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As the economy tanks, is your child care set-up changing?

By Isabel Kallman

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?


Isabel Kallman
About the Author

Isabel Kallman

Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.


Isabel Kallman is the founding mom of

Feel free to send nice emails to isabel[at]alphamom[dot]com.

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  • Ariel

    December 12, 2008 at 11:08 am

    If things get really bad (for us)I could take my daughter to work with me- but I have a REALLY great boss. She also has it set up so we can work from home- and has said we can bring our infants to work with us(when we have them).
    I don’t think this is the norm though. And like I said, I’m really lucky.
    Having said that: I really hope it doesn’t get that bad, because my daughter is very sweet and loving and when I’m around she wants to sit on my lap and snuggle all the time- which is NOT a bad thing, except when you need to work.

  • aimstarr

    December 12, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    As we approach the birth of our second child, we find ourselves grappling with the concept of paying the cost of childcare for two kids. And coordinating the pick up and drop off of each at different locales. My part-time paycheck barely covers the expense of childcare.
    And? Did you know? That once they start school full time, they come home at around 3:30? And? Did you know? That most workplaces have business hours that extend LATER than 3:30? And? They expect you to be, you know, at work, until some ridiculous hour like 5:00? So that means we’ll still need some form of childcare for the child once he starts his formal education in kindergarten. Which means, basically, that this stuff NEVER ends.
    I’m still waiting for the heavens to open and the answer to be bestowed upon me.

  • suburbancorrespondent

    December 12, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Sigh. Let’s all give a nostalgic nod to the good old days. Have you never read The Railway Children? Set in turn of the century (?) England, the father is wrongfully accused and sent to prison, forcing the mother to move herself and the 3 children to the country, where she spends the days in her room writing children’s stories and her children spend the days wandering the countryside and having all sorts of adventures.
    Unfortunately, that’s called neglect nowadays. Oh, well…
    And, on another note, you are reading Harry Potter to your 5-year-old? And he’s able to sleep at night? My kids are such wimps.
    My 3-year-old whined at me the entire time I was composing this comment. If I can take it, you can, too. Only the strong survive.

  • Issa

    December 12, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    A year and a half ago, we moved from LA to Denver. Before that time, my girls (7 & 4) were in daycare all day, it was just the only way too survive. I never could have taken them too work, as they had a family doesn’t exist unwritten policy. Here, we have a bit more leeway. I worked part time until my son was born (September) but I’m now considering not going back. Financially, it just makes more sense to stay home. Plus, I feel like I missed out on a lot of my girls baby years. I didn’t realize how much I missed until we had Harrison. I was younger with the girls and didn’t think it mattered, I thought the time we had being all family time was enough. Now I’m not so sure. I think there is guilt either way. I’m convinced it’s bred into us.
    I will say, I have a friend who takes her children to work with her now, they just can’t afford it any other way. She has to work and bring her baby and her big girls when they are sick or out of school. I can’t even imagine trying to work with a crawling 9mo old, but she does it every day.

  • Lylah

    December 12, 2008 at 9:51 pm

    My husband and I worked opposite shifts for years while our oldest kids were little, so one of us was always home with them, but he and I barely saw each other, which wasn’t great. Now, we both work a day shift, and the youngest two are in preschool and daycare. Their classrooms are getting emptier as parents pull their kids out of the facility… I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, but the way things are going (my husband and I are both journalists) it’s something I’m going to have to figure out sooner rather than later…

  • Elana

    December 12, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    We just pulled our twins from the in-home day care they had been at for two years. That woman was like a second mother! She loved my girls and they loved her. We just couldn’t afford it any more. My business has slowed down and I just couldn’t justify the girls being in daycare longer than the few hours I was working. They are now in a private pre-school that is three hours three days a week. It is just more than half of what we were paying for daycare.
    As a parent you do what you have to do. I have to remember that this is temporary. That they are only young once. That they won’t know that Mommy and Daddy are freaking out about the lack of money if we don’t tell them about it. That I want them to know what a strong woman looks like. It looks like me!

