I'm Looking For A Unicorn Named Affordable Childcare
For many parents, trying to find reliable childcare is next to impossible. Any half decent babysitter is often out of many families’ budget. They deserve a living, fair wage too, but that doesn’t mean you can afford the price.
You may be lucky enough to live near friends and family who will pitch in when they can. But relying on those close to you is not always an option either. The struggle of trying to work, or even get a few hours alone, without access to reliable, affordable childcare is so real. And a lot of the time, it’s incredibly isolating.
As a single mom, whose only family lives across the country, I am all too aware of the struggle. Even though I try to find trustworthy childcare when I can, I can’t hire a babysitter. And the people I have who graciously watch my son have lives of their own. So, most of the time I have to drag him along to whatever thing I’m trying to check off my list. This usually includes having to take him to all of my appointments, like the gynecologist.
I’m lying on the examination table wearing that flimsy paper gown. My ass is hovering inches away from the edge, my heels in the stirrups. As my gynecologist goes to insert the speculum, I hear:
“DAY OF THE DIESELS!”
My five-year-old son is sitting only a few feet away from my covered vulva. He is watching YouTube so intently, he probably has no idea I’m having my cervix swabbed with a giant Q-tip. I feel a laugh coming, but I’m terrified the speculum will fly out of my vagina. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve had to drag him with me to a doctor’s appointment because I didn’t have anyone to care for him. But still, I’d much prefer to not hear “Sir Topham Hatt’s Song” while a giant plastic object is being inserted into my body.
As the dulcet tones of Thomas and Friends continues to play, my doctor gives me a sympathetic smile. It says, “Been there, done that.” And I kind of appreciate the silent commiseration.
When you’re a parent who doesn’t have regular access t0 childcare, having to bring your kid(s) with you everywhere is the only way to get anything done. Especially when they’re young and not in school. When my son was in preschool, it was only part of the day. Which means that he had to join me for just about every daytime appointment I had because I didn’t have time to accomplish much before I had to race back to pick him up.
Sometimes having your kid with you is a minor inconvenience, like having to schlep them to the grocery store or Target, but then, there are the times you have to bring them along to the dentist or to get a long overdue haircut. Nobody wants that.
Every shitty errand takes even longer when you have a kid in tow. Instead of just running into Target and grabbing the two (or 33) things you need, you spend 15 minutes arguing with your kid about why they can’t have another Spiderman toy. By the time you’re done, you’ve likely spent far too much money. And you probably only checked 30% of the things off your list. But chances are the kid got a random toy, so you could avoid the exhaustion of a public meltdown.
I’m lucky that I have a small support system and I’m very grateful for their existence, but sometimes everyone is busy. And when you’re relying on others for childcare, your schedule isn’t as flexible. Or I’ve asked for several favors in a row and then I feel bad asking for more.
When you’re a parent who doesn’t have regular access to reliable childcare, having to bring your kids with you everywhere is the only way to get anything done.
More often than not, it’s the guilt that motivates me to just bring my kid with me everywhere. There have been times where I need to do something important, but it takes such detailed coordination that it’s just easier to say “screw it” and just bring the kid(s)along with you. The mental load of trying to plan and coordinate this stuff, and make sure everyone’s schedules line up can be more exhausting than just taking the kids along for the ride.
Parents who don’t have any reliable childcare have learned to just keep rolling. You strap the baby to your chest, make sure the tablet is loaded with games for the toddler, and then you bring enough snacks to keep them distracted while a dentist is holding a drill in your mouth. But it’s hard, because the whole time you’re on the exam table, you’re focusing on how they’re doing. Are they getting in the way? Do they need to go to the bathroom? You know they are eventually going to lose it, but when? Your already frayed nerves are extra frayed the whole time.
Being a parent without a true ‘village’ is also isolating. When you can’t find someone to watch your kids, it’s not just errands and chores that become a struggle; trying to have any semblance of a social life sometimes doesn’t even feel worth the hassle. You can’t really catch up with your girlfriends about your lack of a sex life while your kid is sitting on the floor watching Minions for the millionth time. And depending on where you are, it’s frowned upon to bring your kid to happy hour, no matter how well behaved they may be.
In the grand scheme of things, this may seem like a trivial issue. But, I get lonely being alone all the time. Sometimes I want to go out with my girlfriends to a place without a children’s menu. I already spend enough time with my kid. When you’re constantly with your child, you crave those brief moments to remember that you’re more than just a parent.
And this isn’t just my perspective as a single mom. Married and coupled parents face the same struggle of not finding time for each other or themselves. It really begins to take a toll on your relationships and mental health.
Being a parent with minimal access to reliable childcare is isolating.
Having reliable childcare is a necessity and a luxury at the same time. Many of us wish it was easier to come by and easier to afford. Life is better when you have a support system, even if it’s just so you can get a pap smear alone.
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