Mothers of Intention — A Lack of Reliable Childcare May Break Our Economy, by Surrender, Dorothy

Welcome to this week’s installment of Mothers of Intention, a forum for blogger moms, who don’t usually get all political at their places, to talk about issues that are important to them. This week, I am so excited that Rita from Surrender, Dorothy (who is also a cohort from BlogHer) has agreed to talk about the incredibly important topic of childcare in America. Thanks, Rita!


I’m often surprised that childcare isn’t addressed more often in political campaigns. At first glance, it may seem like childcare is only an issue for parents, but really, in a global economy, it’s an issue for everyone.

Lack of reliable childcare keeps innumerable parents out of the workforce, parents who may want or need to work. (Some do, some don’t — I’m not arguing the pros and cons of either, here, merely saying that those who need to work should be able to support their families and have reliable and trustworthy childcare if they need it.)

As a working mom whose child has been in full-time childcare since she was three months old, I can say with certainty that finding reliable childcare is the scariest and most important issue to a working parent. Especially if you live far away from a family support system, it’s terrifying to be two months pregnant and be told your fetus won’t come up in a daycare waiting list for two years. That happened to me. I was living in Kansas City, Missouri, at the time, and though I contacted what organizations I could to help me find childcare, the list of twelve or so places within a twenty-minute drive of my house and somewhat on my way to work were booked solid for over a year.

I finally found a place a few months before my daughter was born, but I hated it. I didn’t trust the workers, I didn’t trust the director, and I worried constantly about my daughter. My work suffered. When we finally came up on another waiting list, we transferred her over and my fears evaporated. I was shocked at my ability to concentrate at work. I realized how much I had been worrying about my daughter during the day, all do to sub-par daycare. (Her first daycare center went under a few months after we left, further flooding the limited few possibilities in the area — I shudder to think what would’ve happened if we hadn’t left when we did.)

I kept working because I had to in order to help support our family. There is no worse feeling than knowing you need to work to meet your family’s daily needs but worrying your child’s needs aren’t being met properly by the person you’re paying what feels to you like an inordinate amount of money and what feels to them like pennies. It’s a lose-lose situation, because daycare workers don’t make nearly enough money for the job they’re doing, but working parents can’t afford to pay one penny more. In some markets, childcare for an infant is upward of $300 a week. Families with two or three children have childcare bills higher than their mortgages. It’s a terrible trap, and it’s got to stop.

Despite my nasty experience early on with my daughter’s daycare, I’m thankful I’ve always been able to keep her in a facility that passed my high standards for cleanliness and student-teacher ratio. I’m blessed because as hard as it is to write that four-figure check every month, we are able to write it.

What about families making minimum wage? Who is watching their kids? And under what conditions? Why isn’t the same government who provides food stamps providing childcare stamps? Why in a country that spends so much time bemoaning outsourcing and globalization are we not taking every opportunity to make sure our own workforce can GET TO WORK?

Because listen, if there’s nobody to watch your child, you’re not going to work. I don’t care if you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 or if you work the night shift at McDonald’s — if your sitter calls in sick or the daycare closes unexpectedly for teacher in-service and there’s no back-up, you’re staying home. If you’re the CEO, you can probably work from home, take a few conference calls, or maybe even pay $500 a day for a high-end, short-term nanny solution.

But if you work the night shift at McDonald’s, you might get fired. Or have to trade with someone who doesn’t have a child or a childcare issue, inconveniencing them. When working parents have childcare problems, it impacts all of their co-workers. Co-workers may
have to pick up the slack, take the business trip, make the presentation. They may have to trade shifts or stay late. The parents are caught in between the resentment of their co-workers and the need to care for their children.

Again, it’s a lose-lose. It doesn’t have to be this way. If the government would apply the same standards to early education and birth-through-school-age childcare and after-school care that it does to public schools themselves, I guarantee the economy would improve. Parents would miss far less work if they had childcare and back-up childcare, if their children were located closer to them or to their schools, if they knew their children were being cared for by people who had passed background inspections and were being paid a living wage.

Parents would be able to take many of the telemarketing and other jobs that are being shipped overseas. Children would be able to foster social relationships with other children who will soon be their peers at school. I’ll bet it would cost about the same amount we lose in productivity every year due to childcare issues.