  • kate

    December 12, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    Until this week, my daughter (3) was home with me all the time. I sometimes had a sitter for 4, maybe 8 hours per week. I worked from when she went to bed until 2 or 3 am and then was up with her in the morning and tried to get a bit of work done during sesame street and generally relied on the tv too much. It was exhausting and left me grumpy and worried about my health, not to mention my relationship with my daughter. Sometimes, I would go to my mom’s house for weeks or ask her to come here (I’m self-employed) in order to get some babysitting and ahemmealsahemahem. After the new year, my daughter is starting a morning “playgroup” 4 mornings a week. I luckily live someplace that has $7 per day daycare, but the reality of what that daycare was didn’t mesh with something I was willing to send my daughter to full time (places are hard to get and it’s pretty much full time or nothing and we weren’t impressed with the program, educators or their attitude about our daughter’s not napping and the language she speaks). I’m looking forward to having 3.5 hours of time each day even though it is going to cost me 4 times as much per day. I know not everyone could make that choice. We are going to make sacrifices elsewhere. Sorry. this is rambling and I have no particular point except that being a parent is freaking exhausting. and working is tiring but necessary. it’s too bad that the US can’t find a way of making childcare more accessible and affordable. If adults can’t work or take care of their children properly then where will this lead us?

  • Dani

    December 15, 2008 at 11:52 am

    I work three full days out of an office, and since my oldest is (finally) in full day school, I’ve done away with the at-home nanny. After that, anything seems cheap. My son goes to all-day preschool on the days I work, and my daughter goes to aftercare at her elementary school. Daycare costs me about 1/2 of what it did in the previous 3 years. Childcare and part time have never mixed well….I get 60% of my full time salary but I swear I pay 80-90% of a normal childcare cost. Our school district is considering all day kindergarten. Fingers crossed it’s in by 2010.

  • patricia

    December 19, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Just found out my husband is being laid off, so the nanny is also being laid off. We’re scrambling for a child care center that can take our daughter. Thanks, economy!

  • Molly

    December 31, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I am still laughing at the fact that you are asking us *internet denizens* for time management advice. It’s like asking mama cass for weight loss advice.
    Back when we lived someplace really awesome we had our kids in a childcare coop six hours a day five days a week. A group of five moms took turns taking care of the kids, plus one of the moms got paid to go every day when the group got too big for one mom.
    Now we live in the suburbs, where many children spend most of their days in institutions with names like Kiddie Kollege. I can barely convince myself to eat food with cute purposefully misspelled names, much less allow cute purposefully misspelled name employees to watch my children. But I’m sure they provide fine services if you can get past the name.
    Was this helpful? No! Because my time management skills suck! Because I spend my free time reading your web site! But, hey. You asked.

  • Boogala's mama

    February 10, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Hi everyone! I am a licensed childcare provider and I have to tell you, I love my job! I have a 4-year-old daughter and I watch two 2-year old boys. My daughter is more of a handful than the two boys combined!
    Childcare is really a thankless business – unless you happen to have great parents who appreciate you and what you provide. My parents have all admitted (both moms and dads) that they couldn’t do my job, day after day, without going crazy. They enjoy the fact that they can go to work and not worry about their child, knowing their child is safe and having fun. This way, they enjoy the time they spend with their child more.
    I feel that most people I have interviewed believe that I am a stay-at-home mom with nothing better to do. Not true. I am required to be licensed, have a certain number of training hours per year, address the concerns/fears of parents (sometimes on a daily basis), and stay up-to-date with statewide legislative happenings pertaining to my business. After all, I run a BUSINESS from my home. Yes, folks; it really is a business. Sometimes people forget this little fact.
    At one point in time, I was an executive administrative assistant, under-paid, over-worked, and stressed daily. Now, I spend time with children who make me laugh daily, still a bit under-paid, but I love my “kids” and my job. I wouldn’t trade it for anything or go back to “corporate America” unless I absolutely had to.
    So the next time you look for care, don’t just take in your surroundings, ask questions about the provider themselves; you’d be surprised what job they left in order to provide a safe haven for your child! Be respectful of the fact that home childcare providers are at home – ALL DAY!!! We do not usually have “meaningful” adult conversations until all the kids leave (children have their own opinion of “meaningful” lol).
    Soooo….next time, listen to the responses to your questions – and ask questions! The more you know, the better you will feel.