Parents who successfully secure emergency/ backup child care plan ahead. They have a suite of sitter phone numbers in their cell phones, found drop-in daycares in the neighborhood, or made arrangements with other families.
Here are their tips and what you can do if you are in a bind.
1. Use an emergency babysitting service
2. Go to a drop-in daycare
Here are PSP reviews of places that allow drop off. Double check since some have limits to how many last minute kids they can take.
3. Have an army of sitters (such as students and actors) to fall back on – but pay well and offer perks.
“I remember this juggle well! My husband is a lighting designer and sometimes is gone for weeks, or here but slammed or in a lull between gigs, and I work full time in the city. We ended up finding - literally - 8 amazing women. some grad students and some actors. And over the years it rotated, changed, depending on everyone's lives... But 8 on the roster was the ideal number! It was a weekly juggle (especially around exam time) but we were able to schedule out a few weeks at a time and literally it always worked out somehow.
Not stress free, but it worked.
We had one woman who was our 'first call' (she does voice overs and so had a wacky schedule) - but if she couldn't do it then we'd call down the roster. Pretty much once we had one they started recruiting their friends. And the fun part is my daughter got to hang out with really cool women. Now she knows a pastor, a lawyer, a filmmaker, a bunch of artists, a psychologist...
We paid well and gave all the perks (cars home at night, lots of ordering in, and the favorite - an envelope in the diaper bag with $5 labeled 'emergency latte money' :)) so we built loyalty. At some point I knew about all the boy and girlfriends, the roommates, classes, gigs - most of these women were my age anyway so it was always a pleasure to chat, and they all liked being in a 'home' since many of them were crammed in with a zillion roommates.
Students and actors are the best when you need flexible part time folk. Cause that's what they need too! Good luck - I thought it would never end and now it feels like a distant memory :)”
“A mom friend of mine is a photographer and has hired a grad student (studying child development/education, I believe). The schedule varies from week to week with a minimum of something like 12 hours, and the nanny's flexible enough that it works out for everyone. Maybe you could find someone like that?”
“We have a similar system to the one that [the above poster] describes below. We have one regular sitter (an amazing actress/artist/sitter), and we've gradually increased her hours since my daughter's birth as I've worked more and more -- she now comes 4 mornings a week. Some weeks, it's more time than I need, but other weeks, it's not enough.
On the weeks I need more help b/c of a deadline, I start tapping my "backup list" -- 6 additional sitters, most of whom are friends of our regular sitter. There are times when I'll literally have to call/text all 6 of them just to find one sitter with availability, but usually someone is available. And I would also second [the above poster]'s comments about working with young recent grads/grad students, etc. -- they're all really amazing, flexible, creative, high-energy young women (and one young man!) who are working multiple jobs so they can try to make a go of it as actors/musicians/artists, etc. in New York City.
Our daughter has a total blast with them. It definitely can be stressful when I'm frantically calling six people for a Tuesday sitting job on a Monday night, but it seems to be the best solution for my erratic schedule.
I'm also a big fan of perks -- good pay, money for ordering out or getting a coffee, accommodating our regular sitter if she occasionally needs to reschedule b/c she gets an audition, etc. etc. In return, sitters (especially our regular sitter) will occasionally adjust their schedules and really inconvenience themselves to help me out of a desperate bind/pinch.”
“We have about five babysitters sitters we call when I work (as a dancer/choreographer/teacher) and so far it's worked ok, though we are always having to figure out who is available when!”
But how does one even find a network of sitters like this? Tips include:
Tap non-parent friends:
“As far as how to tap into these "secret babysitting societies" we were able to find many thru our NON-parent friends - it helped that we were the first of our group to have a kid, but friends of friends were the way to go."
Find friends with college aged kids:
"We also went with older friends who had recent college grad kids - if not their children, their children's friends were often looking for babysitting (this is an excellent way, btw, to find a sitter in another city when traveling!)"
Reach out to freelance/ artist communities:
“If you have any connection at all to freelance or artist communities, or people who do, a quick email out (or Facebook post) can be really productive. And once you're "in" then that's where sitters start to hook you up with their friends!”
“we had a sitter/nanny type that was a young actor who was willing to work 3 days a week and we mutually agreed to be flexible with each other's needs. We found her on a Facebook group called show biz sitters for show biz parents. You can post and ask for sitters for whatever your needs are. It's how we built our data base of sitters.”
Post ISO ads on PSP and other websites:
4. Have another family to back you up
"Have you thought about working out an arrangement with another family? In emergencies, the families and nannies within my building help each other out, maybe not always a whole day, but certainly enough to provide coverage to not miss meetings. Talk to your friends, neighbors. Good luck!"
5. Find another parent in a similar situation to yours
“I am a real estate broker and often find myself in the same position. I have found it really helpful to use other moms in the same position. It's not always reliable but having people in the neighborhood has proved to make the most sense and we go back and forth watching each other's kids. Honestly sometimes having more than one is easier because they can interact and entertain each other once they get a little older.”
6. Have a stay-at-home parent to help in a pinch
"I know that there are stay-at-home moms who babysit on a part-time basis and work with the parents' schedule. This could be an option that you seek. If you're open to having a mother take care of your child and that mother's child at the same time, this might work for you."
