The Changing Face of Childcare: Creativity and Flexibility
by ashlynn reynolds-dyk
“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.” Kakuzo Okakura
An already complicated matter, childcare has become even more challenging to navigate as we continue learning how to live and operate amidst a pandemic. As a result, parents, guardians, employers, childcare providers, and the friends and families of each have become especially creative and flexible to meet the latest challenges of childcare.
People have called on their most creative and desperate ideas from workarounds and temporary solutions, including childcare collectives, nanny shares, reduced and/or more flexible work hours, geographic changes, and more. Billings Chamber of Commerce’s Director of Finance, Megan Stevenson, is no stranger to childcare creativity. Megan calls herself fortunate to have the flexibility of working remotely most days. A local mother of three school-age children, Megan explains that, especially in the early stages of COVID, she frequently worked into the evening hours to help her children with schoolwork during the day. With no immediate family nearby to help her and her husband, Megan hoped that a friend, neighbor, or miracle would help her get through periodic daytime meetings. She also notes several occasions where her children have had to accompany her to her Billings office.
Other parents have reduced the number of hours they work and even given up or temporarily put their careers on hold. Brittany Martishius, a transportation engineer in Billings, explained that she and her husband Mitchell tried to find an appropriate replacement facility after their daycare shutdown. The family is currently waitlisted at 15 different facilities throughout Billings. In the interim, Mitchell has taken a leave of absence from work to stay home with their youngest child and do drop-off and pickup for their oldest. While this is not ideal for most families, the Martishius family has made the best of it. As a result, Mitchell has had more time to expand their woodworking business.
In other instances, grandparents are retiring early to help care for grandchildren. Still, others have exercised their creativity in pods and childcare rotations within neighborhoods and/or small friend groups. With mini-pods, families commit to a small group where they each take turns caring for all of the children in the pod. Mini-pods can take various forms: sometimes, there’s a rotation among homes and caretakers. Other times, one primary person is committed to caring for all the children in the mini-pod. Another local family shared their story of briefly placing their three children with two different childcare providers. While their 4- and 5-year-old children went to one daycare, their infant went to another. The face of childcare is not only changing but, more often than not, is multi-faceted.
However, parents, guardians, and grandparents are not the only ones getting creative and making sacrifices. While parents are trying to balance childcare and work, childcare providers are trying to stay open or re-open with an unsustainable new business model. Childcare providers face reduced childcare capacity, a labor crunch, and an inability to raise employee wages. For example, after 36 ½ years of business, Billings’ Discovery Daycare was forced to close its doors when the owners could not keep it staffed.
“I feel for the childcare providers when they are forced to close; it messes their routine and finances up.” ~Bree Schmidt, Pediatric Dental Assistant in Billings and Parent to 2-Year Old Jette
Other businesses also face the labor crunch and demands of balancing their need to stay open to care for their employees and employees' loved ones. Business owners and managers are also working to be flexible, as many allow more remote and/or hybrid work. There have been some humorous stories of children popping into online video meetings in some instances. Fortunately, some businesses have offered childcare subsidies as benefits while others have provided onsite childcare (although these tend to face the same challenges that other childcare providers face, with limited and inconsistent staffing being a big one).
Recognizing the privilege of having a job, paycheck, etc., but not overlooking the immense difficulty of doing without what many used to do with, we applaud all families, friends, neighbors, childcare providers, and business owners for their flexibility and creativity, and grace.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce states that "Childcare is a two-generation workforce issue, essential to support the workforce of today and vital to develop our workforce of tomorrow." In short, childcare is tied to infrastructure. Without stable childcare, businesses, our economy, and our overall infrastructure will continue to suffer. To read more about the COVID-19 impact on childcare, visit: https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/reports/covid-19-impact-childcare