Childcare Never Quite Worked Before. It's Time for Something Better - Best Mom Blogs For Self-Care | Mom's Hierarchy Of Needs

Childcare Never Quite Worked Before. It’s Time for Something Better

Let’s not conflate childcare and school. Working parents need both and always have. It’s true, most Americans with children over the age of 5 have relied on school as their primary childcare. But, the frequent holidays and mid-afternoon pickup, meant it was a partial solution at best for most workers. And having a credentialed expert, to expand your child’s mind, is not the same as keeping them fed and entertained.

Covid-19 has disrupted childcare arrangements for the overwhelming majority of over 900 surveyed parents* (71%.) Despite their need to continue working (84%) mostly from home (72%) with their kids.

“Non-stop days of homeschool followed by long evenings/weekends of work and making sure kids eat healthy, learn, get outside and feel ok while balancing a very demanding job.”

“It’s the unknown. Will the kids go back in the fall? How to balance their work and mine…”

“The expectation that work output should not be impacted despite having to care for my child full time. I stay up really late every night now to fit in the work hours.”

“Not being able to send my child to school or activities while I work. I must keep my child home to protect the family from COVID, sacrificing my ability to provide income.”

It Turns Out, Parents ARE Essential to the Economy

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 72% of American Moms and 93% of Dads were in the workforce pre-pandemic. But lawmakers have suddenly linked the importance of childcare to the economic recovery. So, solving for the unfortunate reality, that most parents are trying to do the impossible – work without childcare or schools – is slowly gaining attention among those tasked with ending the recession.

Although many parents have opted out without childcare, few can afford the income loss. And surveyed parents, who lost jobs, feel particularly vulnerable. When asked what’s been the hardest since Covid began one Mom shared, “…Trying to do it all. Watch my son all day long (he is an infant,) take care of the house, make dinner, find a new job/interview and study for a new certification to try and stand out in the marketplace.”

Childcare Was Always the Weak Link

It’s no secret that childcare was already broken in the US before the pandemic. Although it’s implied that parents need childcare to work, the messy details, have been left to parent improvisation.

Access has been sketchy. Schools close hours before most workplaces do. And in some cities, getting children into an extended day program is akin to winning the lottery. Nanny poaching is actually a thing in high demand areas and despite how complicated all of this is, childcare still costs more than housing in most US cities.

Anything and everything made childcare tenuous in our culture. When parents are fortunate enough to secure affordable childcare, any number of normal events – a child or nanny gets sick, school’s closed,  trains run late or traffic is bad — would bring the fragile system to an abrupt halt.

And Now It’s Harder

When asked what’s been hardest about the pandemic, fractured access to childcare and children’s education are the biggest pain points. The majority of surveyed parents, primarily Moms (94%), have taken on more childcare (71%) and more children’s activities (66%.) If coupled, many indicated that their partners have also increased their involvement in both but to a lesser extent (38% and 36% respectively.)

“The expectation that work output should not be impacted despite having to care for my child full time. I stay up really late every night now to fit in the work hours.”

“Finding ways to entertain our toddler and missing social interaction with friends.”

“Kids interrupting me at work; my guilt about the kids not being given as much attention.”

“Lack of childcare and no way of knowing when it will be an option again.”

Distant Learning Hasn’t Worked for Many

Parents can’t work and care for children simultaneously. But keeping kids engaged is only part of what’s missing. Pre-pandemic, parents sought extra educational opportunities to ensure bright futures for their offspring. Getting kids into elite programs, from private PreK to college, had already become blood sport among families with the means to do so. Now, many parents feel distraught watching basic academic gains dissolve under the pressure of schooling-from-home and loss of special educators.

“…feeling as though my child is missing out on activities and learning and social interaction”

“Managing my daughter’s distance learning, as well as her constant disappointment as everything gets cancelled.”

“(We need) a teacher. I’m not great at homeschooling.”

“My kids have Autism and get a lot of additional support in school so it’s very time consuming to do without the added support.”

Will Government Step in?

Two childcare funding bills were approved in recognition that many daycare, preK and early childhood centers won’t survive without funding. The Huffington Post reports, “Even before the pandemic, the privately run U.S. child care system was not doing all that great. Most providers operated on razor-thin margins. Child-care workers, mostly women and nearly half women of color, make poverty-level wages. Parents still struggle to afford tuition for their kids — if they can even find a spot in a center.” Exactly. But few parents can wait for the public funding debate and are already experimenting with new models.

We Still Rely on Parent-Led Solutions

In the US, childcare has traditionally been a ‘parent problem’ to solve. So, most have stitched together new and existing forms of care, including: moving in with Grandparents, Nanny ‘pods’ with 3 or 4 families sharing a caregiver, individual families (or pods) hiring out of work Teachers, co-bubbled playdates with neighbors and up-skilling kids, on the verge of independence, to go free range. And, when all else fails, parents take shifts if coupled or break out laptops to work and Zoom everywhere from pools to playgrounds.

But Employer Innovation Holds Promise

Surveyed parents have been open about what they wish their employers would do to reduce the pain. Although some are happy with the support they’ve received, “…the company I work for goes above and beyond to make sure we’re supported through this time.” Many cite lack of understanding. One surveyed Mom said, “I work for a company of under 50 employees and when I sought to take a parental leave, due to school closure and increased work for me from remote learning and childcare, it was not approved.”

Parents, who crave benefits and structures to ease the pressure, offer suggestions on how their employers can better accommodate productivity and wellbeing.

“Actually allow us to work from home. Stop putting additional reports and petty crap on us. “

“Not expecting me to work/be available at all hours.”

“Daycare subsidy, flex schedule.”

“Redundancy in staffing, so there is better coverage and employees don’t feel guilty about using PTO (paid time off.)”

“Options for flexible schedules (3-4 days/week), mental health leave, caregiver Covid leave.”

“Remote child videoconference tutoring service.”

Employers becoming involved in childcare is not new. Childcare ‘breakdowns’ cost businesses in the US an estimated “$4.4 billion a year in lost productivity and working families $8.3 billion in lost wages.” Slate reported. 

In light of this, the parent/employer partnership while underutilized, presents a natural opportunity for reinvention. Savvy employers, competing for top talent, were already curating childcare and family services for their employees. Low cost back up childcare, when primary arrangements fall through, had become more common in larger organizations. But since the pandemic, innovative employers have entered new territory. This includes: upgrading back up care to provide primary coverage, paying for onsite programs, setting up virtual entertainment and education for the children of employees and supporting shifted schedules.

Although surveyed parents want employer help, worries about job security, negative impact on performance reviews and career growth, keep many from sharing their needs openly.

Is it Enough?

The good news? Despite extraordinary pressure and crushing workloads at home, just over half of those surveyed, feel they’re doing ‘as well as usual,’ ‘better’ or ‘really well’ as parents (58%.) But the time required to manage the amorphous schedule is often at the expense of self-care and/or work where most feel they’re doing ‘not as well’ or ‘terribly’ (68% and 50% respectively.)

While the pandemic continues to limit trusted resources and alter communities, the opportunity lies in work/life transformation. The conditions for working parents, already fraught, have become unsustainable. And as school returns, in distant or hybrid formats across the country, summer’s brief intermission will give rise to a tighter economy held-together by parents whose children are adjusting to different everything — caregivers, teachers and protocols.

*This is a partial update with results from 944 parents, primarily Moms (94%) who were surveyed between March 30th – July 31st

Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.

Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.


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