The Washington Post recently ran an article that really hit home with me. The article detailed the high expense of day-care and cited cases of young children being left at home alone. It went on to explain that many middle and working class families are being forced to make some really tough decisions regarding childcare, namely, omitting childcare altogether because of lack of funds.
In some cities, childcare can cost as much as rent. It’s very hard for a two parent family to pay the cost of childcare and almost impossible for a single parent. Not so very long ago, I was a single mother. I remember the difficulty I had when it came to paying for childcare and I only had one child. I can only imagine how much harder it is with several children. There was a time period when I got into a vicious cycle of working two jobs, one of which was solely to pay the extra expense of childcare. Somewhere in my exhaustion and despair over not being able to spend time with my son, I became determined to find a better way.
I started talking to the other mothers at the daycare where my son stayed. Many of them were just as frustrated as I was. Since I worked both days and nights, I had the opportunity to speak with different shift workers. For over a month, we did nothing but talk, complain and whine about the situation.
Then one day when I took my son to daycare, he refused to leave my side. He was only three years old at the time and couldn’t find the words in his small vocabulary to tell me what was wrong, but I had a pretty good idea. I gave notice at my second job that very night. Then I got serious about finding alternatives to expensive childcare.
There were two mothers that seemed more interested than the rest and like me they were single parents. I set up a meeting away from the childcare center where we could talk and get to know each other. We all had the same goals; save money on childcare expenses and make sure our children were well cared for.
We all worked different shifts and that turned out to be the catalyst that set our Mother’s Co-Op into motion. The first thing we did was visit each home. It was important that we felt comfortable with the environment our children would be staying in. We scheduled playtime among the kids on a weekend when we could all come together. Lucky for us the children were fairly close in age and development. They knew each other from daycare and got along just fine.
Then we drew up and signed an agreement. I think that’s what made the whole thing work. We had to really discuss what we were going to do and how, before we just jumped into it. We equally shared the responsibility of taking care of the kids, almost as if they were our own. I firmly believe it was better for the children and better for us too.
It wasn’t easy. We didn’t live close to each other and we were all quite different people. We didn’t have many shared interests but each of us had certain strengths that contributed to the success of our Mother’s Co-op. Our main motivation was the kids. It was amazing to watch them blossom under the love and care we were able to give them. I think our parenting skills grew as well. I went from having one child to having four children on a regular basis. They became our extended family. There were times the kids got cranky or sick. When one was grouchy, it affected them all. Once, one of the kids was very sick and we missed her terribly until she was able to return.
If you take the money factor out of the equation, it would have been easier to continue to just drop our kids off at daycare. But the true cost of childcare is not the monetary expense, it’s how your children are affected, it’s their happiness and well being that are at stake.
If you are faced with some tough decisions about childcare, don’t give up. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have to leave your child at home alone. There are alternatives, you just have to be willing to look for them and make things work. Check with other parents that are in similar situations. Talk to churches, relatives, neighbors and friends.
If you decide to work with other parents, don’t let your Co-Op get too large. Four children were plenty for me to handle and I don’t think I would have wanted any more than that. Talk everything out beforehand. Get to know each other, more importantly, make sure the kids will get along and be comfortable. Draw up an agreement and set the schedule. This will help everything run smoothly.
Yes, I saved money and was able to quit my second job because of our little Mother’s Co-Op. But the rewards went far beyond the money saved. I invite you to give it a try. Your children will remember it for the rest of their lives.