Ah, the joys of working parenthood

Mr. Jane and I are so, so fortunate that we have good quality, affordable daycare for Baby Jane that we absolutely, positively love. It is so wonderful to drop Baby Jane off in the mornings and know that she is in a secure, loving, enriching care situation. It frees up so much of my mental energy (and Mr. Jane's, too)---I'm not constantly thinking about her, because I know she's having fun and is being well cared for, too---so that I can concentrate on work while at work. A novel concept, I realize.

The flip side, though, is that her daycare is a home daycare, which means that if something happens to our wonderful daycare provider (like if she gets sick or has a family emergency), daycare is closed. Our Plan B for these situations is that we split daycare duties, with Mr. Jane taking the classes-and-office-hours shift. This is not ideal, but it's mostly workable---there have only been one or two times where one of us had to postpone a meeting as a result of the Daycare Shuffle.

But Mr. Jane travels as part of his job, and our Plan C is...well, we don't have one.

And we so desperately need a Plan C, oh, right about now.

I can't help thinking, in addition to the endless loop playing in my head right now*, how much easier and less stressful this situation might be if we had, you know, family-friendly workplaces. Like with emergency childcare resources available, or some kind of flexible, creative way to help deal with the occasional childcare (or family care) emergency. Or even just an acknowledgment that we're complex people with complex lives, and allowing for a way to blend all those pieces of our lives together more seamlessly, with less of a struggle. I guess I'm just frustrated with the fact that things like childcare/family care emergencies are pretty common among workers with kids/elderly parents/sick family members, but we all struggle on our own to find our own solutions, and hide this all from our bosses/colleagues, because god forbid we show any side of us that's not the "ideal worker"! When in reality, if we could just acknowledge that this is a common occurrence, and have a workable solution at the ready, well then we actually *could* be ideal workers because we could be actually doing our jobs! For pete's sake, this is not rocket science.

* The loop is currently sounding something like this: "oh my god I have SOOO much work to do! How am I going to get all of this done? There's no way I'm going to get it done! Forget that, how the hell am I supposed to concentrate when I have no idea who's going to be taking care of my kid this week? Could I actually bring her to that meeting? What if daycare is closed all week? I can't believe daycare is closed. I can't believe how much work I have to do! I wonder if [colleague] could watch her while I'm teaching? When the hell am I supposed to write that exam? And what about that research deadline? What am I going to lecture about tomorrow? I have no lecture for tomorrow! Will I get any sleep tonight?"

More like this

One of the (non-academic) places I worked had a contract with an outside company for backup childcare. I'm not sure it's still available these days - that was in the Silicon Valley during the dot com boom - but there certainly seems like there is a demand for such a service if only businesses and academic institutions were willing to subsidize it for their employees.

We've had to do seriously crazy things for Plan C. Like drive 10 hours out of the way to drop kids off with grandparents. I think the problem with recognizing that these kinds of things happen is that some people think those policies only help people with kids. The reason they think that is that they're either a) men with sah spouses; b) singles or couples without kids; and/or c) have never had anyone get sick or die on them yet. Very few people in my department had kids, but I've seen so many parental, sibling, and personal illnesses where people don't just need the time off to tend to these things, but need time to decompress themselves or some help managing their own days to day stuff that is now going to fall by the wayside as they tend to more important matters. When people would say to me, well you have kids, so it must be hard to work overtime or on the weekends, I would say, sure, but you know, everyone deserves a life. Everyone deserves to do whatever they want with their own time and not have it sucked up by your employer. Same goes for extraordinary situations. Everyone deserves the time and space and support they need.

Dear Jane, I'm usually a lurker I just wanted to say I really really like your blog, and I hope very much that you can find a solution soon. And, most importantly, don't let those idiotic trolls you got in the other comments make you feel bad about yourself or guilty. You are doing the right thing for you and your family!
Back to lurking now.

I find it hard to believe that anyone needs convincing about how much better it is for a child to be taken care by family members (mom, dad, grandparents, etc). That being said, I don't see how telling Jane how nice/better/etc is to be a stay-at-home mom is going to help. I'm pretty sure staying at home was considered and, for whatever reasons, was not a (good) option. And working is not always about buying shiny stuff :)

Dear Jane, I'm sure you'll find a solution. Like in any other crisis situation, we do find a way out, even if that involves serious lack of sleep, lowering the quality of our work for a while and also our expectations. Whatever happens, don't beat yourself up for it. I'm sure you're trying your best right now and who can ask for more?!

I don't have a kid myself, although I consider having one in the near future. My university offers daycare for the staff, and that is probably a great relief for many. Too bad your institution doesn't have something similar.

