Our rural childcare dilemma

A few weeks ago my co-worker proposed a story idea to me for one of her upcoming covers. She told me of her social media post asking for people’s experiences regarding childcare in rural areas. I went and read the responses and really wasn’t shocked by the number of people who had trouble finding appropriate care for their children.

To be honest, I never pictured myself as a mother. There was a point in my life where I only cared about my four-legged equine partner, my husband and myself. I often said the only money I needed was entry fee and fuel money to get to the next rodeo or barrel race. I lived this way for a long time. I had a lot of fun, and wouldn’t change it for anything.

But sometimes you have to grow up. You have to make mature, adult decisions and it becomes not about you any more. I’d gotten a college degree, traveled a little and did some of the things I wanted to. I had found a good fit in my career, and felt at home at the Journal. But it was also a time when my husband and I wanted to expand our family.

Honestly, I wasn’t a fan of babies (I’m still not after having 2 of my own), or little kids for that matter. I’d never changed a diaper until my own kids came along. I believe having horses prepared me to be able to take care of kids of my own. Lord knows how many sleepless nights I spent worried about my mare when something was wrong. I could tell how good or bad she felt just by the look in her eye. I knew when she didn’t push me out of the way to get to her feed that something was wrong. I knew when she fought me during a workout that something wasn’t right.

Since I didn’t have much first hand knowledge of kids, I read, a lot. One of my go-to resources was a community forum of other mothers. Each “board” was specific to a time in the pregnancy, infancy and other stages of childhood. There I gained experience through the words of other parents and families. Even though at the time I wasn’t specifically looking for a certain thing about raising kids, I gathered nuggets of information and tucked them away for use at a later time.

On that forum, one of the realizations I had while pregnant was what were we going to do for childcare. Even though my town was close to 28,000 people at the time my first son was born in 2011, it seemed as though care was limited. Plus it being my first child, I was hesitant to send him to someone I didn’t know. What we ended up doing for him was my Mom watched him a couple days a week at our house while I went to work and then worked from home the rest of the week. Later, when he was older, we decided to send him to an in-home licensed daycare that my nephew was already at.

By the time it came for the oldest to go to Pre-K, he split his time between school and the in-home daycare. I dropped him off at school in the morning, he rode the bus to daycare and then I picked him up after work. It was a delicate balance during this time because if I needed to be gone at some point in the day, I had to ensure he’d still get to where he needed to be and that someone could be there to pick him up as he had to be gone by 5:15 p.m. Then when he started Kindergarten, we decided to have him just ride the bus to grandma’s and I’d pick them both up from there. Although this worked, it wasn’t ideal.

By the time the youngest made it to Pre-K, it turned into another dilemma with many, many miles driven in one day. He’d gotten into a program at one of the elementary schools on the far south side of town. This school was about a 20-minute drive from our house, and it had a start time of 7:50. Thankfully, they had a “before school program” that allowed us to drop him off early (about 7:30) and someone could watch him until school started. Then I would have to go another 4 miles in the opposite direction to drop the oldest off at his school before 8 and on to work I went. My Mom would pick the youngest up at 3 and they would go to her house until I could go get the oldest. He would stay at school for the YMCA “after school program.” But again, I had to be there before 5:15.

During the time my Mom was providing childcare, whether it was at my home or hers, I paid her—a certain fee per day. Double if they were both there. It honestly got to be kind of expensive for me, even though I know most other parents pay way more than I do.  The first summer they were home and out of school, I decided to save my vacation days and take at least one day off a week, to save the money I was paying Mom. I knew she could use the extra income, but I just didn’t have it.

At one point during Mom watching the youngest, she had to have cataract surgery on both eyes. One surgery first and then a few weeks, later, the second. She planned the surgery in advance, and I was able to find a place for him at one of the childcare centers ran by a church after an agonizing search.  I believe this was an adjustment for everyone involved. Mom especially, after about 7 years of watching one or both boys, now wouldn’t be watching them every day, but instead on an as-needed basis.

In the end, everything worked out. My Mom survived. My kids were cared for when my husband or I couldn’t be around or they couldn’t go with us. I’m so very thankful my workplace allowed for the flexibility needed by our family to get the kids taken care of and where they need to be. They’re still young, so I just hope we can continue to be surrounded by people who have our best interests in mind.

What are your thoughts on childcare in rural America? Share them with us as we explore this issue more in the coming months.