“The funniest thing happened today!” She said it with a nervous giggle.
I had just started using full-time childcare for my firstborn, who I was picking up after a day at the office. A lovely and enthusiastic twenty-ish woman plucked my Sam from a hill of blocks and delivered her into my arms. I nuzzled those hamster cheeks and prepared myself for the story of “the funniest thing.”
Naptime is tricky with young toddlers; I had already learned this. Some 1-year-olds, like my Sam, take two naps a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Others are just fine with one nap a day. For things to run smoothly at most childcare centers, the caregivers need the children under their watch to be on the same schedule, especially when it comes to sleeping. Which all makes perfect sense.
“When I did my kid-count this morning,” the childcare worker told me, “I couldn’t find Sam!” Turns out, the funniest thing – which broke my heart into a million mom pieces that afternoon and still makes me kinda sad today if I’m honest – was where she found my baby girl that morning.
Utterly exhausted – no doubt from charming all the other 1-year-olds in the Squirrel Room – nothing was going to stop Sam from taking her morning nap. When that didn’t appear to be part of the plan, my little one crawled into the crib corral, snuggled into a baby ball, and fell sound asleep underneath one of the cribs. And that’s where the kind and dedicated childcare worker found her. Not funny, I thought to myself as I cried in the car before we took off for home.
I shared this story with Sam over lunch recently when we were talking about parenting and more specifically, childcare. She’s graduating from college this month – and before you ask, no, she isn’t having a baby. But she is a planner, a pragmatist, and a female who is about to enter the workforce full-time. One day, she’ll decide whether to have kids, who should take care of them if she’s working, and perhaps, what job offer to accept based on benefits related to raising a family.
When Sam was two, I quit my job to work for myself. That means, for as long as my daughter can remember, her self-employed mother and father have worked from home and tried to share childcare duties – or at the very least, talk openly and honestly about who’s doing what and when for the children. I’ve been extremely blessed with a career that lets me do what I love without punching a clock. Unfortunately, that also means I haven’t left much of a blueprint for my women-children (I have three) showing how the more traditional working parent moves through the world.
Luckily, Sam works part-time now with several young professionals who have started families. I was encouraged listening to her talk about some of the family-friendly practices at her office: paid family leave, talk of a designated breast milk-pumping space, and a woman who felt comfortable bringing her baby to the workplace when she couldn’t find someone to watch him. In other words, the age-old challenge of figuring out childcare.
While my partner and I had limited stints of using childcare over the years, we somehow managed to cover all the bases before we gave it up for good – from part-time in-home to full-time at a center to preschool extended day to begging wonderful relatives to watch
the children while we finished special projects.
When Sam was born, I had six weeks of maternity leave and the option to stay home for two additional unpaid weeks. As those days flew by, I was comforted that we had a plan in place: My graphic designer husband took care of Sam while he worked from home. Sam was an A+ napper (remember the crib story?), but when she became more mobile, it was difficult for him to get any work done, so we paid a stay-at-home mom friend to watch her a few days a week. When Sam turned one, we moved to full-time care at a local center.
We had choices along the way.
That‘s what it comes down to, right? For many families, there aren’t a lot of choices. Just as there are many parents who couldn’t imagine leaving their kids with any caregiver while they’re at work, there are many parents who are equally uncomfortable with the idea of staying at home with their kids full-time, and others who couldn’t afford that choice even if they wanted to make it. For me, twenty years ago, it was mostly about money. It just didn’t make sense to work forty hours a week and budget such a large percentage of my take-home pay to childcare. I imagine this is still the case for many families. One of the most encouraging things I’ve heard about childcare in a long time is a proposed federal policy that looks at adjusting childcare costs based on a family’s income, so parents in lower income brackets who work outside the home can afford quality childcare.
Ultimately, there is nothing simple about finding quality childcare – or affording it. You start the search, listen to your heart, and do the best you can for your family. Having lunch with my daughter who’s about to graduate from college and talking with her about what it’s like to be a woman who wants a career and a family made me realize how some things never change and how parents of all ages are in the same boat.
But you know what’s awesome? When we all try to help each other stay afloat.