Thanks so much Rita for taking the time to hang out over here with me at Mothers of Intention.

Next week, my guest Mother of Intention will be the fabulous Erika from Plain Jane Mom!

Related links to Rita’s posts on childcare at BlogHer:

On a different note, interested in a new book? Head on over to PunditMom Reviews to see if you were raised by wolves!

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21 Responses to “Mothers of Intention — A Lack of Reliable Childcare May Break Our Economy, by Surrender, Dorothy”

  1. Kelby Says:

    Thanks so much for posting about this issue, which is a HUGE one! We were paying more than our mortgage in child care before I started working from home most days. I am a professional who is pretty well paid, and most of my pay was going to childcare… and I have a 2-income household!

    What about moms who work odd hours? What about, as you say, moms earning minimum wage?

    A big beef of mine… lack of part-time and flexible childcare. It’s almost unheard of everywhere I’ve lived. And even those that offer it charge a much higher daily rate, so it really doesn’t save you much.

  2. Amy in Ohio Says:

    Fantastic post and it really hits home for me. I’m lucky to have good childcare, but when I think of what those providing make an hour, how they go without health insurance and paid vacations and the like, I’m saddened. I sometimes feel like part of the problem since I’m clearly subsidizing their poor working conditions and expecting them to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to care for my daughter each day.

    The people dedicating their lives to this kind of work need to be compensated accordingly if we hope to have quality folks taking these positions. Maybe they need a union? Who knows? But they work tirelessly and for so little, it’s no wonder we face high turnover, limited availability, etc.

    This time of life is crucial – it must be an item added to the national agenda.

    Not to make this my own little stump speech, but these issues are a big part of what draws me to the DNC and why they’ll have my vote in November. Obama and Clinton both clearly spell out the laundry list of shortcomings facing the working families of the US. The other guys apparently don’t even now about the struggles we face.

    Great post!

  3. Fweetieb Says:

    I took a pay cut to move into a job that is much more flexible when it comes to the work/life balance. If I have to, I can work from home, and my boss is good about letting us leave as needed for the sake of our families.

    My in-laws live close, and in a pinch, they can watch the little Monkee, so I feel very blessed.

    With another kid on the way, I see our daycare cost skyrocketing. But my family needs my income, so here we are…in the middle America pinch.

  4. Donna Says:

    Your post brings back a lot of bad memories of the first two years of my daughter’s life, when I was working outside the home. I also had to place my child in a daycare that was the best of a lot of bad choices, and was fortunate to move her into a wonderful place after only a few months — but those few months were terrible.

    Even after improving our situation, childcare – paying for it, getting there on time, taking over on sick days – was a source of constant stress.

    For a nation that talks a good game about the importance of families, we do jack shit to support working parents. Thank you for spelling out some of the consequences.

  5. Lanie Painie Says:

    I’m in the opposite camp. There are already tax incentives for working mothers whose children are brought up in the daycare system. Wouldn’t it be in the nation’s moral interest to incent a parent to stay home and raise children themselves? Nobody should feel that they “have” to work two full time jobs (mom – or dad – plus paying profession). I think that is the real problem that should be addressed by government. Aside from the fact that many of the people who feel FORCED to work and use daycare actually indulge in many luxuries that could be eliminated if they chose to stay home, there are those who do need to work. Those people, and only those people, should be allowed public funding for childcare in my opinion. I do, however, strongly agree that childcare standards should be set and closely monitored by the law.

    Thanks for sharing your very intersting perspective!

  6. Daisy Says:

    As a former day care teacher and a mother of two, I salute you. There is a crisis in child care, and the victims are the children.
    I still have a copy of the paycheck that sent me out of child care: after taxes and insurance, it was $.01. Yes, one penny.

  7. PunditMom Says:

    Hmmm, lanie, I’m not sure who you know, but I do not know any mothers or fathers who, as you put it, would be able to stay home if they gave up other luxury things — you mean like food, heat and transportation? As far as I can tell, that’s a story concocted by the right-wingers to keep from having to address this issue.

    And really — your phrase about “children being brought up in the daycare system” is just insulting to all the mothers who work outside the home and raise children.

