Jim Fleming: People do without money in many different ways, from simple bartering to using Bitcoin online. In 2005 a group of parents in Madison did it by creating a babysitting co-op. Simple. Colored popsicle sticks are traded per hour of babysitting. All the families start with a limited number of sticks, so once you’re out of popsicle sticks, you have to babysit to get more. Families are added to the group and problems are discussed at potlucks every four months. And it’s all organized online. Since 2005, the group has traded some one thousand two hundred fifty hours of babysitting, more than fifteen thousand dollars. But as founders Erika Monroe Kane and Ellen Carlson discovered, there is more to the co-op than saving money.
Erika Monroe Kane: I started the babysitting co-op because after my son was born, I still wanted to be able to go out and do fun, cool things in the city that I live in, and I couldn’t afford to pay for a babysitter every time I wanted to go out with my husband. And so trading popsicle sticks to babysit each other’s kids seemed like a great way for us to be able to still enjoy grown-up, adult social time out in the world.
Ellen Carlson: I think one of the best things about the babysitting co-op that I hadn’t planned on was that my kids feel really comfortable with a lot of different families and a lot of different adults. They get to see how other people’s families live. They have all these different people that they trust, that I know if something really went wrong, that I have all these different parents and adults out in the community who really care about my kids, and I know I could count on at any given time to be there and to really care about them. And they really feel like they know those people. They feel just as comfortable with them as they do us in a lot of ways. They let them put them to bed; they hang out with them; they just really enjoy being with all these different people.
Kane: And they’re friends. They’re friends with the kids in the other families. So they are growing up all together in a smaller community inside of a bigger city.
Carlson: In a lot of ways it’s like extended family that a lot of people used to have. My parents grew up around all their cousins and around their aunts and uncles. And those people served as parents to them. We don’t really have that any more. It works for all of these families. Because of the co-op, we can all go out and do interesting things, and hang out with each other in the evenings, and hang out with our husbands and wives, and go to plays, go to art exhibits, go to lectures. And we wouldn’t be able to do that without the co-op because babysitting would be too expensive for us to be able to take advantage of so many things that we’re able to do now. The other thing is, I feel like we created it for ourselves. It worked for us, and I like that sort of do it yourself side of it. Also, we created it for ourselves but we’ve shared our bylaws with lots of people who have wanted to start their own babysitting co-op. It’s something that you don’t need to just keep to yourself. I’m happy to help people do this. I’m happy to help somebody else figure out how they can do it in their neighborhood. And I think that it’s this kind of approach that builds so much more. There’s so much more community; there’s so much more support system; there’s so much more friendship that wouldn’t happen without it.