From diaper changer to schlepper, the evolution of child-care needs
As Solo Moms, we often have no choice regarding child care. We know we can’t do it all, so child care becomes a matter of survival. We scramble and bargain. As our children grow, we become adept at assessing our child-care options and each one’s potential for success in the way an emergency-room crew works during a crisis. We know there is no ideal situation, so we learn to transform the “best we can do” into a minor miracle. Sometimes we succeed.
But still, we worry. We worry at each stage of our child’s development about whether our child-care choices are possibly doing our children a disservice, whether the choices we make along the way are the right ones for our children.
As Solo Moms, we live with a sense that we have to do more to make sure we are doing everything right while often forgetting that we are already accomplishing more than we thought was possible.
That is why it feels great when you find the right child-care scenario for your child and watch as your child thrives in that environment. You sigh with relief that someone is—or day-care staff members are, depending on the scenario and stage at which your child is in—as protective of your child as you would be, and you’re thrilled to see that your child enjoys the company of another adult and/or adults and other children.
If you are lucky enough to have in-home help, you may find that this person becomes a confidant and helpful adviser, and you depend on each other to work as a team in caring for your child.
As your child moves and evolves beyond the preschool years, so do your child-care needs.
Elementary school: It takes a village
When the time comes for your kids to go to school full time, you may have mixed feelings. You are happy that they are moving from having to be babysat for so much of the time to growing and learning, yet a bit melancholy about not having that special person or place to rely on—which, in hindsight, has taught your children so much! Now you are entering the world of homework and volunteering and bake sales, and suddenly you may find yourself on a track you never thought about before. Sometimes it feels like you are as hard at work navigating a whole new world as your kids are!
Luckily, there are wonderful after-school programs that will not only help you with your schedule but also stimulate your child and enhance your child’s learning. This is something you should take advantage of and appreciate for what it is: an opportunity for your child to reach out to the village that will help him or her grow up. As Solo Moms, we can understand the positive influence of other adults; it is the first step toward helping your child develop into becoming a citizen of the world. But let’s not get too misty about this. Although homework help is a wonderful thing, many programs are glorified supervisory care. Guess what? That’s not terrible. If your kid is having fun, enjoying the company of other kids, and returning home happy, even in this overscheduled world, that’s not such a bad thing.
Late elementary and middle school years: Enter the schlepper
It is during this phase of your child’s life—late elementary and middle school years—when things get interesting. Some parents stick with activities that are based entirely at the school. But many children at some point find an activity they are desperate to do, whether it’s taking music lessons or participating on a sports or academic team that requires travel from school, for example. Although your heart swells with joy that your child has passionate interests, these interests can be a working parent’s nightmare, Solo Mom or not.
Enter the schlepper.
If you can afford it, this is a great time to switch up your child care. Public transportation is available in many areas, and if your kid can buddy up, this is the time to try giving them some independence and responsibility, if you can. It is also possible to arrange carpools so that someone handles drop-off and you handle pickup. Another option is to bring an authority figure into your child’s life who is closer in age to your child, and who a friend of mine defines as the schlepper, the part-time person hired to get your kids to their activities, get them home, and make sure they are fed and settled into their homework.
A college-aged student is one of the best possibilities for this role since the hours are set, the job isn’t full time, and it could even be a nice break for the student. Often, these students have younger siblings and miss their own families. Also, when your children reach the middle school years, you are one tired mama! Having a sympathetic and fresh face around can be a real lifesaver.
The schlepper role can also be combined with a homework tutor for middle schoolers. My children have come home with long stories about their schlepper’s boyfriend or latest problem with a roommate. Sometimes they have gone on visits to the schlepper’s apartment. They’ve found it all so exciting—a glimpse into the magical world they dream about entering, which is actually just around the corner.
And then one day your kids are suddenly old enough to do it all by themselves, and you breathe a sigh of relief. Just kidding. You find something new to worry about, like curfews!
Curious how other Solo Moms work out their child-care needs? Sister Chat is a great place to ask questions about any stage of child care.
Margot Kessler, a screen and television writer living in Los Angeles, is the sporadically witty Solo Mom of two lovely daughters.
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