  8. Lanie Painie Says:

    Really? You don’t know any families that have two incomes that indulge in luxuries like cable television, restaurant meals, cell phones, big flatscreen televisions and video game systems or designer clothing? Not one that drive $30K brand new – or leased cars that have swimming pools in their back yard or a country club membership? I know a few that have such luxuries and still feel that both parents “have” to work to provide food, heat, and transportation – even though I live in a city with a pretty good public transit system.

    As a card-carrying democrats, I do hear my share of right-wing propoganda from my republican pals, but not usually on matters of raising a family. I also have plenty of left-wing friends who admit that they probaby COULD stay home with their kids, but they really enjoy shopping and having their independence.

    I’m not judging one as good or the other as bad, simply stating that if people WANT to stay home and raise their children, if they are only working because they feel FORCED into it by the state of our economy, then wouldn’t it make sense, for society’s own good and for the good of families, for government to reward that choice?

    I truly apologize if I insulted you (or anybody) with my choice of words describing kids that spend more hours in childcare than with at least one of their actual parental units. Kids are either with their family or they’re not. I welcome other suggestions on wording that would be less offensive.

    Thanks again.

  9. Carrie Says:

    As a childcare teacher, I applaud your post. I make more than some people in my field, however it’s still not much and I don’t have insurance. And I admit many of the centers I have worked in aren’t quality centers. Quality takes money and the parents just can’t afford it. And the teachers have a hard time affording additional training to improve their teaching skills. The National Association for the Education of Young Children, an early childhood educator professional association, is fightning for the many of the things discussed here; quality care, well educated teachers, and government support. You might want to check them out.

  10. Walling Family Says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and your take on the “childcare crisis” I am a home child care provider that provdies preschool curriculum. When I look at the per hour rate I charge it is 2.50 cents an hour. I am not even paid minimum wage, this is somethign I choose to do and I love what I do. It works better for me then to be in a corporate childcare situation where I could not make decisions for the best interest of the children. If I want a vacation it is not paid, if I get sick too bad I won’t get paid for days I don’t watch children. As a provider I also feel that parents do not appreciate what I do for their children. They are happy and feed nutritious meals, exercise and learning take place during the day. Many times a parent picks up their child and comments on the dirt on their shirt, etc. It isn’t just dirt it is something we learned about, their children learned. My solution is to smile and then I sent out a memo that asked that kids not be dressed in their best clothes. Children learn when they can explore. I wish I could do more for the children I watch but the more I do the less I get paid. Childcare is a big decision and once you have made the decision take the time out to make sure your provider knows they are appreciated!

  11. anniegirl1138 Says:

    Lack of childcare is a huge political issue here in Canada but one that is sadly only give lip-service by the government at the provincial and national levels.

    In my opinion this has everything to do with the lack of female representation in government. Men just don’t get it and why should they? They have wives to do that for them.

    The French probably have the best infant and early childcare system in the world.

    My daughter was in an excellent childcare that eventually melded with a preschool/elementary school but I had access to this only because I was a teacher in the school district (Des Moines, IA) where this was offered. Sadly, it has been dismantled and no longer exists. Fortunately, I don’t need it anymore, but others do and that is very sad.

    We aren’t going to go back to the mom stays at home model simply because good daycare doesn’t exist. When will the conservatives and the government realize that the era was an anomaly rather than a model?

  12. Anonymous Says:

    I agree with Lanie. While some people, such as single parents, don’t have the option of staying home with their children, lots of people choose a specific standard of living over staying home with their children. We live in a society that pushes luxuries as necessities. I’m am not saying this is the case with everyone, but is the case with lots of families.
    I do believe everyone needs to chose what they believe is best for their own families. I have a graduate degree and had a professional job before I had my child. I opted to stay home with him after looking for adequate childcare and finding only one suitable option. My husband had encouraged me to stay home from the time we started trying for a family, but he wanted the desire to give up my career and stay home to come from me. As the childcare situation became critical and the time for me to go back to work grew near, we sat down an figured out how much of my check would go to adequate childcare, gas, work attire, eating out (b/c I, realistically, knew I would be too tired to work and cook every night), and a house cleaning service, it became clear that for our situation, it was almost a wash for me to stay home. And on the things that were luxuries, we just prioritized. So we have basic cable now. Stuff like that. My husband didn’t stay home instead because he earns more and does not lactate and we would still require a cleaning service.
    I agree that adequate child care is an issue, but offering tax incentives to parents who stay home is a good idea. It helps make it more affordable for one parent to stay home with their children. This opens up spaces at childcare centers for parents who really need that option. That may not be the best thing for every family, but why is it so bad to reward a one income family? We aren’t on WIC or welfare. We certainly contribute to the economy.

