Like many of you, I was a “latch-key” kid, only I don’t remember having a key or how I entered our house after school. My mother worked and my dad was either gone for five months of commercial fishing in Alaska or working in construction.
I don’t know where my brother was except that it would be anywhere but around his baby sister. I remember being alone but not in a bad way.
My mother was a nurse and loved her profession. She was a stay-at-home mother until her last child finished kindergarten. She was hired to work as a nurse in a doctors’ clinic which allowed her to work and be home at night making lunches for the next day’s work and school and most of the weekends making meals to heat up for weekday dinners.
My mother was a very busy woman being a full-time nurse, homemaker and mom. All was her given responsibility. My father worked hard too while fishing and working his winter job. When he arrived home at night, he ate dinner with us and relaxed in front of the TV. He had home jobs such as small maintenance jobs and large projects like painting the house. His given responsibilities didn’t include daily duties like bathing children, setting the table or washing dishes.
Do you recognize this as one scenario of family life in the 1950s? There are different versions — some women stayed home with family, some worked to earn money to live, some, though not many, worked to be in the career they loved and some like my mom tried to do all three.
Of course, it’s impossible to be full-time at each responsibility because it wouldn’t be full-time, would it. Yet she never complained or asked for help. I understood probably from eavesdropping that any complaint or perhaps a lapse would result in my father telling her to quit her job. I knew deep in my bones, he and she thought her role was to be a mom, homemaker and the one that eased his burdens by not giving him more to do.
Fast forward to 2021. I’m old, wise in some areas, less so in others and puzzled by many, one being why government policies don’t support young families in areas such as child daycare and early education.
Comparing the daycare experience of my childhood with daycare life in the 21st century is much like comparing black rotary dial phones with purple smart phones, except some things haven’t changed.
Perhaps the biggest change is that more women entered the work world including sectors that denied women entry in the past because they were women.
Today, more young families just starting out require two incomes to afford a family home, especially one with a yard for swings and playing catch. More women become single parents either by choice, preferring to do it alone or being in an ill-fated relationship that left her alone with her child or children.
More women than before admit or realize they need the satisfaction of a meaningful career using the talents they possess. Many of these women believe they can be a successful mother and have a successful career.
Roles changed for men many of who spend more time with their children caring for and entertaining them. The term househusband come into being when some men stay home with the children while mothers work, although not enough to influence the demand for childcare.
The demand for daycare grew as more women returned to work when their babies were still babies. An industry was born. Parents wanted safe environments with responsible caregivers that they could afford for their children.
“Afford” meant the cost wasn’t so much that it diminished the amount of disposable income realized to the point it made no sense to work to simply pay for childcare.
No one should be surprised a formula to balance affordability with a reasonable business return hasn’t been achieved given many babies and toddlers are the children of young families with tight budgets.
As child daycare demands grew so did regulatory requirements for staffing levels, space needs and programs intended to prepare children for kindergarten resulting in increased costs for the business. Cost increased and affordability or the ability to provide affordable services decreased.
No one should expect the daycare center, owner or worker to sacrifice an income sufficient for their business and personal budgets to allow others to work. Yet, we do. Government subsidies for one child of the very low-income parent are based on paying caregivers an unattractive low hourly wage.
This high demand industry has been failing for years.
President Biden has put forth a program to support the provision of childcare for working families and one to provide early childhood or pre-K education programs. Both are in the BBB (Build Back Better Act) that’s passed the House and is in the hands of the Senate. Both are said to be funded by increased corporate tax rates, improved tax collections and more favorable drug pricing.
The leader of the Senate Republicans rose to speak against the childcare program. He essentially proposed that a parent do what my mother did — stay home and take care of your kids. My guess is he has little concern that a woman, and trust me he thinks woman, loses at least six years of her career experience, more if she has more than one child … very 1950s.
And very out of touch. Does he and his party colleagues know that young families struggle? Do they know that young families have an even greater struggle finding affordable housing, never mind that dream of owning a home? Perhaps they don’t remember the economic growth that occurred when women entered the work force.
Most of us know that young families who are economically stable and optimistic about the future are essential to the future of our country, culture, economy and survival.
A far greater concern is that elected decisions makers do not support in legislation, policy and fact a America that embraces its young with hope, caring and love. I could not help but sense the air of disdain in the leader’s presentation for parents who would expect any support from their community, much like the disdain expressed over the sentiment “it takes a village to raise a child.”
Careful what we wish for — incentives to remain childless are not good for the village, economy, future and species.
Bertha Cooper, a featured columnist in the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation and it the author of the award-winning “Women, We’re Only Old Once.”
Cooper and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.