Best of Both Worlds podcast: Layered childcare, because things always happen

Anyone can make a perfect schedule. True time management masters know to create a resilient schedule — one that still functions when life happens.

This is especially true when it comes to childcare. Something can always come up to make the primary situation unavailable. In this episode of Best of Both Worlds, Sarah and I talk about the “layered” approach to childcare. Basically, if you have two employed parents, or you are an employed single parent, you are going to need more than one layer of childcare in order to reliably meet your work commitments. Those layers need to be more robust as the level of difficulty increases: travel, overtime, unpredictable hours, multiple small children, both parents needing to be in the office, etc.

I learned this the hard way when I chose a daycare center near my apartment for my eldest, back when he was a baby. It was absolutely wonderful…when he could go. He was also sick for approximately 30 work days that first winter. If he was really sick, that was one thing, but often this was mild stuff that just meant he didn’t meet the attendance policy. This led to a lot of marital stress over the issue of who covered what. We definitely needed more layers!

In this episode, Sarah and I talk about the various potential layers (in her case, three kids in full time school plus a nanny, to avoid needing to cancel a full day of patients when a child inevitably gets sent home from school with a cough). We talk about a few family scenarios and what childcare layers might work best. What about a high school principal plus lawyer with one toddler? What about a tech project manager plus a consultant with three elementary school aged kids? We are always happy to suggest ideas for people, so if you’ve got a scenario you’d like us to weigh in on, please feel free to send it in!

(And yes, we know even having choices on childcare is a privilege in our society. But many of our listeners do have choices. The existence of choices doesn’t mean you have zero problems or zero childcare stress. We want to help people make wise choices that support their families and their goals.)

Childcare is an important topic. However, I suspect much of the discussion coming from this episode will center on the listener question.

A woman who has been dying her hair for years is finding this process increasingly untenable. She’s wondering if going gray will affect her career in the male-dominated and fairly youth-dominated tech industry, or if there are any best practices on how to handle this. The situation is complicated by the fact that if she stopped dying her hair black it sounds like she’d be completely gray quite quickly — this isn’t going to be gradual, although maybe a good colorist could help. Sarah and I were pretty stumped on this one. Sarah does not dye her hair. I’ve been dying mine for so long (since age 15) that it’s never had anything to do with aging. That said, I dye my hair blonde, which is the color some people can go to hide grays, so I’m not facing such a stark change as our listener. We wish that hair didn’t affect perception, but on the other hand, we live in the real world, and so it’s hard to say for sure that going gray wouldn’t affect anything. So anyone who has thoughts…please weigh in!


11 thoughts on “Best of Both Worlds podcast: Layered childcare, because things always happen

  1. If this person is a brunette, she could dye it dark gray! I’m loving that look.
    It’s trending right now. I think you could gradually go natural gray over a period of time with less of the “shock” that comes with going from dark brown to completely light gray.

  2. This was so interesting. I’m an academic and my husband is a civil servant, so we have the full on jobs (with a lot of flexibility which helps) without the high salaries. I currently travel by plane to my academic job, Sunday night through Wednesday afternoon, during term time, less so out of term. Our son (4) is in full time care, from 8-5, and my husband works from home Monday Tuesday. He has decent flexibility to take dependents leave in the event of kid illness, and I could come home early if absolutely necessary.

    No nearby family (although grandparents could fly in with some notice if we had conflicting travel) but we have a good network of friends, who could do pickup if we were truly stuck. And we switch off teacher work days with another friend, the kids play so well together that even the parent who is watching them can get a decent amount of work done. I think that’s key for us, we offer a lot of favours and ask for them, and that’s helped us create a support network and community.

    If we had the room, I think an au pair would be ideal, but we are 3 beds, 1.5 bath which overall suits us and is within our budget. Once he goes to to school, I feel like we might need more help, weirdly?

