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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Childcare for Dual-Career Couples.

by Leslie Morgan Steiner

 

My children are 13, 11 and 8. In other words, practically grown-ups. Finding daycare, nannies, and babysitters is a distant memory. Actually, more like a nightmare. Wait lists, reference checks, interviews, worries about missing pick-up or a nanny calling in sick on the day of an important business trip, these stresses all lodge blessedly in my parenting past.

 

Hiring and managing childcare providers was one of the only aspects of parenting young children that I truly, consistently despised. It was an important factor in deciding not to have a fourth child. It was a source of near-constant marital friction.

 

And not because childcare is so expensive – although it is. National childcare finder Care.com [1] estimates that over 15% of families’ household budgets are spent on daycare and babysitters; and 50% of the total childcare expense comes in summer, when school is out and it’s harder to find consistent, temporary childcare.

 

No, the childcare knife in my gut was more complicated than dollars and cents. Being dependent on someone else to care for my children so that I could work made me feel more vulnerable than I’ve ever felt. As a new mother, I simply could not, would not leave my kids with caregivers I didn’t trust 100%. Yet I couldn’t go to work for a single minute without childcare. I felt squeezed between razor-sharp maternal love vs. employee duty.

 

My husband was one of the only people I trusted 100% to take care of our kids. Unfortunately he wasn’t willing or able to cut back his hours at work – due to the norms of his industry he felt pressure to show how committed he was to work even though he had young kids. Additionally, he saw the cement-like childcare burden as mine to shoulder alone. I researched, found and kept good caregivers and daycare centers. I also handled drop off and pick up for all three children since he felt he had to be at work early and stay late in his male-dominated, stay-at-home-wife-dependent industry (let me note that I worked fulltime in the male-dominated, high-pressure world of daily journalism).

 

God knows we – like most new parents -- needed more help. We had three children born in a five year span, two intense careers, and no family in the area on a consistent basis. Many women might be grateful to have a husband willing to spring for live-in, round-the-clock care including a second shift of nannies. But I hated that my husband always saw the solution as "hire more help." It still bugs me.

 

Even though it’s been a few years since a sick call from a babysitter struck terror in me, my husband and I were arguing about daycare the other day. For reasons that would require several psychologists and family therapists to explain, we were revisiting our vastly different, Men-Are-From-Mars-Women-Are-From-Venus approaches to childcare. My long held view is that part of the solution when you have small children is for both parents to be flexible and creative about their work schedules and childcare options, to the extent possible. Not all couples can afford more paid help, and recent additions to the dual career childcare lexicon such as Sharon Meers and Joanna Strober’s excellent Getting to 50/50 [2] and Amy and Marc Vachon’s Equally Shared Parenting [3], argue convincingly that many childcare options exist for dual-career couples.

 

My husband’s position has not changed with time or distance. Ten years ago – and ten minutes ago -- his very consistent opinion has been that the solution is to hire more paid "help."

 

"Hiring more caregivers is just what dual-career couples DO," he explained the other night, as decisively as if he were explaining to eight-year-olds that ice melts at 32 degrees.

 

Which made me wonder – is this stubbornness a male disguise for "childcare is women’s problem, not mine"? And does our culture still reflect this bias? Is this why politicians, employers, the religious right and the government designate childcare a "women’s issue"?

 

Of course I believe in hiring nannies, babysitters, and daycare centers. It takes a village to raise a child, especially when both parents want or need to work. But when your family requires more support, sometimes the least-expensive, most reward solution is for both parents to compromise and to get creative. It’s a solution that our society could and should embrace. Kids benefit from time with both parents and other nonpaid caregivers such as relatives or care-sharing arrangements, and from seeing both adults model division of labor when it comes to child-care.

 

Flexibility is often free from employers’ perspective. There is family balance in depending on two careers instead of one. Both parents’ lives are enriched by combining work and family, instead of a "divide and conquer" separation with one parent focused on kids and the other focused on the paycheck. And when you start to explore in-kind childcare trades and involving family members, you tap into the rich resources surrounding each and every child. What women need now is for men – politicians, religious leaders, employers and government policy gurus -- to advocate and reward the Village of solutions instead of the every-mom-for-herself approach much of our country currently relies upon when it comes to childcare.


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