SXSW Parents Cooperatives

If I learned one thing at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival, it was this: you can’t bring your three-year-old to SXSW Interactive and expect to actually participate in SXSW Interactive.

Don’t get me wrong: Trading parenting duties with your spouse enables you to see or contribute to at least some of the show’s panels and parties.

Don’t get me wronger: SXSW Interactive is foremost about the stuff that happens in halls, the chance meetings with your web heroes on Congress, the small gatherings and compressed conversations at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These mini-gatherings are the best thing at SXSW, and, with the exception of an occasional meal cancelled on account of meltdown, you don’t have to miss out.

Don’t get me wrongest: Traveling with your young child is a privilege, and the memories you make are more precious than the panels you miss.

Still, there is the problem. SXSW Interactive is the annual gathering of the tribes. Many of the tribes now have younguns. Attending a two-day educational conference without your kids is not a huge deal, but SXSW lasts a week. The choices are not good: See the whole show but miss your kids for a week? Bring your kids and miss practically the whole show? Attend for only a couple of days, missing your kids and most of the show?

On the third day I found myself in a costly hotel room across from the conference center, skipping a keynote to play with Barbie dolls, it occurred to me that groups of parents could band together to create a more optimal experience.

Here’s how SXSW Parents Cooperatives could work: You and six other families bring your kids. An Austin nanny provides knowledge of local activities and primary child care. Parents pool their money to pay the nanny. Each day a different parent accompanies the nanny and kids to the playroom or museum or park. (That way there is always one parent present.) Everyone has each other’s mobile phone numbers; there are strict rules about drop-off and pick-up. Each participating parent misses one day of the conference, but gets to attend all the other days without worry or guilt.

It beats missing the conference—or your family.

Variations are possible. Maybe two parents hang with the nanny each day. Maybe one parent does the morning and another does the afternoon.

You start your co-op and I’ll start mine. For reasons of child safety and privacy, we can’t organize our co-ops on public-facing websites. But we can pool our experiences after next year’s show. Maybe several co-ops can start a wiki. Or a bowling tournament. Or a kid-friendly party or two.

Catch you ’round the jungle gym.

SXSW Interactive Video

  • Respect! Panel Excerpt featuring Douglas Bowman of Stopdesign and Google, and Happy Cogs Erin Kissane, Liz Danzico, and Jason Santa Maria. Moderated by Jeffrey Zeldman. The panel’s title gets mangled, and the name “Santa Monica” is shown when I talk, but interesting things are said about getting buy-in on design.
  • Michael Lopp and Jeffrey Zeldman on user interface design and managing design and development teams.

[tags]sxsw, parents, co-ops[/tags]

30 thoughts on “SXSW Parents Cooperatives”

  1. I think that’s a great idea – I’ve written before on the challenges of getting to conferences and industry events when one has a young family. I wouldn’t travel away without my daughter, although she is now at the age where she can happily occupy herself as long as she has a laptop and net connection! It does get easier in some respects as they get older. The fact that you have included your child in non child focussed events, meeting people and socializing pays dividends in that they are far more able to interact with adults from a young age.

    I think that the more people who stand up and say “I want to bring my children with me” then the more likely it is that events will help to make that possible. In addition to making it easier for those who already attend but miss out, it may also mean that people who would have ruled out attending at all due to childcare responsibilities can be encouraged to attend as well.

  2. An excellent idea, I was thinking about how I’d possibly manage to get to a future sxsw, but the idea of a nanny and a parent sharing the responsibilities is a great one. It addresses most of the parent / safety / responsibility questions, now I just need to sort out childhood jetlag… thanks.

  3. Very interesting idea, and I appreciate that someone is thinking about this at least. While my child is still unborn, he or she will be around 10 months old for next sxsw. This sounds a bit too young for your plan of only one nanny and one parent to bring all the kids to a playround or park. Do you forsee the kids needing to be a certain age to participate in your coop?

  4. Do you forsee the kids needing to be a certain age to participate in your coop?

    For our co-op, I’d probably look for parents of kids two to seven years old.

    You might be able to time-share with parents of other very young children. (You might even be able to just bring your ten-month-old to the show.)

  5. Personally I’d be happier having my 10 month old with me than in nanny care with a new carer for a week.
    A 2 year old, who can communicate their needs a bit better, is much more suited to this kind of care (allowances for individual kids of course – some kids just wouldn’t want this at all).
    Even better would be a well-run, well supervised creche and ‘kids club’ able to cater to all ages – and crucially with a paging system for parents.
    Right now, I couldn’t justify leaving my small scrap behind for a week no matter how great the conference. The more conferences that acknowledge Mummies and Daddies shouldn’t be expected to pretend family doesn’t exist the better.

  6. THANK YOU! Some friends and I were talking about this a few weeks ago. I actually cried when I found out I was pregnant with the twins just before last year’s SXSW because I knew it would mean I’d have to miss it AGAIN and probably for a few years. I’m the sole caretaker for my kids so it’s not an option for me to go anywhere for more than a long afternoon.

    What might work just as well too is a SXSW daycare. Of course, DAYcare means you’d have to find something else for the party hours, but I’d be grateful for even a good place for my kids to play during the day, and hey, with other SXSW kids, even better. Get their geek on early, I say!

  7. my wife stayed behind with our ten month old daughter this year. it probably wouldn’t have been a huge deal if we weren’t in the interactive/web industry. there was something at SXSW for both of us. having cooperative care, or at the very least a family room, would go a long way towards helping families enjoy SXSW.

    i brought it up in the SXSW feedback process, but received a response that was along the lines of “blah blah liability”. i understand that, i really do, but my thought is maybe they can spend a little less time ensuring there’s a “5 minute chair massage” every 5 feet and a little more time helping parents find and arrange childcare. an FAQ on childcare services in the Austin area would be a great start.

  8. This is very close to what I had in mind when Eric M. was Twittering about childcare at SXSW the other day. We brought a nanny with us to a destination wedding last summer, and shared care with my brother and sister-in-law. Another family asked if they could join in when an “emergency situation” occurred (really just poor planning on their part), and even that worked out OK. The nanny was responsible for two kids most of the time, four kids at the peak, and still had plenty of time for herself. We covered her time and her meals, and of course her accommodations (she stayed with us). For Austin, I like the idea of a local nanny and a parent working together even better. Six kids would totally work with two adults, and I think 2-5 or 2-6 would be a workable age range.

    I’m not that fond of the daycare/play center idea (mentioned in the comments); I think I’d worry a lot more with a larger group of kids, and as Eric mentioned in his tweet, liability is a big issue for the conference organizers.

  9. Attend for only a couple of days, missing your kids and most of the show?

    That was me, this year!

    Your idea is a great one. And at the very least — it’d be interesting to have all the parents and kids hang out in some capacity as well. A massive geek parents playdate, if you will. We could get some hip kids web companies to sponsor it. A designated play area at either the conv. center or a hotel could be a way for parents to be able to hang with other parents, avoiding everyone just hanging in a hotel room.

  10. My wife and I have tried to get a co-op started twice. However, there are only about 10 people from the state of New Hampshire that go, which makes it difficult.

    Our son M has spent his fair share of time in the lego pit over the last 2 years; I think my wife actually met you and A there. We’ve got a few good babysitters we know in Austin, but I just feel bad leaving him with a babysitter all day and the cost is pretty high.

  11. Actually the geek playdates is a great idea – there are plenty of things that parents and kids might enjoy together, and given that SXSW is a social conference, actually including the kids in parts of hte conference woudl probably be good both for parents socialising with other parents and for new ideas!

    I’ve shared custody of my (now eleven-year-old) daughter and have never taken her to a conference – I’ve always set it up so she’s with her dad that week or I have some other child-care arranged. Fortunately it’s always been with close family, which has been great. I love time to just be independent, adult Jill – rather than having to feel guilty about being a bad mum and a bad conference attendee at the same time…

    Now I’m expecting another child in just a few weeks, and I suspect we may have more difficulties since my husband and I are in the same field and go to most of the same conferences – and we’re definitely NOT planning on our baby having two homes as my elder daughter has. So we’ll have some figuring out to do…

  12. I’m not that fond of the daycare/play center idea (mentioned in the comments); I think I’d worry a lot more with a larger group of kids, and as Eric mentioned in his tweet, liability is a big issue for the conference organizers.

    It’s not feasible for a conference the size of SXSW to assume that kind of responsibility. And if by some crazy magic they could handle it, I wouldn’t want to drop my kid off with 2500 other kids.

    If provision is going to be made, it has to be made by us.

  13. I agree with Dan, having a designated area for SXSW parents to play with their kids and visit with their peers would make it easier to juggle the daddy/mommy/geek problem. I see a good focus for next year’s conference being interactive technologies geared towards parents. Anybody else want in on that panel?

    I think it would be possible to find/organize a group (possibly students from UT?) to form one or several SXDaycares. Having one nanny and one parent watching between 6 and 10 children might still be a tough ratio. But having 3 or 4 students, studying to work with children (and thereby all with a background check), managing 10 children seems much more reasonable.

  14. We spoke briefly at the Austin airport about this (I was introduced to you by Jeff Robbins). I can’t tell you how much I would love to take my daughter with me on trips like this. She is 8, and has had some really great opportunities to travel with me sometimes (DC, Portland, Paris!) but I travel monthly or more and would love to be able to have her along.

    Austin is a neat city, and there are so many things kids could stay occupied with all day. So many other conferences could benefit from this as well.

    As a single mom, it’s really hard to leave for these long stretches, especially in March when all the %^&* conference organizers butt everything up against everything else.

    Dare I say, lack of things like this could be a contributing factor to why women don’t get into technology at rates as high as we would all like. In this global village we tech people live in, it’s hard to stay in touch without copious travel, and copious travel is difficult as a parent!

    Also, I would totally be willing to swap out “party nights” – i.e., you go to all the parties you want tonight, I’ll go tomorrow. These events are an essential part of the SXSW experience!

    +1 to the idea, and if anyone is organizing a group for next year for slightly older kids (8-12 or something), I’d love to be a part!

  15. As a local Austinite and parent, I’d love to help with this in any way I can. I’ll start researching resources in Austin. Please lean on me for any information gathering or recon missions.

    My son is much older now. He was in Kindergarten when I started attending sxswi and next year he starts high school (eep!). We may not have the child care need anymore, but I have long wanted to include him in this conference and the people that attend that are so near and dear to my heart. On that note, I’d also like to see some earlier in the evening, non-alcohol driven events that are family-friendly. I’d also like to bring him to the conference itself on a student day pass or something that didn’t cost me the full-price badge.

  16. Great idea.

    Especially pertinent following hearing from my wife on the second day of the conference calling to say our son Sean had cut his head and had to go to hospital. Whilst he was fine, you do feel rather helpless when you are a long way from home and something like that happens.

    I’d certainly be into being able to bring the family in a way that means everyone enjoys themselves.

  17. Now that we have a wee one at home, this type of stuff is much more on my radar than it has ever been. I like the co-op idea, and I also like Dan’s mention of structuring it so that there would be time to hang w/ all the parents and kids at once. A web geek play date of sorts.

  18. This is a great idea, and as an Austin local I’ll consider opening my home and babysitter list to friends who want to bring their kids to town.

    But I’m looking forward to an amusing run of tweets and craigslist ads next February as people try to recruit reliable short-term nannies by long distance!

    P.S. For the older kids, Austin is home to a bunch of great rock&roll camps. If the people running those camps are smart, they’ll double their offerings next spring break and advertise in SF and Palo Alto. Bringing your kid to Austin for rock&roll immersion during SXSW: what could be cooler than that?

  19. Y’all can all just pack your kids up in my house on the outskirts of Austin. :) My 9 and 5 year olds will have someone to play with, and maybe I’ll get to meet some of you at next year’s SXSW. I live in Austin but I”ve never been to SXSW interactive because I”m too shy to go (how about that?). But if we just have a big ol’ drop off party at my place, I’d get to meet some people and get over my shyness. Ahh, if only.

  20. If it does happen that this truly does get organized, do count me in. My kids will be 10 and 6 by then, and we live in Austin, so I’d be happy to serve as a hub of sorts for getting things situated and organized.

  21. It is so good to hear others talking about this. Generally speaking the geek community fails to cater for families. Somehow I have found myself speaking at 7 conferences this year and I am already missing seeing my son after just one!

    The nanny idea is great but I would also like to see more family friendly events. I am sure we could come up with something. Geek BBQs or even a family version of geek bowling.

    What about meetups (like barcamp) as well? They always happen over weekends, the most precious time for those with families.

  22. There were similar issues at Blogher last year… I saw a lot of husbands, friends and sisters doing trade offs between sessions and kid-sitting.

    Seems like SXSW could swing an IKEA-like playroom, or even kid sessions! My oldest is 12 and last summer he attended a week-long web design camp that he really enjoyed.

  23. I won’t hijack your post, Jeffrey, but as I’ve had very similar thoughts lately I will say this: When I started blogging nearly 5 years ago few of my contacts and fellow bloggers had children. I could name a dozen people off the top of my head — many of whom your readers would recognize — that precisely fit this description.

    Now, most of us have children, and they’re even beginning to reach school and sports ages. Finding the time to not only attend conferences but blog and do much of the after-hours stuff we do is becoming increasingly difficult. Ex: My boys are lined up for several sports this year, I spent some time at their school last night enjoying books they created, etc etc.

    Long story short, this and many other discussions on the topic are needed and very relevant.

  24. Thanks, everyone.

    Blogging unfortunately does take a back seat to marriage and family—I guess unless you write about your family all the time. (And if you’re writing about your family all the time, get away from the computer and go spend time with them.)

  25. Love this topic and decided to follow you on Twitter, thanks for the funny bloody nose twitter this morning!

    My baby girl is 8 months old, and I brought my baby and my hubby along to SXSW this year. For me, it worked out great since I got to see her at lunch and after the sessions ended. I did miss out on most evening activities, but managed to catch “NerdCore Rising” and some lunch fussball games with new friends, so overall I didn’t miss out that much!

    I love that I brought my family with me, it gave me a chance to have both worlds nearby, and I would like to add that my hubby loved having some vacation days hanging out with his baby in Austin! He loved the city and I hope we get to all come back next year!

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