The concept of sharing the duties of parenting isn’t new. In fact, people have been doing it for thousands of years, but more recently parenting has become a somewhat lonelier job, forcing modern parents to be more self-reliant and self-supporting. As parents move farther away from family for jobs and have fewer connections in their neighborhood, they have to turn to paid childcare in a way they never had to before.  

Childcare used to be a shared community responsibility. I’ve talked to so many parents who say that when they were kids, they remember not having a regular babysitter or caretaker. And not because reliable childcare was hard to find, but because when their parents needed childcare, the kids went to the home of a neighbor, a friend, a family member, and vice versa. 

According to Motherly’s 2022 State of Motherhood survey report, a third of mothers say that childcare is a constant financial strain on their family. In fact, often a parent’s salary can go almost entirely to childcare. I believe that’s why parents get so excited when I talk about swapping childcare. It’s the idea of finding a community you can lean on and people you can depend on.

I founded Otter in the height of the pandemic, initially matching families in childcare exchanges with no money involved. Otter currently matches parents who need childcare with paid caregivers in their community. But we’re starting to go back to our roots and experimenting with matching families to coordinate swapping childcare duties.

How does a childcare swap work? 

Two or more families agree to take turns with childcare responsibilities: one family takes a shift one day, the other takes a shift the next. This gives families the stability and reliability of having a childcare village within their community. It also makes care much more affordable for families, and creates socialization opportunities for the kids.

How Otter is helping solve the childcare crisis

At Otter we know families have a wide variety of needs and sometimes swaps get tricky if one family contributes more labor than the other. It’s really important to us that no family in a swap feels taken advantage of and that everyone is compensated for their work, because we truly believe care work is real work. Otter supports childcare swaps by connecting families who live in the same community and who have similar scheduling needs. We also keep track of the time spent providing and receiving care through our platform, so that parents don’t have to do it manually. And we have a team standing by to help families work through any issues, including facilitating payments if there’s an imbalance of hours provided in a swap.  

With the focus on community in this model, we hope to offer a solution for a wide variety of families in a world of sometimes irregular and non-traditional work schedules and increasingly remote work. Motherly reports in the most recent State of Motherhood survey that the number one reason that women changed or left jobs last year was the lack of childcare. I believe swapping care can allow families—and specifically mothers—to connect with their communities and thrive in ways they couldn’t before. 

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please email [email protected]