Whenever you are out of this crisis situation, maybe you have time to invest in some searches for a plan C. I was thinking maybe having a person/nanny that can be called for these emergency situations may be a great thing. I wonder if there is anyone around that takes care of 3-4 kids at once and then could accommodate Baby Jane for a couple of days as well when you desperately need it.

Best of luck this week with everything!!!

You have my complete and total sympathy. It's much better for me now, but when I was doing the "single mom" thing (I was finishing my undergrad and working, as well), it was a nightmare. I missed so many classes because my son was asthmatic and had some physical sensitivities. You can't believe how grateful I am for the wonderful, understanding professors who let me turn things in late or let me suck up their office hours because of the missed classes (and thus missed notes).

My suggestion is to perhaps look for a day-care center. My husband and I are going through exactly this same thing because our day care provider, who is a wonderful person, has frequent medical appointments and will be taking two weeks off at the end of January. Since he's in one city and I'm in another, he can only utilize the drop-in center on campus...which has a max of 4 hours per day. It's not easy to find a fall-back, and it seems like a center is a better solution. If someone gets sick there, there's someone else to take over. The down side is, of course, that there are more illnesses and other issues going. If you find a good Montessori school that goes down to pre-school, the kids usually seem happy and are learning as well.

Best of luck.

I - and a colleague - have actually brought our kids to the lectures we were teaching as Plan Z. When all backup fails, find appropriate bribery items (cookies, coloring books, new stuffed doggy, comic book, ice cream) and park kid right in the lecture room. I worked, but I don't want to have to do this more often than once a semester.

The funniest lecture was when we were doing the fox/cabbage/goat problem as an exercise on the board, and my sick 6-year-old came slowly crawling up the side isle, completely curious to hear how that farmer got the wolf across the river without getting eaten um himself :)

By WiseWoman (not verified) on 17 Nov 2008 #permalink

I do sometimes wonder if some of the drive to put on a brave face affects women more. My dh was a work-at-home cum part-time stay-at-home-dad for a while. I have heard him, when it was his shift, quite unselfconsciously telling the people on the other end of the tele-conference that they would have to excuse him for a while as he had a nappy to change! I kind of admired him because I knew I would never have the nerve to be so 'unprofessional'. Obviously, working at home with your own company is already an easier situation to manage.

Trolls begone!!!!

Ahem. Now that's out of the way, I wanted to say that in the town where I live, there is at least one specialist provider who specialises in emergency nannies. There's also a sitter service that charges a monthly membership fee.

OK, I'm not normally in the habit of deleting comments, but I made the executive decision to delete the comments taking me to task for being a bad mom for having my kid in daycare in the first place. Not because I'm "squelching dissent", but because frankly, they're not adding anything helpful to the discussion. So, trolls begone, indeed.

The center thing has come up before, and it certainly would solve a lot of these issues. Mr. Jane and I may revisit that decision (we actually decided against a center pretty early on in the interview process, for various reasons---not because there are not quality centers around us, but more because we wanted more of a home-like setting). But we are also looking into other stop-gap measures, like temporary sitters or emergency care (we haven't successfully found anything like that near us, but maybe it's because we're not asking the right questions or looking in the right places?).

Thanks for your thoughts so far---please keep the discussion going!

Oh, and Pen, I've also heard Mr. Jane wrap up business calls by saying "I have to go make dinner for my daughter" or "can I call you back, I need to take care of my daughter". I can't even *imagine* being able to say that to *any* of my work colleagues!

Hi Jane, thanks for responding to my comment, I guess it got deleted in the purge it looks like you had to carry out. I don't think the purge was aimed at me? : )

Hope things are going better now. I have nothing else intelligent to offer, because I think the change has to come from our employers and workplaces.

Funny that you mention how dads are more willing to admit when they're dealing with a kid. My husband took our youngest to department meetings. There's a great picture of his department meeting with a bunch of chairs in a circle and our son putting diapers around the chair's chair. He was quiet and that's all that matter. He also takes the kids to the lab with him. I tried to take my kids to work with me a couple of times when they had a day out of school, but I got discouraged from doing that. I also felt more self-conscious about it. I think it does have something to do with wanting people to see you as a professional and not just a mommy.

Oh, and I missed the troll, but I assume he/she was saying that you should quit and a be a sahm. Boo to that. And I did quit and I still say boo to that. Do what you want. We should be pushing for more support from our workplaces, schools and the government to make two-income families work. And at the same time, give support to those who do choose to stay at home. We need both! We need real choices! /rant

Pen, your comment is still there---it's 2 above my first comment.

