My daughter (and oldest child) was a little over a year old when I wrote a late night email to one of the other moms in my daughter's playgroup.
I remember being apprehensive about sending it... we knew each other through our regular playgroup activity but had never socialized outside the group. I knew her to be a great mom and our kids had similar temperments and got along well in group activities....it seemed like it would be a good fit. I was also facing an upcoming deployment, was newly pregnant with my second child and the thought of going to the grocery store or Target by myself was enough to give me a shiver of excitement.
The email was fairly simple, I suggested that we could give each other a babysitting break each week. The idea was fairly straightforward... I could watch her son on Mondays for a few hours, and then she could take my daughter on Wednesdays for a few hours. It was all flexible to what we needed to get done, and we could keep track of babysitting hours as formally or informally as we wanted. I got a quick response back saying "Yes!" and our babysitting swap began.
Today we are still great friends despite living hours apart and our kids are best friends who talk on Skype when they can't play in person. I can't guarantee strong friendships will develop out of a babysitting swap but if you find the right person to exchange babysitting with it can be a wonderful resource for everyone!
The Babysitting Group I am currently a part of is associated with our preschool. One of the parents is the point person for keeping track of hours and when I babysit for a family (no money involved) I email the coordinator the number of hours I watched the child(ren) and she updates the log. This allows us to use everyone in the group as a child care resource in a balanced way. We use each other for appointments, date nights, work meetings, etc. If I need a babysitter I email the group asking if anyone can watch my kids on the date/time needed.
This summer we also did a Playgroup Co-op. Again one of the parents organized the list of kids participating and assigned parents to work roughly 1 out of every 3 playdates that their kids participated in. This can be set up to keep any ratio that makes sense for your group. We take turns hosting and working the playgroup and the kids have a great time keeping up with their school friends over the summer.
I have found that participating in this sort of group to be rewarding on so many levels....friends for the kids, friends for me, and time to get things done without extra hands....priceless!
If you are looking for more information, ways to get started and another great opinion on a Babysitting Exchange check out the articles How to Start a Babysitting Co-op Part 1 and How to Start a Babysitting Co-op Part 2 by Frugal Mama. You can also check out the website www.babysitterexchange.com to see if their are existing groups near you (or start one!).
Finally, finding the right person or group to share babysitting responsibilities can be a lifesaver, but make sure you take the time to find that good fit. The safety and well-being of your child is always the most important thing to consider when looking at any child care option, a babysitting exchange or co-op should have the same requirements.