  13. HRMcD Says:

    I tend to see it the other way as well- reward the parents who sacrifice to have one parent stay home instead of childcare. I have been able to stay home and while I think it is a blessing to do so, it is damn hard sometimes to budget and not be able to follow my every whim. Like Lanie stated earlier, I have a lot of friends that live outside their means and justify the two income/childcare needs by saying they just have to in order to live. Give me a break! We make do or do without, and I will say that we are very happy and I know my kids/family isn’t suffering because we don’t have cable or a car with a DVD player etc. It is this sense of entitlement that society has forced upon people that they think they deserve this huge house or fancy car to be happy. It just isn’t true.

    I do know that there are the rare few who really can not afford to live on one income, who are really working their butts off to support their families instead of relying on the government. I think that it needs to be addressed- absolutely. But the thought of tax incentives for childcare just opens up a huge area that will be abused. I want my families tax dollars to go towards people who need help, not the ones who choose a lifestyle that is outside their means and want me to pay for it.

  14. ChefSara Says:

    This is a huge issue (and one that was addressed briefly when Obama answered the MOMocrats questions a while ago). I’m expecting my first child (due in August). We put ourselves on child care waitlists in January, but are still not sure we’ll have a spot in October when my FMLA leave runs out and I have to go back to work. And with my husband as a grad student, I can’t NOT work.

    And of course, once we do get a spot, affording it is a whole different story (again, see the part about grad student husband).

    Not only are other countries light years beyond they US when it comes to paid family leave, many also have state subsidized child care centers. So neither availability or cost are an impediment to those who need it.

  15. dallasmomof2 Says:

    Wow- this hits home! But for a reason you wouldn’t suspect…..

    Before kids, I worked a full-time job (as did my husband) and we both were paid veryn well. When I (we!) had children, I started to stay home and work p/t (a luxury, in and of itself, I know!!!). We had the ability to work a combined 50-60 hrs (him 40, me 10-20), and we THANK GOD (and our employer) everyday! We both have very flexible work situations that allow the occasional telecommuting, and flexible hours that are NECESSARY (not just ‘nice’) when raising 2 small children… To add insult to injury (for those of you who wish you had this flexibility), our employer recently added another benefit– BACK UP CHILDCARE, which they SUBSIDIZE!!!!!!! So, for the days that my husband or I don’t have childcare (mildly ill kids, closed daycare, closed pre-school, scholl in-service, sick nanny, vacationing babysitter, etc) I can have someone come to my home (with a full background check and a nursing degree!!!!!) and watch my kids, or I can send them to a daycare of my choosing (also vetted, and licensed) for drop-in near my home or work. While I haven’t used the latter option, other co-workers & I have had someone come to my home and watch my kids for the bargain basement price of $4 PER HOUR!!!! So, we each get 20 days/child (I have 2 kids, and my husband & I both get this benefit– so we get 80 DAYS!!!!) to have normal occurrences of illness, vacations & last-minute issues…. and still able to work.

    This is a great benefit, but it is obviusly also a HUGE benefit to my employer– more focused workers, less absenteeism, cheaper healthcare, more productivity, etc.

    And, yes, I do realize that this helps me get richer, and the poor get poorer…. it breaks my heart and makes me thankful everyday (which sure as hell helps me work harder to keep this great job)!

  16. ChefSara Says:

    While I don’t believe lanie was trying to say that *all* two income families with kids in child care could actually afford to have one parent stay home, comments like that do grate those of us who feel we have to work the wrong way.

