Ah, what a morning! I had a bit of time to myself, since I found another mother to trade care with. It was great: I took a long shower; spent some quality time with Gus, our cat; and made a gourmet lunch and had time to linger over it. Roasted beets on a bed of flash sauteed beet greens with Kalamata olives and a huge chunk of chevre. Yum! This Thursday will be my turn to watch my friend's daughter, and then next Tuesday morning is mine again. Lovely.
Organizing a trade for child care may sound pretty straightforward-- just ask a friend if they want to trade care, right? However, some of my experiences, and several stories I have heard, suggest otherwise. So, here are some areas you might want to discuss when you and your friend decide to give each other a little time off.
1. Which times work best? Discuss up front which times really do and don't work for you. You may feel like you want to be accommodating to your friend, but over the long haul, it needs to work for you too, or it just won't work. So be understanding if someone isn't going to be available in the evenings, even if you are. Decide what feels right and makes sense for your family's needs.
2. Keep track of dates on the calendar.There are two reasons to keep track of every appointment on the calendar. First and most immediate, no one wants to show up at someone's house only to discover that no one's home or that your sweet child wasn't expected. Planning for these times helps everyone transition more easily. Second and more long term, a traded care arrangement will last much longer if both parties feel like they're getting a fair deal. If it's on the calendar, and someone feels like someone else might be taking advantage, it's easy to look at the dates and see if it's true or if this perception is due some other factor.
3. Be thorough in exchanging information.Be sure the other parent knows about allergies to food, if your child is teething (and more prone to biting), if they have had a larger or smaller breakfast, and anything else that will help make the time go smoothly. Exchange phone numbers and emergency numbers. Also speak up about preferences: if you would prefer your child not to watch television or eat sugary snacks, it's better to speak up than to leave the impression that any old thing is fine. Don't inundate the other person with information, but do bring up anything that you feel strongly about.
4. Find someone of like mind. Knowing that your child is with someone who parents in a similar style to yourself really helps. This isn't always possible; part of this depends on how much you need care. If you aren't sure, don't go there. I always think it's a good idea to know the parent for a while and have seen them in action with their own kid. If you don't know their opinions about spanking/swatting or other hot-button topics, it's better to ask up front. The same might be asked about other popular discipline techniques if it matters to you.
5. Bring your child happy and healthy and ready to go. By this, I don't mean sunshine and lollipops, I mean make sure your child hasn't been mysteriously crying all morning, isn't spouting snot from every orifice, and doesn't have an ugly rash. No parent wants their child exposed to germs, so when your kiddo isn't up to snuff, keep them home. Also, it's summer right now, so be sure to put on some sunblock and take care of that last diaper change, if need be, before saying goodbye. It's a nice, considerate thing to do for your child and the other parent.
6. Be clear about time limits. While I was nannying, there was sometimes the occasional parent that would drop their child off late for a playdate and assume that it meant they could pick up just as late. "Well, we got there half an hour late, so I'm going to pick up half-hour late." Um...although it seems logical, it doesn't work that way for a lot of people. The other parent may have something (naps, appointments, etc.) planned and need for you to be on time. This said, if you are late dropping off your child, plan on picking up at the usual time. It's fine to ask if your friend can watch your child for an extra amount of time, but if she agrees, be sure to offer (or bank) that time for her. i.e.--Wilma asks Betty to watch Pebbles for an extra half hour because the mastodon shower was all tied up and she was late arriving to play with BamBam. Next time, Wilma should take BamBam for an extra half hour, or offer to do it at a later date which works for Betty. Betty may decline, but at least that offer is out there, and everyone feels better.
7. Be gracious when someone's availability changes, or if they decide it's just not working for them or their child. All good things come to an end. When one or the other of you decide that it's not going to work anymore, it isn't. If there is time outstanding on one side or the other, find a way to honor that time. It isn't always possible, life isn't always even-steven, but understand that if you want to keep the friendship, finding a way to end things on a good note is important. Ultimately, your child's care is your responsibility and no one else's.
I hope this covers all the bases. Obviously, it's never a good idea to leave your child with someone you don't trust completely, or a friend that has regular falling-outs or arguments with yourself or other friends. Or anyone you know to be extremely litigious. Or with a child you just don't like. Just a good idea not to go down that path. Otherwise, keep everything up front with each other and enjoy your new arrangement. Take care of your new child care arrangement, and it will take care of you.