As the father of three young children between the ages of two and eight, I know all too well how difficult a job parenting can be.  Sometimes it feels like all you do is change diapers, makes lunches, help with homework, and ferry the kids to and from soccer practice.  Carving out a little time alone for yourself and your spouse can be easier said than done.  But a little grown-up time is absolutely essential both for you relationship with your spouse and for you own sanity.

For a long time my wife and I relied almost solely on my sister to watch the kids when we needed a little break.  But as her schedule became more and more busy we realized we needed to find another option.  But we really didn’t have any idea how to find a babysitter we could count on.  These were our kids after all, we felt strange just hiring some random college girl to come and take care of them.

Another problem was the cost of a reliable babysitter.  In our area experienced babysitters earn around $12 to $15 per hour.  At those rates even an inexpensive dinner and movie out alone would cost us a small fortune after adding in the cost of a babysitter.

Then one day my wife went to pick up our daughter from kindergarten and she heard a couple of other moms complaining about the difficulties of finding a babysitter.  And that’s when it dawned on her.  Why not start trading babysitting services with other families in the neighborhood?

In the blink of an eye she found 3 other families who were willing to trade babysitting services with us.  They watch our kids for us so we can have a night out alone and then we return the favor for them by watching their kids on another night.  No money exchanges hands as we have worked out a nice barter system where everyone wins.  And since we all get along and the kids are all well behaved (for the most part) their haven’t been any problems at all.

If you’re interested in trading babysitting services with other families you can start by asking around to see how many people might be interested.  Talk to the parents of your children’s classmates and any other parents in your immediate area.  It helps if everyone is located right in the same area so travel is minimized.

It also helps if the kids are already friends and the parents get along, though you never know when one of your child’s acquaintances will turn into a life-long friend.

Here’s another tip:  try to find families with the same number of kids as you so things stay fair.  Another option if they only have two kids but you have four would be to offer them a two for one swap.  Every time they watch your kids you agree to watch their kids twice.   The downside to that arrangement is that it will really limit the amount of times you actually get to go out.