I write about the collision points between work and life. I have a tendency to focus more on the work side and work-related issues. Occasionally I will dip in my toe into subject matter that really is mostly about life outside of work or that only peripherally intersects with work. One subject area that I have traditionally stayed away from because it is so volatile is children, although I am loosening up about addressing that subject a bit. I’m careful because children are the sacred cow in our society. Part of the reason for this is patently obvious. It’s well known that there are numerous psychological and physiological connections between human parents and children which is not that much different from most species. There is a reason why the phrase “Mama Bear” exists when discussing an overprotective parent.
Because of these connections child related issues are also intertwined with many highly volatile political and social issues. Whenever there is a major political battle in Washington some politician will always bring up the legislation’s effect on children in their rhetoric. The best parody I have ever seen of this was in a Simpsons episode when Helen Lovejoy kept screaming different variations of “but won’t somebody please think of the children!?!?” over and over again in a town debate.
It’s not just on the news clips of the day I have learned from personal experience you cannot talk about the negative effects of children in your life openly and honestly. If smoking gives you cancer then the logical assumption is smoking is bad and you shouldn’t smoke. If properly raising children cost a cool quarter million dollars apiece in the world where a median income is a little bit over $40,000 a year then the average person has a significantly worse life. If you average two kids per family then that is $500,000 spent over the two decades of raising the kids. That’s money that can’t go to pay for nice vacations, reliable cars, or to spend money on things like personal growth or wellness. Looking at this picture what is the logical assumption? What is interesting about all of this is that on some level it’s completely understood by everyone. Almost any parent will tell you about how difficult it is to raise children. I’ve often heard phrases like “you’ll never be ready for kids.”. Another logical conclusion would be: why do something if you will never be ready for it?
There are many articles I can write about the challenges of working and raising children. The tax of daycare for the under five age group is one stellar example. But once you get through that first hump then things in theory get a little bit better. That’s when the public school system steps up and you can have your kid in school for the majority of the day. After school there are things like the Boys & Girls Club or the YMCA and after care programs that fill out the rest of the day. That is the foundation of today’s topic: Aftercare and alternative care.
The first important point for this discussion is to realize that the family dynamic has changed. At the beginning of the Industrial Age and several Generations into it the family structure had a parent, usually the father, in the workforce and the other parent stayed home and reared the children. Everything from the makeup of where people lived to the government run education systems were restructured to support the needs of the Industrial Age. There were still some call backs to the agrarian history of the country. The biggest of which was summer breaks for school kids who traditionally were needed on the Family Farm. This wasn’t a big deal as Suburban Moms would be at home and watch the kids in the summertime. The kids would go to summer camps or visit family. If they were lucky they got to spend their summers at something like Keuka Lake. If the kids got sick during the school year they would stay at home and Mom would nurse them.
Starting at around World War II that model changed significantly and really accelerated into the 70s, 80s and 90s with a significantly higher percentage of families having two wage earners. Another trend accelerating this change is the staggering growth of single-parent households. What was a statistic that hovered around 5% in the 1960s is much closer to 40% of households today. It’s not just the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum as it was in the 60s, today many middle-class families are starting with, or quickly migrating to only a single parent household. Daycares and the aforementioned after school programs stepped up to fill in when Mom wasn’t available to pick up the kids and watch them after school and right there is the challenge.
You would think that with an entire economy of either single working parents or dual-income households that the school and child care systems would realign to provide services that meet the needs of parents and children. That means a child education and care system where the service times align to the workforce work periods. The school system’s and related aftercare should understand that most parents max out at two weeks vacation per year and that vacation time allotments are not universal in their application across the workforce. In Europe many nations have areas that are universally shut down for a month or two in the summer, not so in America. Additionally the school system’s should align holidays as the private sector does and not give every national holiday off. What all this means is that there is a huge disconnect between how the childcare system works and how the corporate system works. Add in early dismissals and teacher work days and you have a minefield of childcare planning on the part of most parents.
There are early warnings of this when you have a child in daycare. The generally accepted practice is that if your child is sick, they can’t come to school. It’s a sensible policy if you want to minimize the spread of germs in a population that thinks if a thing exists, it’s should be in their mouth. It wreaks havoc on a single parent or dual income family with limited vacation or sick time. I know many parents who lose most of their vacation and sick leave to caring for children. This is also true of preordained shutdowns. Many daycares close for a week in the summer and the week of Christmas, something most private sector organizations do not do universally. In all cases, either disallowed attendance or shut downs, the parent is still expected to pay for services to ‘hold their child’s place’ which is complete bunk. The reality is that the continuous income is needed to keep these small businesses financially liquid as they operate with high payrolls relative to their cash flow.
One of the ways that low income parents can have access to an arguably sophisticated and mostly successful school system is that the costs typically are spread over everyone in a community through property tax. You pay this tax whether you have school age children in the system or not. There is no analogous system for aftercare. If you want it, you have to pay. This is true even of non-profit’s like the Boys and Girls Club when they are available. If you are lucky enough you can fill in this void with extended family members such as grandparents, assuming they aren’t still working. More realistically the grandparents are indeed working or none are close by because so many people relocate far from their heart homes in our modern economy. This leaves community agencies and institutions like “The Y” All of which still include an additional cost that is is not shared across the community thus completely shouldered by the parents. Not only is there an additional cost, the operating times are not aligned to the school system. Often I have witnessed that summer programs will start a week after school and end a week or two before school is back in session. So much for meeting the needs of kids AND parents. Even if you have the money and can pay some exorbitant for-profit service to fill in the blanks in service times, there is still the illness issue. Where grandma will prioritize care for the grandchild over the risk of catching the stomach bug or cold to help out the parents, the staff at the after school agency have no such familial loyalty.
So we have a modern population that is heavily skewed towards either two income or single parent households. We have a business culture that extols their family friendliness but who really focus on operational effectiveness to the exclusion of everything else as their shareholders expect them too. We have a school system that still operates like it’s 1950, and we have after care that has so many holes in it’s service plan that if it was a ship moored off the coast of North Carolina my state would instantly have an amazing new artificial reef. Simply put child care services and costs simply don’t match up with the needs of modern families.
How do we currently manage it all? It’s mostly putting patches on a worn and old fabric of child care. We use the school and inexpensive aftercare where we can. We work from home while the child is sick if we have a proactive employer that allows it. We use up our vacation time where we have to. We organize our lives around daycare and school breaks and pay the obscene ‘in season’ rates if we do choose to go somewhere during that period of time when everyone else is forced to take off. The crazy thing is that this is one tiny little issue when you consider the entirety of the challenges of raising children to be effective adults. It’s no wonder that when watching political commentary on your video service of choice you are almost guaranteed to hear someone scream in near hysterics something like “Won’t someone please think of the children?!?!”
I would love to be tremendously insightful and offer some amazing and unique solution. I know what we need but to the best of my knowledge I have never met a daycare or after school care that operates with little to no cost for the parents, offers services for kids at every age, operates extended hours every day of the year and specializes in caring for kids suffering from some standard childhood illness. I guess if someone did figure out how to offer that service then the name is obvious. You would just call the business “Nanna’s House”.
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