It’s a pretty fraught subject. Just the word can send shivers down the spine of even the most courageous new mother. The thought of leaving your tiny, helpless baby with anyone but you sounds like a total impossibility. They need you, physically, emotionally, psychologically. Stories like this wreck us and leave us wondering why we have to leave them at all. Separating from your child, especially when they are still tiny, may be the hardest thing you ever do as a mother.
And yet… we are going to need someone to take care of them, because the reality is, we can’t always be with them every single minute of every single day. Technically, yes, we can, and some mothers do, and to each her own. But eventually there is going to come a time when you have to make this decision, if you ever want some time alone, or just a night out with friends or your significant other.
And for those of us who rely on childcare so that we can work, it is a decision that looms over us from the moment our children are born. The situation for mothers who need to work is less than ideal. Overall, 70% of U.S. women with children under 18 participate in the labor force. The U.S. ranks dead last among developed nations on the issue of paid maternity leave, which from the start, forces American women to make a very difficult choice. The cost for quality childcare continues to rise, leaving mothers between a rock and a hard place.
When I was expecting my first child, my fear surrounding my job situation was intense. What was I going to do? What if I brought her home and just couldn’t bear to part with her for 40 hours a week? I knew I wanted to be with my daughter, and that the cost of a full-time daycare center would void out any full-time position I could get, since my background was in non-profit management.
Not only was I crossing this great precipice into motherhood, which was huge enough- I had to plan how I would keep earning an income at the same time, and quick. The non-profit where I was employed at the time did not have any part-time openings, and outside of providing six weeks of paid leave, could not provide a working arrangement that made sense for me as a new mom.
So at six weeks postpartum, after an unplanned c-section, I began to search for and interview for part-time work. I remember the first time I went for an interview at a local NPR affiliate station for a development assistant temp position. I woke up, completely blinded by exhaustion. I immediately brewed a cup of coffee to jump start my brain, showered (something that was a rare treat), blow-dried my hair, and put on makeup. After I found a suitable outift that wasn’t yoga pants and a spit-up covered t-shirt, it was go time.
I looked in the mirror, and distinctly remember thinking “this is such a farce. They are going to see right through me. My bloodshot eyes, blinking strangely at the light. My pale skin! It looks like I just crawled out of a cave. How can I pretend that I am in any position to report to work? How can I even begin to enter the outside world?”
Surprisingly, I fooled them. I got the job. Which meant three days per week driving in 9-5 traffic north of downtown to the office. Leaving my daughter was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I nursed her exclusively for eight months, and would get up in the middle of the night to try and pump enough for the next day. I pumped three times a day at work. It was no picnic, but I was making money and still getting to spend most of the week with her, which I counted as a total gift.
Eventually I decided I needed to work for myself, and with God’s providence and some really lucky breaks I was able to start my own freelancing business and replace my part-time income. I haven’t looked back since, and my childcare needs have stayed fairly steady since those days.
I am going to be up front with you right now- I got lucky. Really, really lucky. When my daughter was young, both my parents and my husband’s parents relocated to our town. They were both retiring and wanted to be close to family. And since my children were young, we have been able to leave them with “Grandma” and “Grammy”.
I know what you are thinking. Trust me, my friends say it to me all the time and without holding back. I have it SO easy. I have no idea what other moms are dealing with when it comes to childcare. I have FREE childcare, and I am guaranteed that these women love and care for my children as much as I do. I know. You want to throw tomatoes at me. Go right ahead, I deserve it.
But after you are done throwing, please hear me. I know that I am beyond lucky to have this. I realize that this is the unicorn situation. And I am grateful. But even if this were not my situation, I would still have needed to figure something out. Since those early days, we have utilized several different childcare services, primarily the amazing Mother’s Day Out programs that are prevalent at churches here in the South, as well as babysitters. Lots of babysitters. We know the cost of good childcare, and we know the sacrifices that it takes to make ends meet when you still need to work as a mom. I have chosen to walk the tightrope of self-employment, which to some can seem like a walk in the park, but it certainly comes with it’s own set of challenges.
I know my story isn’t unique. Every single mother I know is figuring it out as she goes, making it work. Whether she is home the majority of the time, working a side gig, freelancing, needs help just to get a few errands run, or is working 40+ hours each week and needs to know that her children are being loved and cared for each day as she would care for them herself.
Let’s be honest- the system is not rigged in our favor. But, like women throughout history always have, we make it work. We figure it out. We make a plan, we do the best we can, and we accept the pitfalls and potential guilt and questions along the way.
I would love to know… what is your childcare situation? How do you “make it work”?