Babysitting trades have been one of the biggest discovery of my mothering career. My kids are thrilled to play with their friends, my husband and I dash off to the theater with a bag of homemade popcorn, and everyone enjoys a change in the routine! When we’re hosting the swap, we enjoy seeing the budding friendships between our children and their peers.

Before the days of babysitting trades, there were no parenting breaks for me except when my husband arrived home. By then, I was so desperate for company (or privacy) that I’d either talk his ear off or lock myself in the bedroom just to experience a tiny slice of silence. (I don’t own a Snuggie, but the glowing smile in the picture captures how I felt when I crept into my bedroom. “Tee-Hee…no one is currently climbing, spitting up on, or peeing on me! Glorious!” )

Eventually I started to schedule our weeks at home around play dates, which were a welcome diversion for an extravert like myself. But when things evolved into babysitting trade status, life truly eased up–and not just for me! The families I swap babysitting with are just as grateful for the chance to host a play date or to get a sliver of freedom every so often.

Babysitting cooperatives take swaps to a whole new level. In a co-op, parents take on a few more children, but also get more opportunities for free babysitting. The Smart Mom’s Baby-Sitting Co-op Handbook:How We Solved the Baby-Sitter Puzzle can help you create one yourself. It’s gotten rave reviews on Amazon and thoughtfully lays out plans in careful detail for how to put together a community that works for you. It’s so popular that even though it was published over a decade ago, it’s currently sold out! (But should be available again very soon.)

I know with infants cooperatives or exchanges may be more of a challenge, but if you have at least two parents on duty it’s pretty amazing what you can handle. Does anyone else enjoy babysitting swaps? Do any of you have family who volunteer to watch your tot on a regular basis? I plan on doing that once my children get a bit older!