. Maria had two kids: a 14-month-old and a preschooler. To keep things fair, the swap involved only the two younger girls.
Once the swap was established, I fell into a routine in which I could work almost four full days per week. I scheduled all my meetings and interviews for the days when Maria had the kids. When I had the kids, I wrote articles, which I could do while they played together.
Maria and I never became close friends. We were more like friendly colleagues, with lots of respect and appreciation for each other. Our daughters also developed a sweet bond from being together four days a week.
Finding solutions for child care
Finding child care can be overwhelming logistically and financially, and many families scramble to find solutions.
Today, apps like Komae help facilitate swaps. Even so, starting a swap can be difficult. When I had my second daughter I tried to set up something similar but couldn’t find another mom whose schedule complemented mine.
I probably never would have been bold enough to ask a near stranger to help me out with child care, but I’m forever grateful that Maria did. Yes, it can be awkward to put yourself out there, but for us, the payoff was well worth it.