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The Childcare Crisis: A Deepening Dilemma For Modern Families


The Childcare Crisis: A Deepening Dilemma For Modern Families

December 15, 2023

The United States has been grappling with a burgeoning childcare crisis in recent years, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and economic pressures. With Congress failing to extend the September 30 deadline, childcare facilities face an uncertain future as federal grants that helped have ended.

This crisis will have lasting implications, not just for the immediate well-being of children and families but for the broader socio-economic fabric of the country.

A recent campaign by Peanut, the online community for motherhood, called ‘Invisible Mothers,’ draws attention to the challenges faced by modern mothers. Their research paper, ‘The State of Invisibility,‘ based on insights from over 3,600 women, paints a stark picture of the current state of motherhood and childcare.

A critical finding from this campaign is the looming closure of 70,000 childcare centers in the U.S., potentially leaving 3.2 million children without care. This situation arises from the exhaustion of the $24 billion government funding allocated to childcare providers in March 2021.

Covid-19 has also inflicted severe damage on the childcare industry. With over 50,000 employees less than pre-pandemic levelschildcare service costs have soared, increasing more than twice the overall inflation rate in 2023. This rise in costs has put an unprecedented strain on parents, especially mothers, struggling to find suitable and affordable childcare options.

The Impact on Mothers

According to the research, 52% of mothers are considering leaving the workforce due to inadequate childcare, with 33% unable to find affordable care already out of work. In 2023, the percentage of stay-at-home mothers rose to 25%, a significant increase from 15% in 2022.

The economic repercussions are severe. Annual losses due to parents missing work have doubled since 2020, amounting to $122 billion, and mothers are disproportionately affected, with the potential loss of up to 10% of their lifetime earnings per child due to unemployment stemming from childcare responsibilities.

“The invisibility of motherhood is a stark reality many face,” reflects Rachel Goldman, PhD, FTOS, a licensed psychologist. “The problem is larger than healthcare alone; society needs to change. Women feel hesitant addressing their challenges with those in positions of power, meaning we must foster an environment where women feel valued, supported, and willing to voice their needs.”

Societal Expectations and the Balancing Act

“A staggering 59% of women have expressed that this balancing act has contributed to their feelings of invisibility. 90% of women feel the pressure to work as if they don’t have children,” Michelle Kennedy, CEO and Founder of Peanut, explained. “This juggling act isn’t just a matter of managing time — it’s a profound challenge that affects their physical and emotional well-being.”

“An important misconception contributing to the ongoing childcare crisis is the notion that childcare ends after kindergarten,” adds Carleen Haylett, CEO of EnrichedHQ. “A marketplace offering affordable programs tailored for school-aged children can free up many child-sitting parents, allowing them to return to work.”

Haylett also highlights the multi-faceted nature of the childcare challenge, pointing out the high cost, quality, flexibility, availability, and specialized needs considerations that parents must juggle. The cost factor, often referred to as “The Mommy Tax,” is particularly onerous, with some families incurring monthly costs of up to $1,000 for afterschool programs.

Childcare concerns are not limited to just the United States either. Jess Heagren, mother of four, ex-financial Services Director, and author of the report Careers After Babies: The Uncomfortable Truth, has discovered that childcare in the U.K. is the third most expensive in the world, presenting an immediate challenge for parents wanting to go back to work, many of which are new mothers.

Seeking Solutions and Structural Change

Regarding employers and how they can help create childcare programs that support their employees, Haylett notes a general misunderstanding of the needs of working parents, especially those with school-age children. Most existing benefits focus more on early childhood, often neglecting the needs of families with older children.

“Most schools end several hours before the typical workday concludes,” Haylett explained. “During this gap, children may be unsupervised, or parents might need to make special arrangements. Beyond financial contributions from employers, the lack of flexibility to support this reality is largely not addressed.” She points out that older kids need more than just supervision. They need guidance, mentorship, and programs that aid personal and academic development. Benefits that merely focus on care and not development are inadequate.

To try and find some solutions, Ms. Kennedy recommends not just seeking community support, setting boundaries, practicing self-care, and delegating tasks – she advises working mothers to work hard to advocate for their needs within the workplace.

“It’s fantastic to see around 85% of women advocate for flexible, family-friendly workplaces,” says Kennedy. “And 79% call for equal and extended parental leave for both parents.”

“Workplaces should be offering shared parental leave and encouraging men to submit flexible working requests,” Heagren said. “Equalizing time out for both sexes resets the playing field and puts everyone in the same place, ultimately meaning fewer women are disadvantaged by time out, and families ultimately end up spending less of their hard-earned money on childcare.”

Actionable Advice for Working Mothers

The childcare crisis is more than just a series of isolated challenges; it’s a systemic issue that requires comprehensive, multi-faceted solutions. From increasing government funding and support for childcare facilities to restructuring workplace policies to accommodate the needs of working parents, a concerted effort is necessary.

Regarding your relationship with your employer, Heagren encourages working mothers to submit a flexible work request and then challenge your employer if they refuse it. “Companies are legally obliged to look at every flexible working request properly, and it’s increasingly under the spotlight, so employers don’t want negative publicity. You can escalate it through formal procedures if you’ve submitted a request and feel it hasn’t been thoroughly reviewed.”

As for motherhood in general, Ms. Kennedy advises that you make time to celebrate your small wins along the way, whether at work or home. “Motherhood and work are filled with countless small victories. Please take a moment to recognize and celebrate them. They add up and are a testament to your resilience and strength!” She also recommends creating clear lines between work and family time. Whether setting specific ‘office hours’ at home or dedicating uninterrupted time with your children, boundaries help compartmentalize and reduce stress.

And Ms. Haylett points out that ‘perfect’ is the enemy of ‘good enough.’

“No one will remember that you had pizza for dinner twice this week. Or that occasionally breakfast consists of a Cliff Bar and juice. I’ve worked hard on making peace with not being a Pinterest mom, and my son and I are better off for it.

Speak To Your Local Lawmaker or Representative

As society acknowledges and responds to these challenges, there’s hope for creating a more supportive, inclusive environment for all families. Several federal lawmakers have proposed a Childcare Stabilization Act to fill the funding gap left by the expiring grants.

The proposed legislation suggests a $16 billion budget in mandatory funding every year for the next five years, offering hope to childcare providers and parents alike. Therefore, if this is something you agree with, now is the time to advocate not just in the workplace but to your local representative.

Original Article