  3. I dye my hair as I have plenty of gray but hate the time needed to maintain. I’ve continued Bc tylist does a root touch up every other time which is a 15 min appt (she charges $25) and I leave with hair color in to wash at home. It makes my long and expensive appts every other time and stretches them out a lot! I love this and will never leave her Bc of it. See if she can find something like that if she wants to maintain her color. I also use the root touch up spray to get a couple extra days between colors. But biggest question is what does she want to do? She’ll be fine either way IMO.

  4. I loved this Q&A session SO much. I work for an IT consultancy and a lot of our workforce is VERY young – for many, it’s even their first job. My co-worker, who is in her mid-fifties, and is a project manager who oversees teams of (mostly male) developers in their twenties decided to make a change about 2 years ago and began to dye her hair some amazing colours – fuschia, lavendar, etc. Then she went bright silver and started letting her roots grow in. It’s been a gradual process, but now she has a stunning Helen Mirren-esque head of hair and it looks great, doesn’t require maintenance, and she had fun along the way.

  5. Whenever people talk about getting childcare help from family, I always think of a guy I knew who lived with his older brother while he was in high school to help out with his niece and nephew. The older brother and his wife were residents, and the high-school-aged brother didn’t provide all of their childcare, but he was always there overnight in case something came up. I remember that the younger brother’s wife was so impressed by how much he already knew about little kids by the time their children were born!

    I think many of us default to thinking about family help as help from grandparents, but I always thought this was a cool example of approaching it a bit differently.

    1. @Chelsea we really have found au pairs to be great for school-aged kiddos. If your kiddo is in school from 8:30-3 and you can use up to 45 hours per week of au pair care that is plenty. Even if there are half days or sick days or school holidays that aren’t work holidays we still end up using closer to 35 hours of our au pair’s time. The down side it is giving up a bedroom. We have 7 people in 4 bedrooms and only the au pair has her own room in our house, but it is still worth it. I have found the quality of the care/cost to be a great value.

  6. Currently thinking about this, but at the other end of life: layered eldercare.

    My retired mom is the main caregiver for my grandmother (dementia) and helps out significantly with my aunt (disabled). My aunt is still independent, but does need to be taken to appointments sometimes. My mom recently went on vacation and got Covid which has significantly extended her trip.

    I’m taking a day off to take my aunt to her surgery, but my grandmother isn’t supposed to be left alone so… I am feeling the lack of layers!

  7. Great topic and always a good thing to revisit. I currently have a first grader and a 3 year old in full-time preschool plus an after-school nanny (16-20 hours a week plus more as needed). As my husband and I are still mostly working from home, I’ve been tempted to forego the nanny but then a child gets sick or we both have back to back meetings all afternoon and need to focus or there’s a random school holiday and I realize our current set-up is perfect.

    1. @Yevonne- yep, this is not the first place I’d recommend any family start economizing. Until the kids can truly stay home by themselves there needs to be a back-up for when things go wrong.

  8. I think one other thing I’d like to add is that child care is an investment for the mom’s career and happiness and the family’s financial stability and happiness, but it is also an investment for the kid, too. Even though I could possibly make it work in the summer to skip childcare and after school care (I tried in the beginning of the pandemic – it is hard and it slows down my progress on professional goals), I send my son to summer care and I use after school care. It does cost money. ($70/day for summer, ~$40/day for afterschool) But good child care is good for kids. He learned to make friends in day care and what school appropriate behavior is – I couldn’t really teach him that. In the summer camp, he’s making friends with kids from all the different elementary schools, which I know will help when he goes to middle school. He’s learning about the video games that we don’t have, which will help his social conversations in school because he’ll know what the different Pokemon are. This means he’ll have friends and feel connected, and when kids feel connected, they feel safer and ready to learn in school. Child care is good for kids; it’s good for them to have relationships with other caring adults. There is no reason to feel guilty at drop off. You are doing a good thing for them. There’s this narrative that moms would (or should?) really love to keep their kids home with them full time if they could swing it, but that’s not true for all moms, and while it may be good for some kids, lots of kids benefit from child care.

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