Editor’s note: WRAL TechWire contributor Dr. Sarah Glova is a globally recognized speaker, successful entrepreneur, university instructor, and business consultant. A seasoned educator and entrepreneur, Sarah is CEO of the award-winning digital media firm, Reify Media. With a Ph.D. in Instructional Technology and a Master of Science in Technical Communication, she is dedicated to cultivating forward-thinking work environments.
RALEIGH — As a mom of two young kids, I want to enjoy summer. But with the lack of childcare infrastructure in the United States, it’s almost impossible.
Now that we’ve finally reached September, I’m tired. I’m tired from a challenging summer—and I’m also tired of being told that I’m a “superhero” for “balancing everything” during the busy summer season.
Navigating systemic societal issues, like a lack of childcare support or workplaces that punish parents who need flexibility, isn’t heroic—it’s survival.
And as much as we talked about declining worker productivity and hiring challenges this summer — I wish I had seen more examples of tech and business leaders championing childcare issues.
I don’t want to be applauded for surviving this system—especially when it’s not like we have a choice.
The summer childcare “choices”
If I work when my kids are out of school for the summer, then I’m cobbling together a series of camps, playdates, and babysitters. (Seriously, you should see my spreadsheet.) Those camps and babysitter fees cost what feels like a million dollars, a reflection of the sky-high childcare costs in the US.
It takes a ton of resources to make these summer childcare solutions happen, and in the end, many camps only provide about 5 to 7 hours of work time for parents once you factor in drop-offs, mid-afternoon pick-ups, and the laundry load’s worth of supplies needed every camp day. It’s almost (almost) not worth it.
Because what’s the alternative? Taking the summer off is expensive and wildly impossible in American workplaces.
A recent report from Bright Horizons released earlier this summer showed that while more than half of working parents, 58%, say increased flexibility in their schedules is a source of “fulfillment and relief,” 42% worry that bringing up any complaints or challenges about flexible work structures will cause negative effects—like a demand to in-office-only policies.
And while working from home with kids in tow is more acceptable now, after COVID-19 shutdowns made our society more accommodating, that has never felt like a realistic long-term solution (like a way to survive a whole summer).
Yes, people are mostly kind when one of my kids makes a Zoom cameo when school is canceled due to a potential hurricane… but trying to work and take care of my children at the same time is a stressful lose-lose situation that definitely doesn’t feel like a solution for a full summer.
So what do we do?
A Department of Labor report from the U.S. Women’s Bureau released earlier this year called childcare “unaffordable” almost everywhere in the US, stating that families spend an average of between 8% and 19% of their incomes on childcare costs. (See “What’s behind America’s child care crisis?” in The Week.)
And each caregiver’s experience is wildly different. I’m coming at this topic tired but lucky because I’m part of a two-person team at home, with a supportive spouse who splits these challenges with me. I have local family who help and financial resources to invest in the limited childcare options that are available. All to say—what I’m writing about here barely scratches the surface of the challenges that parents and caregivers face in the summer and can face due to childcare costs.
Did you know—US ranks next to last on list of countries supporting childcare
Iceland, the country at the top of UNICEF’s ranking of countries financially supporting childcare, spends almost 1.8 percent of its GDP on early childhood education and care, according to OECD data. So parents there spend an average of 5% of their income on childcare.
The U.S. spends 0.3 percent of its GDP on childcare and sits at No. 40 out of 41 in the UNICEF ranking.
Most people are supportive. Some aren’t. But either way, we need more than ‘support’
I will say—most folks are supportive during summer crazies, when I have to rearrange meetings around a weird camp pickup schedule (“Sorry, tennis camp ends at 2:17 for some reason!”) or get behind on emails while traveling (who else has played the “How many emails can I answer during one Disney movie” game?).
There is the occasional unsupportive person. (Looking at you, dude who told me in 2015 that daycares shouldn’t exist because “people should raise their own children.” Hope you’re doing well.) And certainly, there are some careers/industries—mostly those with diverse workforces—that are more supportive of the flexible structures that parents need to thrive.
But overall, I think people see the struggle parents and caregivers face today, especially parents with young kids.
That being said—rather than applauding parents for surviving, we should focus on fixing the system that is hurting them.
If it helps to hear a next step, I’m following organizations like Family Forward NC, which champions how family-friendly workplaces strengthen our state, and Child Care Aware® of America, which focuses on childcare in public policy.
Good riddance, summer
To all the parents who spent the summer figuring it out day by day (and dodging those well-meaning comments like, “Enjoy it while you can—it goes too fast!” or “Don’t forget to make magical memories—work can wait!”)—I see you. We’re getting into September not just sunburned but also burnt out.
It sucks. The system is broken.
So I hope your kids sleep in this Labor Day, that way, you get to sleep in, too—you’ve more than earned it.