Essay: How the Enduring Belief About Child Care – I Don't Want Someone Else Raising My Kid – Hurts Us All - Early Learning Nation

Essay: How the Enduring Belief About Child Care – I Don’t Want Someone Else Raising My Kid – Hurts Us All

“What do you do for child care when your kids are on break from school?” I asked a new acquaintance in my home town recently. She explained that she’d worked out her schedule so that when she was working, her husband was home, and when her husband worked, she was home with them.

“Oh, that’s so nice you both have that flexibility,” I said.

“Yes!” She said, “We don’t like the idea of someone else raising our kids.”

I was at a loss for what to say back. Hearing her words, it was hard not to feel defensive, since my baby was in child care that very moment I spoke with her. And I, like thousands of other parents in the U.S., was in the midst of a somewhat desperate search to find and afford even more child care support than I currently had. I’d asked about her child care arrangements in part hoping to learn more about my options.

My wife and I currently pay for about 12 hours of professional child care per week, juggling care for our baby during the other 28 work hours between the two of us, and shifting work hours to late into the evening, and sometimes weekends, to get our work done. The centers we contact are full, (if they can find time to call us back) and the price of in-home child care is steep. We are constantly searching for that golden goose, a qualified caregiver whose schedule works with ours, whom our son likes and our paychecks can cover. We aren’t alone.

The Center for American Progress finds that more than half of Americans live in child care deserts, census tracts with at least fifty children and no licensed child care providers, or so few options that there are more than three children for every spot in licensed care. Where we live, in Utah, more people live in child care deserts than in any other state—roughly 77 percent of the population.

My friends from outside Utah often assume that’s because of the religious and cultural backgrounds of Utahans, reducing the need for child care because of the commonality of traditional breadwinner/caregiver households. Yet in Utah, 62 percent of mothers of young children participate in the labor force, a number lower than the national average of 69 percent, but certainly not as distinctive as many would guess.

Are we all, 69 percent of the nation’s mothers, “letting someone else raise our kids”?

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this line—that someone who didn’t use professional child care services considered doing so to be some sort of abdication of parenting. I can even remember a relative of mine saying this about her own decision not to work outside the home when I was twelve or 13-years-old. I’d found it perplexing even then, because my mom ran a child care center in our home. My mom was a beloved caregiver, one that even today her former charges, now fully grown, will hug and warmly introduce to their own families when they see her at the grocery store or a family wedding. But she hadn’t become their parent, nor had she raised them. There was an enormous difference between my relationship with my mom, and her relationship with the kids she cared for while their parents worked to support them.

Back then, this idea confused me, but it didn’t hurt. Perhaps hearing this line stung a bit more that day because this was the first time I’d heard it since having my own baby. Still, like then, it didn’t hold up to scrutiny.

When this person’s older kids were in school for 6 hours a day, five days a week during the school year, were their teachers “raising them,” I thought about asking? Surely, she didn’t think dads who worked full time while their spouses cared for their children were ceding responsibility for “raising the kids” to their wives? And how many hours in child care did a child need to spend per week, before they were being raised by someone else? 40 hours? 30 hours? There are 168 hours in a week. Where was the line between socializing with and being cared for by trained early educators, and being raised by them?

I took a deep breath, and reminded myself my new acquaintance and my relative hadn’t invented this kind of thinking. Despite the modern realities of economic and family life requiring that most parents work for pay, antiquated thinking about child care is all around us. Just a few years ago, Idaho State Representative Charlie Shepherd voted against a bill that would increase support for child care in the state because he felt mothers should be caring for their own children. “I don’t think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.” He later apologized, saying he’d misspoken and merely intended to praise mothers.

Amidst an ongoing child care availability crisis worsened by the rapid inflation of child care costs, expired federal aid and a dwindling, low-paid labor force, Congress has also failed to increase its role in creating a sustainable, affordable, high-quality child care system. Over several months, the news outlet The 19th contacted members of Congress to find out their views on child care policy, only one-quarter of legislators and just five Republicans responded.

I reflected for a moment on my own child care provider, the young woman taking a walk with, playing with or reading to my baby at that very moment. It had taken her just two or three days to establish a comfortable, sweet relationship with my baby. Now he giggles when she greets him after a nap and teems with excitement as she prepares the stroller to take him out on what she calls a “nature walk.” And how enriching for him that he has yet another kind, caring person to trust in the world and teach him about relationships and language and life.

I asked Cara Sklar, my colleague at New America and the director of the early & elementary education policy program, just what my baby is learning while he’s in child care.

“Children are actively learning from the moment they are born. And the way young children learn is through interacting with adults,” Sklar said. “These nurturing and responsive interactions, or their absence, shape the physical architecture of the brain that all future brain growth is built upon— from how we see and hear, to how we think and learn, to how we form relationships, and even to our future physical and cardiac health.” With stakes like these and the benefits to come, I hope my son will have not just one or two caregivers like the one he has now, but dozens of such teachers in his life.

Why are we so afraid of letting others join us in raising our children? Just what are we so afraid of?

My hope is that the current national conversation on the child care crisis and how severely it limits parents’ work options and well-being will lead us to build and fund a child care infrastructure that gives every parent access to this kind of nurturing and learning for their children. Maybe a system like that could transform our cultural biases about child care and end these myths for good. But if ever again someone tells me they don’t use child care because they don’t want someone else raising their children, I’ll know what to say:

I don’t want someone raising my child for me either. But I am so glad my family and millions of others have found trusted providers to raise them with us.

Haley Swenson is a research and reporting fellow for Better Life Lab, the intersectional gender equality and work program at the non-partisan think tank New America. She is also editor and co-founder of Work Life Everything.

Get the latest in early learning science, community and more:

Join us