7. Find a relaxed or part-time nanny share
"See if you can find a nanny-share where the one family is full-on full-time and the nanny is willing to commit to a certain #of hours for you,w without setting the days. This still presents problems as the babies get a little older and start enrolling in classes, then the flexibility diminishes."
“Why not find a family nearby with a full time nanny and a child of the same age and see if they'd be willing to let you share on an ad hoc basis? Nanny makes more money, kids get socialization, you have easy reliable coverage, win/win.”
“I have been in the same boat for 3 years as a freelancer and I'll tell you - it ain't easy! Childcare has been a huge juggling act, but in the end, worth it to be able to have time at home with my kids, still have a career and save some childcare money at the same time. It's a delicate balance and sometimes, not so balanced, but you can make it work.
There may be some things out there I don't know about but basically I came to the decision that the best option is to try to find a part-time nanny share. You'd need to find a family who wants some socialization for their child and a share in childcare costs, without needing a full-time share for financial reasons. May be helpful if you were able to commit to a couple days a week, but if those days could be flexible for your auditions...It's also possible to find someone to share a nanny with (you each have the nanny part time), but who's flexible and so you're able to move around days as needed. It's helpful to have a spouse or family that can do some back-up when needed in an emergency. You can try to create a list of babysitters (college kids or other actors or artists) who are available during days and ok with last minute phone calls. Lastly, pinch sitters can send a nanny/sitter last minute (that has been background-checked, etc...), but that only worked for me when I was working from home. I didn't feel comfortable leaving my child alone with someone I/They didn't know.”
8. Commit yourself to a scheduled part-time sitter
“I've handled the last-minute & unpredictable nature of my audition/booking schedule by hiring a part-time nanny (16 hrs/wk, also just for additional help & sanity), and when my appts coincide with her hours, she stays with the baby. I also purposely chose someone who could be flexible with her hours, so sometimes she comes early/stays late to cover my appts. I also have a night sitter to put the baby to bed when I'm teaching, and sometimes she can come early to help me out. When none of my regular sitters are available, I use Pinch Sitters, and they've always been able to get me someone last minute (I have a few other last-minute sitter services on file also, just in case).”
"As painful as it is, try to commit to some schedule. even if that only lasts for a little while, it will make a huge difference in getting help."
“When I was re-entering the freelance workforce with my first, I worked out a part-time scenario with a nanny where I would guarantee her 20 hrs a week but if I landed a gig and needed her more she'd work more. It would only work for the right nanny who is ok with being that flexible and okay with PT income.”
“When he was about 13mos I booked a 4 month long 3-4 day a week job and found a permanent part time sitter because I felt he needed stability. She was a 20-something college grad who was nannying while figuring out her life. She ended up being with us for 2 years. Some weeks she worked 4 days, others 2. The 1st year she had another family on Fridays and yet another on weds afternoons so we worked around it. Eventually we made a set number of hours usually 3 days a week for her to work whether I worked or not. When I was busy with work she'd do the extra time if available or I’d find fill in sitters. When I didn't work I still used her- and believe me by the time he was 18mos I was ecstatic to have a day or 2 to get things done. When he started 2 morning a week preschool she helped one of my stay at home mom friends during that time, and that friend ended up taking more hours if I wasn't working. It was a win win win. We all loved the arrangement. My son is now 3.5 and started full time preschool last fall. She was going back to grad school at the same time so it was great timing. No joke it was the best week of my life. We aren't paying much more than the part time nanny for waaaaaaay more hours and I can work any day without stressing. I'm due with my 2nd next month and we are already talking about putting her in daycare for a couple days a week by the time she is 1.
The truth is that freelancing with kids is a little crazy and you have to find a balance that works for you. I really feel like we made the right decision even though committing to spending $$ when I 'might' be home was hard, it was so great for him to know it was always either one of the 3 of us that would be caring for him.”
9. Start a Babysitting Coop:
“I've also found that it works for me to have one person regularly scheduled for about 16 hrs/wk and try to book my work/classes/rehearsals into that time. I also have a list of fill-in people that I can call when I have an appointment outside of those times. I found that it works out to have someone that I can count on for specific times, even if I end up not working every week. It's hard to have someone that you can rely on if you aren't giving them regular hours, but if you patch together a long list of fill-in people you can probably find someone whenever you need to. I just joined a babysitting coop of local moms, and although I'm just figuring it all out, it seems like a great option. You can organize a coop through www.sittingaround.com, and that site also has a list of local sitters”
9. Stick to school day hours:
"if you can stick to during-school day hours, it will be easy to find a nanny who has after-school pick up duties, and could fit you in during the daytime with less of a permanent commitment.
10. Find someone with availability:
"Find the rare, rare, precious and elusive person who has a lot of availability, and call them when you need them! I’ve found a few in my days, but often they don’t last - their regular employer is out on a maternity leave, or they are going to go back to school, leave the country, etc., and are just filling in some hours till then."
11. See if your employer offers back up care services:
“Check your benefits from work and see if it covers backup care. My husband's work covers emergency backup daycare for free up to a certain number of days and emergency in-home care for a few dollars an hour. We haven't used it yet, but I'm glad it's there! Good luck!”
"For the most part, the less of a commitment you can make to employing a person, the lower down the food chain you move. If you are willing to hire someone who has little experience or is otherwise a less attractive candidate, you will have more choices. I don’t mean to be mercenary, it’s just kind of how it goes. the super experienced nannies will take full time jobs."
Related resources from Park Slope Parents: