**This was originally posted to the Chicago Moms blog***
When our girls were born, I stayed at home. During the first few years, we had memberships to several museums and a zoo. We went to these places a few times a year to see the exhibits, play in the children’s areas and take classes. A couple of years ago, I went back to work. I work from home, so my hours are flexible. I was able to continue to use our memberships. It wasn’t until we hired our niece as our summer babysitter that I realized most memberships are not caregiver-friendly.
The first summer she babysat our girls, we’d make plans for her to take them different places. I’d call to find out the best way for her to use our membership as her name was not on the card she carried. The responses surprised me.
One museum said she couldn’t use it at all and she’d have to pay all three entry fees. Another said to send a letter with her, which I did. She was then grilled for nearly 1/2 hour. No one ever called me to confirm that she was our babysitter. The staff just grilled her as if she was trying to steal something. A third museum said the membership covered our children, but the babysitter would have to pay the entry fee. None of these were caregiver-friendly policies.
I found the same problem with local park district water parks and pools. If I wanted our babysitter to take the girls to the pool, I had to buy a family membership for our girls, then a separate membership for the babysitter. In most cases, the extra cost was nearly the cost of the family membership.
Not surprisingly the most caregiver-friendly membership was at the Brookfield Zoo. They said, “We’ll add her to your membership for a small additional fee. She’ll have her own card so she can bring the girls whenever she wants.” We gladly paid the additional extra-card fee. The girls spent a lot of time at the zoo attending camp, classes and hanging out with their friends.
I realize that when we buy a membership it’s for our household and our niece doesn’t live in our house. However, she is working for our family. And, it’s three people in the museum — whether it’s me and the girls or our niece and the girls. Either way we’re still using our family membership, which covers at least four people.
I spoke to friends about this problem. One told me they buy their family memberships in their babysitter’s name. They add four children to the membership so she can bring their children and friends. Another friend told me she lists her babysitter as her partner. She said, “We’re a same-sex couple.” A third friend said she lists her babysitter as a household member. No one ever questions that her last name is different from the rest of the family. My friend thinks the museum probably assumes the babysitter is a step-child.
I realize these are all options to work around the problem. Still, in this age of electronic everything, I find it hard to believe that it’s so difficult to accommodate caregivers on a family membership. We would gladly pay an extra fee to add our niece to our memberships. Since we live in an electronic world, she would have shown up on our family record just with a click of the mouse.
This year we’ve solved the problem by letting our memberships expire. Some museums the girls will just skip. Others we’ll pay the day rate once and call it done. We’ll take advantage of the Museum Adventure Pass Program as much as possible, especially since the Morton Arboretum is part of the program. There’s not much our girls like more than the Children’s Garden at the Morton Arboretum in the summer.
As museums consider why attendance is falling and how to increase memberships, I hope they will develop real, workable plans for adding caregivers to memberships. It would be a small step that would reap big benefits.