Bartering for date night – how to organise a babysitting swap

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by Debra Dane on September 7, 2011

in Parenting and family life

My husband and I are both from overseas and have no family here in Brisbane. I hear stories all the time of people with regular date nights and occasional nights away.  Our reality is the odd night out (often separately) and the overeager welcoming of family when they visit. In exchange for a stay of 3-9 weeks (oh yes we have done 9 weeks!) we know we will finally experience regularly going out after dark thanks to family babysitting for us.

Years ago we had a mother’s helper who grew old enough to babysit at night. Then we moved to Brisbane and started over.  Through a friend we found another babysitter and then she grew up and moved away for University. Rather than find yet another babysitter I suggested we look into a swap situation. It took some effort to find the right people to swap with, but it was the best move we could have made.  Previously we had to think hard about a night out as the hourly rate of the babysitter had to be factored in. I was not going to pay someone to watch my kids so I could sit in a movie theatre.  There was all this pressure to go out, but not stay out too late.  With “swapping”, date night is semi-regular and cost effective with no pressure to be the best -night-out-ever.


What is involved in swapping babysitting services? Here are some things to consider:


1. How well do you know the participants?

Some people are happy to swap with people they don’t know well and form coops where friends of friends are welcomed to boost numbers.  I chose to look at my friends and acquaintances first.  I looked at my kids’ friends and our playgroup pals. I wanted to have kids who would know me and feel comfortable with me being in their house.  I wanted the same for my kids.


2. How many people will be involved in the swap?

One way is a group involved in a coop where people put in a certain amount of hours by babysitting and then draw the same number of hours from the pool. You have a wide variety of people to choose from and this can mean regular access, but also means you may have different people every time.

The second way is what I tried the first time I sorted a swap out and tried three families figuring every 4-6 weeks we would manage to find dates in our diaries that we could all cover.  This way did not have us relying on one family always matching up in terms of availability.  Person A could watch family B and family B watch C and then C could watch A’s family if needed. Although this seemed like a good middle ground in terms of flexibility it failed for me when neither of the other two families were in the mood to go out!  That had more to do with homebody tendencies though and could be a great option for many of you, especially if you do not want to go out frequently.  Still I felt compelled to find a new family that was committed to this idea.

I finally found a family that was a suitable match for our own.  We only have to coordinate the two schedules and have both committed to at least every 4-6 weeks. Some months we both want to get out and it works out great. Other months I babysit for her and then schedule a date the next month.  Sometimes if she has an event come up and needs to go again before I get my turn that is fine as well. With just two families it is easy to be flexible and reschedule as needed (ie for sick kids or cancelled plans).

3. What is a fair exchange?

Carefully consider the family you will swap with.  It does not come down to simply I have two kids and she has two kids (although that is true).  For me I would be happy to sit for a family of 4 kids IF I knew everyone had a routine and would follow it with me.  If a family has two kids but they are in and out of bed for 2 hours, fight like maniacs or are rude to me I would not consider it.  I knew my own kids were easy to watch – they just needed stories read to them, supervise a trip to the toilet and put on their CD players.  Amazingly my swap partner’s situation is exactly the same – our kids are all close in age, they sit with me to finish watching Funniest Home videos,  we read 1-2 stories and they get off to bed without ever a problem.  Both us moms get the night to do some work, have a cup of tea,  or watch a chick flick (in my case I gain access to the Lifestyle channel!).

You should also clarify how long you will stay for.  We both let the other know when our dinner reservations are for / time we need to be at our event.  As a general guide we babysit from 7:30/8pm until 10-11pm.  Since we are friends and know each other we can sort out any changes. When it is a special night or we are going further into the city where we may have to drive a ways we may need to deviate form those times.  If we get caught up in a good night out with friends we simply text and ask if it is ok to stay later (or we ask up front).  As long as it all evens out a bit you will be fine.  The problem arises when one family goes to a local restaurant each time from 8-10pm and the other goes out from 7:30-11.

4. Who does the babysitting?

That brings me to a small point of comfort levels.  For myself, and I think most people, I just feel more comfortable with the mothers doing the babysitting and the dads holding down the home fort.  I know women can also abuse children, but it just seems statistically safer to swap with a girlfriend.  I still remember the time years ago when hubby and I had a night out planned and instead of a friend of mine arriving, her husband showed up.  She had suddenly felt ill and sent him instead.  In this case I went with it because these were old friends from Sydney we had known for almost a decade.  Still, abusers are always someone’s husband and son and I just do not choose to invite any male babysitters into my home. That is a personal choice you will have to make, but make it clear from the start. If you do not want to deviate from the moms then make it a rule that if you cannot babysit the evening will be cancelled.


I highly recommend trying this out of you have not already done so. By saving babysitting costs we have been able to splurge on nicer restaurants or a better bottle of wine for BYO places or cab rides for events where we both want to indulge in a few drinks.


Have you ever done a babysitter swap?  Is there anything else you barter for to make ends meet or your lives easier?  You could do clothing swaps with friends or entertainment swaps (books, DVDs, CDs).  You could rotate a car pool for activities.  These swaps can save you time, money and stress and help simplify your homelife!


Find your simple,



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