I've lived in the Bay Area for so long now, that I'm not even sure if babysitting co-ops are a normal thing or if I need to explain what they are. I'll assume the later.
A babysitting co-op functions where sometimes someone else watches your kid and sometimes you watch someone else's kids. There are a variety of different models of this; 2 of which I know first hand about.
When Star was born in 2010, I decided it was a priority that we join some sort of co-op. The co-op that we were initially invited to join worked as an even exchange. If I needed a "sitter", I would email the group, or some subset of the group requesting a sitter. Assuming I found someone available, once they watched my kid for 3 hours, I would "pay" them 3 tickets. This co-op also had a monthly gathering where we were all supposed to get to know each other so that when we were watching other people's kids or having them watch ours, we were all more comfortable with the people involved.
We were in this group long enough for (1) one family to watch our daughter for a few hours; (2) reciprocating for that family; and (3) feeling guilty for a number of months about not attending the suggested monthly social gathering. This group didn't work for us for a variety of reasons. First, the geography was really spread out. Also, the monthly suggested meeting did not work for our family. (Honestly, I don't have enough time to spend with my actual friends let alone with people who I'm trying to make be my friends.) We quit this group.
Around that same time, I somehow found out about a babysitting co-op based in our neighborhood. This co-op operates differently. My husband, Scott, explains it best. Every Friday and Saturday night, there is a party for kids that our daughter can go to. Each family hosts a "party" about 3 times per year. Then, you get to send your kids to a party as often as you have cards. We calculated that for every time we host a party, Star can go to a party about 5 times.
Back in 2010 when i found the group, I spoke with the current President, and they didn't have an opening for us, but they said that they would put us on the waiting list.
Fast forward to now. About a month ago, the new President of the group contacted us. A family had recently left the group and they wanted to invite us to join. We were stoked.
The following weekend, we signed Star up for her first "party". It was at a house about a block away. The hosting family was super great, and Star had a fabulous time. When we dropped her off, they plopped her in front of the TV so she could "settle in". When I picked her up, she had eaten box macaroni and cheese for dinner, she was still in front of the TV and she was now eating ice cream.
Let me explain. We don't have a TV, and we don't eat sweets. We steer clear of processed carbohydrates and other fake foods. My theory has been that she'll get sweets, TV and processed foods in enough areas of her life; she doesn't also need to get it at home. Star sees television when she's with her grandparents, and eats sweets and processed foods at birthday parties, but that's pretty much it.
Is joining this co-op putting her on the path to childhood obesity and compulsive shopping? That's my fear, but maybe I'm being too paranoid? It's such an odd thing to live our lives with certain values and then have those values thrown out the window monthly so Scott and I can get a free night off.
We have reservations, but we're going to try it a few more times. We are set to host our first party in a few weeks, so that will bring up an entirely new set of challenges and frustrations. In the end, this babysitting coop may, ironically, not be Berkeley enough for us. We need to find some media-free whole food eating households to swap childcare responsibilities with.