Laura, there were actually multiple trolls, but yes, they were all saying variations of the same thing. Funny that people are so willing to take moms to task for not staying home, but not many give the same flak to dads for not staying home....hmmmmmm

My kids are grown up now, but I remember feeling in the same spot when they were young.

Plan A was a wonderful small co-op daycare. My daughter's room had six toddlers, one full-time teacher, one part-time teacher, plus each of the parents putting 3 hours a week, plus wonderful student interns dropping by once a week. The teachers and the other parents were like an extended family--we got to know one another very well because of the co-op nature.

Unlike family daycare, it didn't close unpredictably (and it arranged for subs if necessary due to teacher illness or teacher family emergency), but still kids in daycare do get sick a lot, and centers have strict policies about sick kids staying home.

Plan B was hiring a wonderful college student with a flexible schedule, who were often available on short notice. We actually had several of them, and they were really great. There was a psychology student who was fascinated by toddlers and who enjoyed teaching me everything she was learning about child development in her classes (she was an intern for pediatrician and author Brazelton as well as Jerome Kagan.) She was the closest thing our family ever had to a Mary Poppins. My daughter adored her--they both loved "Ernie" on Sesame Street. There was also a drama student who was really great at engaging my daughter in games of "pretend."

Plan C was also my husband (a professor like me, who arranged his teaching schedule so it complemented mine) and who could often work from home a lot of the time. But because he often needed to get stuff done, I generally supplemented it with Plan D.

Plan D was calling a service called "Parents in a Pinch," which I wasn't especially wild about, since you never quite knew what sort of sitter you'd get. (But given that my husband and/or I could do a fair amount of work from home, a Parents in a Pinch sitter might be able to entertain/occupy our child so we could get work done.)

Plan E was having a colleague with whom I'd previous team-taught who also a had a small child. We knew each other's courses well enough that either of us could pinch-hit for the other on very short notice. I remember getting an emergency call from the daycare center that my daughter had gotten her fingers caught in a slamming outdoor gate, and the daycare teacher (a former pediatric nurse) thought I should take her to the doctor ASAP in case there were fractures or something. It was 15 minutes before my class was supposed to start. I walked across the hall to my colleague's office, described very sketchily (about three words) what I'd been planning to teach, and dashed off to the daycare to pick up my daughter, confident that my class would be well taken care of. He was happy to do it--he'd called me at 6 a.m. the day his wife had gone into labor to ask me to cover his class. (To finish out the story about the fingers--I took her to the pediatrician, who was concerned about possible damage to the growth plates, so she sent us to Children's Hospital which had a good pediatric ortho dept, and after many hours of waiting around, we finally got the good news that there was no long term damage. Those hours of waiting were spent among many parents with children in far more difficult situations--it cetainly made me grateful.)

Plan F was occasionally bringing a child to my office hours or a meeting at the university.

Life is simpler now that they are off in college and grad school, respectively, but I miss them terribly.

I'm pretty sure staying at home was considered and, for whatever reasons, was not a (good) option. And working is not always about buying shiny stuff :)

Jane, I'm glad you are deleting all the idiots who are blathering about how you shouldn't have your kid in daycare. Don't let those knuckleheads bother your or ruin your blog!

I am totally with you on this topic. You can't believe all the contortions my siblings and I go through to tend to my mother, even though she is in assisted living now. She still has to be taken to doctor appointments, of which she has zillions, and when she is in the hospital someone has to be there with her because she can't really advocate for herself with the hospital staff. She doesn't understand well what is going on with her. Being even just a little bit ill impairs her cognitive functioning significantly. My siblings are burning their vacation days to take mom to doctor appointments and be there when she is in the hospital; I am spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on travel expenses to get there when extended care situations arise. Don't know what we'd do if I were working now too. There is just absolutely no provision in society for caring for the young or the aged; it's everybody for themselves and good luck if you can figure it out on your own, and you better hope you have enough money to buy the patchwork of care you are able to put together.

Employers and colleagues are just going to have to get over it and realize that the care that is supplied, mostly by women, to children and the aged is necessary and important and takes time away from work and has to be done anyway and is just another cost of doing business in a society with human beings.

I've also heard Mr. Jane wrap up business calls by saying "I have to go make dinner for my daughter" or "can I call you back, I need to take care of my daughter". I can't even *imagine* being able to say that to *any* of my work colleagues!

a reason for men to be even more overt in communicating to colleagues that the reason they are not doing something is for childcare responsibilities. perhaps eventually the women around you will also enjoy such freedom...

By DrugMonkey (not verified) on 03 Dec 2008 #permalink