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Caring For Children And Elders, Cooperatively

For Susan Gunn, it all started with a haircut. New to her home in Washington, DC, with a young daughter, a working husband, and no extended family nearby, Gunn found scheduling her much-needed trim to be a logistical nightmare.

“I just couldn’t find the time to get away go to the salon,” recalls Gunn. “We were young and on a budget, and hiring a babysitter was out of the question.”

At the same time, the Gunns were seeking out friends in a similar stage of life, with whom, as Susan Gunn puts it, “we could share in the ups and downs of
everyday parenting.”

Some online research introduced Gunn to babysitting cooperatives—an arrangement between several families where parents exchange babysitting responsibilities for each others’ children, giving everyone the break they need with no money passing hands.

“What a great concept!” Gunn thought at the time, “I could get a haircut, my child could play with other kids, and we might make friends with other parents.”

So Gunn circulated a proposal at local playgrounds, eventually organizing a planning meeting at her home. Now, nine years later, the Meridian Hill Coop is still thriving, providing members not only with free child care, but with friends and a sense of community.

Care cooperatives are becoming increasingly popular—and they don’t have to focus on child care. You can set up a similar arrangement to watch over elderly parents, adults with disabilities, or pets. Consider starting a care cooperative of your own to build community and resiliency while saving money.

Getting Started
Most successful care co-ops involve a written agreement, a point system for earning and spending care hours, and community building within the co-op to encourage communication and fun.

First, gather families together. Think about the size of the cooperative you want to form. Too few members will mean not having enough people able to help, but too many could mean losing the community feeling of a care cooperative. Many care co-ops have found the “sweet spot” at 12-20 families.

Then, take the time to talk about, and write down, your expectations.

“Setting clear expectations is key to any sharing arrangement,” says attorney Janelle Orsi, coauthor of The Sharing Solution (Nolo, 2009), which guides people through sharing everything from child care to a car or a house. “A common problem in sharing arrangements is thatpeople disappoint each other.”

Orsi’s book contains a list of 20 questions to ask in any sharing arrangement, such as: How will we make decisions? How will we divide expenses and manage money? How will we bring new people into the group?

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