As the economy tanks, is your child care set-up changing?
By Alice Bradley
As many of you know, because I bitch about it constantly, Henry’s kindergarten is a half-day. Which, in his case, means that it lasts for two hours and fifty minutes. (This is not, technically, half a day but whatever.) (This is a long lunch, is what this is. But okay.) This schedule is a big difference from last year, when he was in school every day for six hours. Six hours.
Allow me to pause for a moment as I reflect upon those halcyon days.
When we first found out about this half-day schedule, we assumed that we’d pay for some sort of day care. But then we considered the wonderfulness of not coping with a giant childcare bill, after three years of private preschool. “Three hours is enough time to get my writing done,” I told my skeptical husband. “I bet I won’t need help.”
Note to self: YOU WERE WRONG.
It turns out I forgot to factor in the other things that might intrude on that three hours (excuse me–two hours fifty minutes), things like doctor’s appointments, emergency conference calls, cleaning up the dog’s puke, and lunch. By the time I’m ready to work, it’s usually time to pick him up from school. Even if I do manage to get a good chunk of writing done, there’s always more to do when he’s home, so the question is, how do I get it done? Do I ask the television to babysit? Turn on the Wii? Why not just flog myself? I’d feel better. Certainly less guilty. I’ve tried to work after he’s gone to bed, but this is a problem for two reasons: 1) I want to spend time with Scott, who’s usually just home from work, or 2) I’m asleep on my keyboard fifteen minutes after I’ve sat down in front of it.
I consider myself to be pretty lucky, with the kind of kid I have. Henry can play for an hour, sometimes much longer, by himself. He can . Sometimes he chooses not to. And it’s hard, when he’s home, not to feel guilty (there’s that word again) because I’m leaving him alone. Even beyond the guilt, there’s always that feeling that my work time is running out—that sooner or later (probably sooner) he’s going to need a snack or want help or just demand that I give him my time. It’s hard to lose myself in work when part of my brain is hovering around my child, worrying and waiting.
Plus, let’s face it, sometimes it’s more fun to read Harry Potter for an hour with Henry than it is to update my spreadsheet of unfinished projects or actually (gasp!) write something. There’s a lot to be said for having those extra hours to hang out in our pajamas, talking about the weird dream he had with the angry slug that turned into an octopus. If we could afford for me to fully embrace the quality time and not worry about deadlines, I would be a lot less stressed out.
With the economy the way it is, we are now facing the possibility of our freelance work drying up, so paying for child care is even more unrealistic. It’s not surprising to hear that we are not at all alone in this dilemma. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that child-care and nanny agencies are suffering, as financially strapped parents pull their children from child care. Parents are asking grandparents for help, trading off parenting duties as they work back-to-back shifts, or simply working and parenting at the same time. And unlike me, many of these people have actual schedules and employers they have to answer to—sometimes they have cubicles they’re supposed to be in. And they’re taking their kids to work, instead of paying for day care. I am absolutely amazed that any of these people get anything done.
So I’m wondering, readers, if you work from home, how do you do it? Are you depending on child care? Grandparents? The Cartoon Network? Is your work schedule changing as the economy continues its frightening spiral? Do you feel, as I do, that it isn’t a bad thing, having Henry see that I have responsibilities that don’t include him, that he can’t always be the center of my attention? Do you feel like you’re depriving your children? Both?