It takes more than a village — it takes good childcare

This is a guest post by Erin Swenson-Klatt. Erin is proud native of Minneapolis, MN who will graduate from Oberlin College this May, where she has organized students around food issues and sometimes works through lunch.

This post is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.

An illustration of three women of different generations and a baby sitting together. Text reads, "A lifetime of care. Cuidado de por vida."

I was lucky enough to grow up with two families. My little brother and I were picked up by one school bus in the mornings around the corner from my house, where we lived with our mom and dad. Another bus dropped me off in the afternoons down the street from M&M Family Child Care Home.

Michael and Marian were our childcare providers after school and during summer break. They fed, taught, challenged, and nurtured me and a whole extended family of kids, from babies up through older elementary school children. M&M threw us birthday parties, took us to swimming lessons, tolerated our art project experiments and theatrical performances, and introduced us to classics like Godzilla. They were not my first child care providers, but I was a kid there for over five years, got my first job there, and go back almost every college break for potlucks, short visits, and to work with the kids. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but M&M’s—with kids of all ages, teen helpers, parents, and Michael and Marian themselves—was more than a village; it was an extended family.

Group photo of kids and adults, black and white.

A group photo at M&Ms, circa 2001. The author is at the far right of the 4th row, with her tongue out.

But Michael and Marian are only part of the story. The other part is my mom. My whole life my mom has worked in the world of early childhood education (child care and preschool) policy, and has built a fantastic, fulfilling professional career for herself. She’s been able to travel across the state and the nation, work with all kinds of people, write and develop laws and programs, and help improve the lives of kids across Minnesota. She is smart, caring, and hard working. Even though I tease her about working through her lunch hour and late some nights, I adore her and am immensely proud of her. Through all these years she’s been my cheerleader, my mentor, my copy editor, and my grocery shopping partner, anchoring me to my home and my values as a young progressive leader. (All this is certainly also true of my dad, a teacher and small business owner, but that is, as they say, another story.)

Where would my mother and I both be today without child care providers? If she had stayed home to watch my brother and me over the years, I’m sure we would have had a lot of fun together, but our relationship would be very different. Today I can’t imagine growing up without a working mom as a role model and at the same time I can’t imagine growing up without a vibrant child care experience; I know that I am very lucky to have had both these things. High quality childcare is still out of reach for many kids who most need a safe, educational, and nurturing atmosphere while their parents are at work. We can all educate ourselves about this issue, advocate for more funding for early education and child care access, support better policies to help child care providers do what they do best, and find ways to thank and hold up these (terribly underpaid) people, mostly women, who do such important work for us all. We can also acknowledge that good childcare supports strong families, strong kids, and strong women.

Michael and Marian, all my thanks, for everything. I am who I am today because of you, and I hope you are proud.

Color photo of Erin and her mom smiling

The author and her mother, December 2012.

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6 Responses to It takes more than a village — it takes good childcare

  1. mk says:

    I was just listening to a story on NPR this morning about Germany’s childcare system and whether it actually supports working mothers. (Consensus among the women interviewed seemed to be that it didn’t, although I tuned in partway through the story.)

    Childcare wasn’t a big part of my own upbringing–I grew up on a farm, so even though both of my parents worked they also stayed home with us, particularly my mom–and I’m amazed at how much that has influenced my ideals now that I’m thinking about having kids of my own. Even though I’ve never judged (or thought I never judged, anyway) the families I know or the kids I grew up with who relied more heavily on childcare, some part of my brain short circuits at the thought of my future kids not having at least one stay-at-home parent.

    But I love my job, and can’t see myself rerouting my whole career to stay at home with a kid or two, so round and round I go. I feel like a buttered cat.

  2. Ashleigh says:

    I really love this post because it shifts the perspective on child care in such a positive and truthful direction. Even many progressive folks sometimes view childcare as an important and necessary right for those who need it, but not necessarily as a benefit to children, and certainly not as a lucky opportunity. Thanks for writing!

  3. MH says:

    I love this post! I feel very similarly, but am not nearly so articulate. I grew up in a two-career household and was fortunate enough to also have some very great childcare experiences. My mother was (and is) an amazing role model. Though she was never in my exact position, I think her having had a career all those years makes it so much easier for her to give good advice to me now. I also think having parents who were always there when it really counted, but who sometimes had to say “No, we cannot go to/take you to XYZ” also helped me to have a healthy sense of reality and decrease the overly grandiose sense of entitlement that some say is symptomatic of my generation.

  4. theresa says:

    Thank you; this was such a great post. I shared this on my own FB to honor the people who have helped me mother my child (specifically, my mom, aunt, and two of her preschool teachers).

    Speaking as a mom, I had a lot of guilt when I had my first daughter and had to go back to work, but throughout her life, childcare has really helped her grow and thrive and connect with other people, and she’s had some wonderful experiences and made great friends that she never would have gotten otherwise. When we moved across country and away from my extended family, having her in preschool also helped us grow our chosen family — her preschool teachers have become great friends of ours and even our emergency contacts. I work from home now and am with my younger daughter almost all the time, but I know she will be in good hands when it’s time (really, when our older kid goes to kinder and we can afford it) to put her in preschool. And having such great support has enabled my partner and I to provide for our family and be happy in our own careers. It really does take more than a village!

  5. Natalia says:

    Yes, thank you for this.

    We live in a world where good childcare can also be a matter of life and death. It’s not a “sexy” topic – and yet the country would be so much better off if we prioritized it more.

  6. Rachel Q says:

    Erin, what a clear, thoughtful and truthful piece. You capture the importance of having quality childcare, no matter if it comes from our parents or other adults in our lives. I know I was blessed to have a great daycare provider pretty much from birth because my mother and father both worked. I appreciate your recognition that strong women can be mothers, leaders, workers, caregivers–and often many of these things all at once.

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