Child care where?
Disaster management. Daycare lobbying. Backup, please.
This week I’ve been thinking about childcare waitlists… as my baby is on one for preschool. It’s 2 years long.
And a new mom in Alabama recently told me that she signed her son up for daycares when she was 5 months pregnant. He still won’t be at the top of the list until he is a year old. WTF?
In a pre-pull of my maternity leave data, which I drew below, many US moms didn’t plan their childcare arrangements before their baby was born.
I was in that unhappy 20%.
With my first, I waited until my daughter was born to start touring daycares. I had thought Brooklyn was the land of strollers, so surely they had the infrastructure for these babies. Apparently not.
When I went back to work, we were still waiting. We hired a college student to nanny my 2 ½-month-old newborn. Krystal seemed responsible and familiar with babies. But I never thought I’d hand my newborn over to a teenager.
When she left, we found another fill-in. By this time it was getting cold, and our cramped apartment made for a terrible setup. She’d watch our daughter on the porch or go for walks when we had big meetings, even in the cold fall rain.
My daughter was 9 months old when we got her into the center.
I learned it was already common practice to sign up for daycares once you became pregnant. And that was a decade ago.
When we moved cities, after my second daughter was born, we actually called daycares first and chose our neighborhood based on the waitlist lengths.
What’s going on?
Elliot Haspel covered the waitlist crisis in his piece for the Atlantic titled “America’s Child-Care Equilibrium Has Shattered.” He explains that despite astronomically high costs for parents (it’s often like having a second rent), care workers' pay and benefits are so low that employee shortages are widespread.
How low is it?
The Economic Policy Institute found the average hourly wage of an early childcare provider is $13.51, and most don’t get health benefits. For comparison, working at a Walmart store would give a ~25% pay bump - and health insurance.
In other words, the problem is big, structural, and not going away soon. The good news is there’s broad agreement across political lines that parents need more government support, as shown in this study by American Compass. So I see hope.
What to do now?
Looking for solutions, Googling was useless. The results gave software tools and advice to help daycare centers better organize their own lists.
Not remotely reassuring.
I also looked into contingency planning tools for managing disasters - as that felt apt.
But the frameworks were pretty broad, and frankly - not super helpful here. They all basically said some version of:
This approach doesn’t work well when there is one risk with 100% certainty, and your backup alternatives aren’t sustainable.
So instead, self-advocacy is the most useful tool I’ve come across.
Lori Mihalich-Levin’s book Back to Work After Baby recommends lobbying your daycare - as if you’re applying for a new job. This is because she found waitlist orders can be subjective and that local staff makes the call.
By lobbying Lori means going on a tour and making a point to befriend the staff, writing hand-written thank you notes after your tour, and calling every few weeks to check-in.
The point is to put your face to your kid’s name and reassure them that you’ll be a pleasant and supportive parent to work with.
While this approach may help, this also doesn’t feel fair.
I wish I had found a better solution. Please tell me if you’ve found other strategies that work.
Finding childcare is one challenge. Then there is the equally important question of scenario planning backup when your child will inevitably get sick.
This is where the contingency planning lens I drew above becomes useful.
My preschool-aged son, for instance, was sent home for a week once because his older sister was sick. It wasn’t fun, but we knew it could happen.
Backup for us started by having an understanding with my partner that we’d trade out when our kids get sick.
But at times we’ve needed more. Over the years, I’ve also had to call friends for help. And once, I even had to ask my sister-in-law to drive 10 hours to support us because of an overnight work trip. Not ideal.
Knowing who you could ask for help - and investing in these relationships before needing support - is essential to having a reliable response plan.
If you have a waitlist or backup care experience that you’d share, reply and tell me! I’m looking for more examples to use in the book.
P.S. Thanks for reading. It means a lot.
U.S. Childcare Deserts. Researchers at the University of Minnesota made this interactive map on so you can see how the shortages look in your area.
State of Motherhood. Motherly surveyed 17K moms and found that childcare issues were the number #1 reason young moms quit or left a job recently. Ugh.
Boxed For You. A gift-basket service with unique stuff. Good for new parents… or your daycare staff.
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