The Necessity of Back-Up Child Care

With the U.S. presidential election around the corner, candidates are showcasing how their policies will benefit working parents.  Child care is at the center of most discussions, with proposals for paid parental leave also heavily analyzed.

Today, I received a text from [S]’s child care provider.  I had to read it twice before I could trust myself to process her brief message.  Her brother had been in an accident this morning and had passed away; she would be taking emergency leave for a month, leaving tomorrow.  In the midst of her grief, she needlessly apologized profusely for the short notice, but had spoken with the powers-that-be who informed her that [S] should be able to be cared for by Child Development Centers (CDC) on-base.

Immediately, I responded, writing all of the things that one says during those times when words seem wholly inadequate.  I’m so sorry for your loss.  You and your family are in our prayers.  Let me know if we can do anything for you.  To be certain, I mean–and meant–each word written.  But I understand that my words likely will do little, if anything at all, to lessen today’s grief and tomorrow’s sorrow.

After I considered the fragility of life and the immense amount of work in front of her to leave for the United States in less than 24-hours, I turned to thinking about myself.  She cares for [S] on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.  I have a standing attorney meeting on Tuesdays, which, while useful to attend, is not imperative that I do so.  But what to do about Wednesday?  On Wednesdays, I drop off [S] and head to work for the day.  This Wednesday, in addition to regular work, I have clients–and witnesses–scheduled to execute estate planning documents.  It is not something that can be easily rescheduled given the time, space, and bodies needed.  And it was then I understood the dilemma facing working parents on a regular basis.

What does one do when their child isn’t feeling well or the regular child care provider is ill?  I nearly began to panic.  I work one day a week at the office and to miss that day is, well, undesirable.  I called the CDC.  I called the Child, Youth, Teen Program office.  And then I called again, with little movement.

Of course, dropping off your child at day care is one thing.  Wondering what kind of care he or she will receive is another.  While questions as to whether [S] will adjust, be confused, be well-cared for, etc., are to be expected from a parent, they also are thoughtful and have merit given such an abrupt change of circumstances.

I’m thankful that my current circumstances allow great flexibility with respect to when and where I work.  But I also realize that, unfortunately, such flexibility remains a privilege, out of reach for many.

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