    I would *love* to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m jealous of the women who can do that. But my husband is in grad school so the only health/retirement/dental/life insurance benefits we have are through my job. I don’t believe it is in the best interest of our family for us to sell our house (which wouldn’t sell in this market anyway…we’ve had houses in our neighborhood that have been on the market for over a year) and move into a cheap apartment because our house in an investment. Nor does it make sense for us to have to cut the amount we put in savings for a rainy day (which even if we used up every penny of our savings wouldn’t pay for my unpaid family leave). My husband’s grad student stipend can’t pay the mortgage, much less for food, clothes, etc. As it stands, we don’t even have basic cable, just network TV. No video game systems, can’t remember the last time we went out to a movie, and I struggle to find the balance between keeping our grocery bills within budget yet still trying to get *healthy* food. I can’t remember the last time I bought new clothes until my expanding uterus forced me to find maternity wear. And half of that came off Craig’s List. So where are the luxuries we’re supposed to cut so that I can afford to stay home and be the full-time mom I want to be?

    The solution isn’t simple. It would take one serious sized tax incentive to make it affordable for me to stay home. And I imagine that’s the case for most families. Those that would be able to afford to stay home if given the right tax credit are likely those that could afford to stay home now if they chose too. And the rest of us who want to wouldn’t be able to afford it regardless. And with such a policy, we’d still be stuck needing to find quality affordable child care with no help, because all the help is going to those who stay home.

    As it is, I’m counting the days til hubby graduates in 2010 because he will be able to find a job where we will be able to afford for me to stay home…just like I want.

  17. Amy in Ohio Says:

    While I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion – if lanie and the like are talking about people with swimming pools and flat screens, they aren’t looking at the working poor of this country.

    These families aren’t working 2-4 jobs between them to clean out their pool filter – they are doing it to feed their children. I have a dozen families that I know who had every intention of having a SAHM situation and a couple years into it find they can’t pay their mortgage.

    I guess it would be easy to only look at the swimming pool families in this discussion – but I assure you they are not the only ones affected by lousy childcare options.

    I think that perhaps you feel for whatever reason that women, if they choose to have children, should not work. And you are entitled to that opinion and I celebrate it. But judging those of us who either don’t have the choice or don’t want your options as rash consumers addicted to shopping and spending is unnecessary to make your opinion heard. Your generalizations do little more than offend – and how could they not.

    a working mom in ohio that doesn’t have a pool, flat screen or premium cable television (gotta have basic to get reception)

  18. Lanie Painie Says:

    My point was, if we are asking the government to help fund quality care for children, why not consider making it easier for parents who WANT to stay home to do that instead. This would open up existing daycare for people who CHOOSE to be gainfully employed. I didn’t intend pass judgement on people who make that choice. There has to be some balance between helping the working poor and rewarding people for living outside their means. I don’t have the answer for that dilemna, but I thought it to be and interesting discussion point.

    Also in Ohio, and ruffling feathers . ..

  19. Lawyer Mama Says:


    This is my number one issue as well. And I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to pay a wonderful, former teacher who treats my boys like her own. But I know that many families couldn’t afford the $17,000 a year we pay for an in-home daycare.

    Let me be clear – I choose to work. With lifestyle changes I could definitely stay home, but I (and my children) get a lot out of my job.

    Here’s an idea – Let’s make it easier for one parent (mom OR dad) to stay home for the first few years if they want to. AND, let’s help with affordable childcare for those who don’t have that luxury or don’t want to. Why can’t we support all mothers?

  20. One La Costa Mom Says:

    Wonderful post! All the comments clearly show what a hot button this topic is. I hope someone in Washington is listening.

    When I had my son, I worked to pay childcare. Very little, if any, of my paycheck ended up in the bank, but I had to work (yes HAD to) because at the time, hubby wasn’t with an employer who offered health care. He paid the bills, I provided the health care.

    It seems that really good childcare often puts a strain on a families budget as does having one person stay home (I’ve been on both sides having just lost my job in the real estate industry).

    I don’t know what the solution is, but people who need two incomes to pay their mortgage, put gas in their cars, pay off student loans, save for college, buy food that doesn’t all come in boxes with “Roni” and “Helper” the names and keep the utilities running and have health care shouldn’t have to pay someone under the table or leave their children somewhere they aren’t comfortable to make it all happen.

    A mom who recently lost her job and is scared about her mortgage and does have a Wii but it was a housewarming gift

  21. mothergoosemouse Says:

    We all ought to be able to find affordable, high quality childcare – regardless of our personal circumstances concerning our work (which are, frankly, no one else’s business).

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