Reclaim Date Night

This article is from HomeLife Magazine.

Since we moved in a couple of years ago, my husband, Adam, and I have experienced a lot of date-night desperation. After living apart for five months while trying to sell our house, we found ourselves in a new city with just a few acquaintances, no family, and a 14-month-old daughter. A few months later, I became pregnant with our second child. Time together - when I wasn't passing-out tired - was necessary, but rare.

Before Adam and I moved, we had often watched friends' kids, even before we had our own child. And when Libbie came into the world, we went on a few dates, leaving her with friends ... for free. In the midst of our move and split-living in two cities, finding the funds to go on a date was rare enough. Coughing up the dough for a baby sitter was simply impossible.

I know we're not the only couple, though, without family or resources but the desire to keep our marriage healthy! After all, I'm sure every marriage counselor and pastor across the country would tell you to date your spouse.

On, Gary and Barb Rosberg, "America's Marriage Coaches," wrote, "Dating your mate will help the two of you begin to reconnect, rekindle the romance in your relationship, and pull your marriage out of the rut it's stuck in. But it's not just going to happen on its own. It's going to take time, effort, and planning. It means you're going to have to make your marriage and your spouse a priority."

For most of you, part of dating your spouse involves child care. And an inexpensive or free way to make it happen is through a child-care swap.

Child-care Swaps

Child-care swaps can come in many different shapes and sizes. They may be between just two or three families. They may involve swapping one hour for one hour or just calling when you need help. Larger and more intricate swaps might have ticket or credit systems. You could even use a service to coordinate your sitters, book baby-sitting time, and screen sitters if you don't know them personally. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Friend to Friend

The simplest form of child-care swapping is between two families. Ideally, the two families have children around the same ages. One night all of the children go to one family's house for a few hours while the other couple goes out. Another night, it's vice-versa. This can work fairly simply for up to three families.

You may find it's easiest to always take the kids to one house if some kids are less resilient than others. John Corcoran, who lives outside San Francisco, and his wife participate in a baby-sitting swap with two other couples who have children about the same age as their son, Mason, 16 months. "Our son is pretty flexible, so with one couple we go to their house every time, whether we are going out or they are," John explains. "With the other couple, if they are going out, they drop off their son at our house around 6:30 and we put him to bed; they come back and pick him up around 9:30. We do the same [at their house] if we're going out for the night." Mason transfers easily from one place to another, so this has worked well for them.

When going into a swap partnership, lay some ground rules. If it doesn't seem easy or fair, it's OK for any couple to tell the others. "We tried a swap with some other couples, and it didn't seem to work out as evenly," John recalls. Some things to consider: a definite time for child pick-up, and determine if kids need to be fed beforehand.

Jennifer Pinarski of Toronto, often swaps with a good friend. "We were friends before we started swapping and have the same values when it comes to food, learning, and play." Jennifer brings up an excellent point: Make sure you know the home where your children will be staying. If you don't permit your kids to watch certain TV shows or movies, say specific words, or even eat a certain way, it's important that the other families feel mostly the same way.

Cash or Credit

If you want to involve a larger group of people - perhaps your Sunday school class or small group - a credit system may be the way to go. Each family starts with a certain number of credits - 12 might be a good starting place. One credit equals one half-hour of baby-sitting time for one child. So if you have two children and need two hours of sitting, that's eight credits. You "pay" your eight credits to the couple who watches your children during that time. To earn credits, you watch others' children. This will take some accounting; you may want to use actual Monopoly money or tokens.

Sound Too Complicated?

If that much math gives you a headache, there are several websites available to make child-care swapping a cinch.

  • uses a credit system where one credit equals 15 minutes of sitting time. You start with 16 credits. Their service costs you one credit a month. It organizes your friends into an email group. When you need a sitter, it sends an email to your selected groups (which can expand to include friends-of-friends). You receive an email back with the available sitters and choose one. It will also send email reminders and baby-sitting notes right before the date.
  • allows you to find paid sitters and/or belong to a sitting co-op. Some co-ops are already formed, or you can create one yourself. Each co-op decides its own guidelines for credits, but credits are transferred using the site. Basic membership is free; if you want to support the site, forgo seeing their ads, and get priority help, it's $15 a year.

I'm ready to take these options and start collaborating with a group right now! Here's to many more date nights over the coming year and better marriages all around - without spending a dime on that baby sitter who snacks on your private chocolate stash.

Jessica L. Weaver needs to form a child-care swap in Chattanooga, Tenn., where she lives with her husband, Adam, and two very lively children, Libbie and David.

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