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Parents need timeout from parental duties to keep the spark between husband and wife ablaze. Whether it's a table for two, a concert, movie, or even a sleep over (empty nest or at an inn), quality time as a couple is important to a marriage and family.
If you don't think you can afford these dates without worrying about your kids' happiness and safety, and childcare costs, you're not alone. For this reason, consider a child-swapping network with other couples. It's a convenient, inexpensive, reliable and rewarding alternative to a babysitter.
How to Initiate Child-swapping
Casting call. Choose a couple you know well from your neighborhood, church, or social group.
Seek similar ages. It's nice to choose friends who have children the same ages as your kids.
Make a good deal. Offer to take care of the couple's children in exchange.
Pick a date. Select one weekend night a month as a regular date night. Agree on a reasonable time frame -- 5-10pm once a month, with a longer night or sleep over every three or four months.
Put it in ink. Record the dates on a calendar and make a copy of that calendar to distribute to your child swapping pals. Suggest placing it in a noticeable spot (e.g., on the refrigerator).
Backup plan. Discuss a cancellation policy. (In case of an illness or emergency, will you reschedule or cancel?) As Lynda Hannan points out, small kids often get sick.
Personal preferences. Create a list of your kids' food preferences, bedtime routines, or favorite activities. Ditto for special needs like medicines and allergies.
Trial play dates. To make sure everyone gets along, schedule a few group play dates.
Game plan. Be prepared to entertain the kids when they arrive. Try games, cooking activities, crafts, or movies.
The Perks for Parents
No interruptions. Parents benefit from time alone. "The time out together was wonderful -- time to talk without having to get up to take care of someone," say Paul and Betsy Bissmeyer.
Cost efficient. Lynda Hannan says, "It is fantastic to get away and not have to worry about paying for a sitter. A night out definitely gets expensive when you add twenty or thirty dollars for a sitter."
Support system. You can share parenting, medical, and discipline tips. And you know who to call in case of an emergency.
Rejuvenating. As the Bissmeyers attest, "We were always refreshed and ready for snuggles again when we got home."
The Perks for Kids
Friends forever. Sometimes the friendships become deep and long lasting.
Surrogate parents. Kids bond with other caring adults, providing someone else to turn to when Mom and Dad can't be there.
Improves social skills. One mother found it especially helpful to leave her baby with a close friend for short time at an early age. "My husband often traveled and my daughter became very attached to me. Once I started leaving my girl with others, even for short time periods, it did us both a world of good."
TAKE IT FROM ME:
Listen to your instincts and your children. Taking the time to find someone that gets along with your family is very important.
Find someone in a similar situation. We tried to get this going with some other families in the neighborhood, but they don't mind paying for sitters and it's more convenient for them. My sister-in-law and I are really trying to save some money since we are not working full-time anymore, so there is some incentive.
We have some neighbors who share the same [marriage] anniversary. We would leave for a weekend and then they would leave for a weekend the next year. It allowed us to celebrate our anniversaries in a more adult fashion.
--Beth D. Stevens
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