With the exception of the few months immediately following the birth of each of our daughters, Marc and I rarely miss our weekly date night. You heard that right. Weekly date night!

Want to know the secret to our steady streak?

We have six babysitters. Yes, six.

Over the years we’ve come to realize that if we want to have a consistent date night, and we really do, it’s impossible to rely on the availability of just one or two sitters.

These gals have lives filled with semi formals and band practice and finals and boyfriends and camping trips and college visits and the odd flu virus.

In order to guarantee that someone will be available to step up to the plate, our dugout needs to be filled with players.

Each week when it comes time to book a sitter, I just start going down the list. This one has soccer. This one will be out of town. This one has a night class. Then voila. This one is available. Booked. Done!

How to Fill Your Roster

Creating our kid-care team didn’t happen over night. It took diligent effort over the course of two years to build it but the payoff has been immeasurable.

We started with one sitter, Christina, who just happened to live across the street from us. Then we added her best friend, Julie, who we had met several times. Then we added Julie’s cousin, Lucy. We also added Emily, based on a recommendation from a neighbor. When Emily started college she introduced us to her friend Cassie, and when Cassie moved away to college she introduced us to Lauren. And finally, there’s Gina, who worked at our daughters’ school as a teacher’s aid for a few months. (Note: names have been changed).

We use some more than others, especially since a few of our sitters have very limited availability, but since we’re so consistent with our date night, all are on a pretty regular rotation.

You Found ‘Em, Now Keep ‘Em

The best way to diminish your sitter stack is to use them too infrequently. By having a weekly date night, we’re reaching out to our sitters all the time each month. They see our kids frequently and we stay in touch with them pretty often.

If you’re worried about finances, pay the sitter and use your time to do something free, like going on a hike or attending a free event. Best to have the dugout primed than have no one to call upon when you have an important function you want to attend together.

The point is, if they’re on your team, use them with regularity so they feel like they are part of your team.

Also, consider this: we pay our sitters if we cancel on them within 12 hours. We respect that when one of our sitters books us into their calendar, that’s an unshakable commitment to them. Our sitters rarely cancel on us last minute. So, we show them the same respect by paying them at least half of their rate if we cancel on them same day. We recognize that there’s an opportunity cost to canceling on a sitter late in the game. They could have accepted another babysitting job or picked up a shift at work.

The key is that we treat them fairly and respectfully because we want them to treat us (and our kids) fairly and respectfully.

Final Thought

All sorts of things can get in the way of having a regular date night—money, illness, travel, house guests, family commitments—but for us, not being able to get a sitter is rarely a hurdle we have to leap. Start growing your sitter team and use this group to start enabling your date night habit more consistently. Not only will you be providing great employment for a teen or college student, but you’ll be doing one of the most important things you can do to nourish your relationship.