You don't have to hire a full-time nanny to get your work done, drive the kids where they need to go, and enjoy the occasional night out. There are ways to build networks within your existing communities to lessen the strain.
Whether conflicting activities require you to be in two places at once or you are simply looking for a way to cut down on your commute, carpooling can be the answer. For getting to and from school, search out parents in your neighborhood. Some schools now have online forums where you can post invitations to share the driving responsibilities. If your child is enrolled in an extracurricular activity, make use of the facility's bulletin boards to seek out parents who live near you.
Once you have two or three families in your carpool circle, set some ground rules such as demanding that children are in the proper restraints and no cell phones are used while driving. It also helps to give your child a refresher course on proper passenger behavior.
Another way to connect with local parents is to build a babysitting co-op. This is an ingenious system wherein you invest a few hours of babysitting someone else's kids and get your own free babysitter in return. You can have a small arrangement with one other family (perhaps they get Friday nights and you get Saturdays) or you can invite several families. Obviously the more families involved, the more flexibility there is in childcare.
To build a babysitting co-op, start small with parents that you know from school, church or sports and network out from there. Hours can be tallied on paper through a secretary or with the use of a currency (laminated cards work well) which requires less paperwork. This will keep your childcare costs from totaling more than your "date night."
A step beyond the babysitting co-op is the day care or preschool co-op. This allows parents to have a hands on approach in their child's preschool education and can save families money and headaches -- especially in cities where preschools are competitive and cost as much as a college education.
Some co-ops rotate parental instructors throughout the week with parents only paying for supplies; others pool money and hire a full-time educator. One thing that most co-ops have in common are the intense time requirements on the parents of children involved, as well as requiring everyone to become more knowledgeable about preschool education and child development. This can be very rewarding but may not be a good fit for your family if you don't have the time to wear the many hats required in such a venture.
Branching out and meeting new parents is the best way to get any cooperative endeavor started. If you are able to think creatively, you can learn a great deal about local resources and parenting techniques from other members of your community. Whether it's securing a babysitter for a night out or building an educational base for your preschooler, your neighbors might be the answer.
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