Many families (in the U.S. at least) will be facing a childcare crisis this summer. The American school year already has little relation to full-time work schedules. Families with school-aged kids too young to care for themselves often wind up using day camps as summer childcare. These camps have been announcing their closures left and right these days. Couple this with a number of childcare centers that are having trouble re-opening after state-ordered shut downs, and there are a lot of families trying to figure out what to do. I suspect the market for summer nannies will be brisk, and it will be a tough job unless more places like zoos and playgrounds open soon.
Sadly, this crisis hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it should. I suspect that’s for the same reason that childcare in general doesn’t get much attention. The people who make policy don’t need it. The one bit of help has been somewhat unintentional. If an adult in a family has lost a job and qualifies for unemployment benefits, the added $600/week from the stimulus bill plus the timeline (through later in the summer) means that these parents could potentially stay home and take care of their kids at least through then. You can occasionally find me making this point on discussion threads where people are lamenting that the extra unemployment benefits mean people have no incentive to go back to work. Um, if daycares are closed and you have small kids, you can’t go back to work because there’s no one to watch them. With small kids, this is not a small detail!
Anyway…this topic is crying out for more discussion. So I was happy to see Caroline Kitchener’s article in The Lily (that a number of readers sent me) called “‘I had to choose being a mother.” The subhead: With no child care or summer camps, women are being edged out of the workforce.
This is absolutely 100 percent true. Many working women’s income is seen as the “secondary” income in a family, and so their involvement in the workforce is always slightly tenuous, subject to not too many sick days and snow days and the like. When a crisis hits, they get nudged out, with longterm implications for women’s careers and the advancement of women in leadership and…
Unfortunately, you can’t read past the opening anecdote in this story without changing the topic. The opening story is about Aimee, who was running a tech company with 13 employees when the coronavirus hit. Her husband had been taking time off from his job to figure out his next move. Their 3-year-old’s daycare closed. Rational people reading this story would conclude that the obvious solution was for him to care for the child. Which, according to the article, he did for three days before deciding it was too much. So Aimee wound up shutting down the tech company (ending the jobs of 13 people!) because she, as the headline notes, had to choose being a mother.
It’s hard to know what’s going on in any family. I have to trust there’s more to the story than this — something the internet, which was quick to dunk on the husband, can’t see. But in any case, the discussion immediately became about this particular gentleman’s faults, as opposed to the larger crisis.
Which is too bad. This is the problem of anecdotal “ledes” as they are spelled in newspaper parlance. They are the default start for any feature story because we all like stories. They make the issue relatable to us. So journalists are trained to use them. But they have to be used carefully to make sure they clearly make the point the writer wishes to make. The issue raised with this anecdote was not “wow, another young family facing a childcare crisis” it was “wow, another high powered woman whose husband refused to pull his weight.” The family, at least according to the article details, had a good solution to the childcare crisis. He just didn’t want to do it. We judge the opening anecdote, rather than the rest of the story. I guess the one upside is that in the internet dunking, a number of fathers noted how much longer they had cared for their own small kids. Three days seems a bit…unimpressive.
How will your kids be spending the summer?
Photo: Columbines, one of my favorite wildflowers, spotted on a weekend walk.