Sunday, January 30, 2011

How Much?

Ah, the big debate. How much is childcare worth to you? Parents who choose to or have to work find themselves in the position of having to pay for childcare. And being budget-minded (who isn't?), they often want to get the best deal possible. But what is the "deal"? How cheap are you willing to go to pay for childcare and expect quality? People demand the most from their caregivers. They want a person who will focus on their children, play educational games with them, foster their health and development, keep them clean and well-fed, and nurture them with all the patience and wisdom of Mary Poppins (who, by the way, is a fictional character, keep that in mind!). But, parents, I ask you - do YOU fit the bill? Do YOU do all of those things with your children when you are their primary caregiver? I know I didn't. When my kids were little, I was a busy mom - always initiating activities and projects with my kids, taking them on "field trips", purchasing educational games, limiting TV and junk food, holding them, nurturing them, doing everything all of the "experts" and books told me to. But I'm not too proud to admit I occasionally propped my firstborn up in a walker and plopped her in front of a window so I could get the dishes done, or put my toddler in front of an episode or two of "Blue's Clues" in order to fold some laundry. Believe me, if my kids were otherwise occupied with a game or activity, initiated on their own, and no one was getting hurt or maimed by it, I was all for those precious few minutes of peace and quiet. Sure, I could have played some more board games, or taken them to the zoo more. I could have built a rocket with them or taught them Spanish. But I didn't. I needed some balance. Still, I think I did a pretty good job of just being a mommy and my kids are healthy and well-adjusted and will (hopefully) be productive members of society one day, so I'm satisfied with a job well done. And I didn't make a penny.

BUT! I have worked in childcare for many years and I've earned many pennies along the way taking care of other people's children. And I treated it like a professional job. To me, being a childcare provider was NOT the same as being a mommy. I wasn't just "taking over" a mommy's job, I was providing a service. Sure, many parts of that job involved using my basic instincts as a mommy, and the loving and nurturing was natural and not contrived. However, while I might plop my own toddler in front of a TV show to do laundry, my job as a childcare provider was not to do laundry, therefore, interaction with the child was my main priority. Childcare providers' jobs mainly involve interaction and undivided attention given to a child - probably more than their own mommy can give, and the overall reason is that a childcare provider is being PAID. It's a JOB. As such, certain criteria are set forth and it's the childcare provider's job to follow them. As with any professional, you get what you pay for, and childcare is one area that I find shockingly underpaid. These are your CHILDREN! Your most precious possession is at stake here and yet people are willing to pay peanuts to the very person who spends the majority of their day with their child (same applies here to teachers, who are also grossly underpaid, and yet, we entrust our child's entire EDUCATION to them, but that's another blog post!). So, what's it worth to you? Ten dollars and hour? Twenty? Fifty?

But come on, you say, I only make SO much money. I can't AFFORD to pay that much for childcare. Well, I'm here to tell you, you can't afford NOT to. Having worked in the childcare field for over twenty-five years, I have seen the best and worst of childcare providers. When I was a teenager, and working in a very upscale and brand-new childcare center, I saw my fellow teen workers shunning the "icky" kids. The ones with runny noses, or mismatched clothing, or special needs. Only the prettiest, cutest and most adorable children earned the coveted place on the teen caregiver's lap and their undivided attention. Ok, you say, but that's a teenager for you. Really? I saw this same thing taking place with adult caregivers when I worked for the YMCA. Parents cannot really know what goes on behind the closed doors of the childcare center, and often they would find it appalling at worst, and hurtful at best. There are some WONDERFUL caregivers out there, but when you pay a caregiver less than $10 an hour, you can't expect the quality of a true professional, regardless of how upscale and wonderful your childcare center is.

Thinking of hiring a private nanny to care for your precious angels? Think of it this way. If you were in charge of hiring a highly qualified individual at your place of business, would you offer a competitive salary package with benefits? Of course you would. But many parents think nothing of hiring a nanny and paying them less than poverty-level wages, with no benefits. Accountability comes with responsibility and a respect for your career. Integrity comes from within, and wanting to do a good job because it's the RIGHT thing to do, is becoming a thing of the past. Let's face it, we all need jobs. We all need money. We need to make a living. Few of us are so attached to our jobs that we'd do it for nothing. Childcare is a job. It's a profession. And as such, expect to pay competitive wages for the BEST of the best. As parents, we often ask MORE of a childcare provider than we even expect of ourselves. And we want it for what accounts to pocket change. If you pay $100 for a crummy TV that has a bad picture and goes out in a month, you might adopt the attitude of "you get what you pay for". But if you pay $1000 for a TV and expect good quality, and don't get it, you expect some recourse. You expect the company to have some accountability. Same with your caregiver.

Sure, you say, but my caregiver comes to my home and hangs out with my baby all day. It's not that HARD. And she gets a BREAK when the baby is sleeping. Really? When you are at work, and there's nothing to do, does your pay get docked because the company did not provide you with enough work to fill your day? If you sit at a desk all day, and have access to your computer so you can sneak in a little online shopping or even Facebook while you "work", is your work really HARD? When I care for your children, you are not only paying me to provide top-notch childcare. You are paying me for my TIME. I have a family, too. I am  taking time away from my family, the same way you do each day when you drive to your desk job, to provide a service to your family, the same way you provide service to your company. But, you say, I attend trainings, I'm a PROFESSIONAL. As your childcare provider, I am happy to attend trainings. I am happy to obtain certifications. I am happy to further my degree if it provides you with the peace of mind that you have hired the most top-notch professional for the job. Oh, and by the way, I will also expect you to pay for it, the same way your company pays for YOUR certifications and continuing education.

So, what is it worth to you? Do you want a warm body who can call 911 in an emergency to care for your children nine hours a day? Or do you want an experienced professional, an experienced mother, a person who takes the job of child-rearing seriously enough to care about doing the very best job possible? It all comes down to this - you get what you pay for. What is it worth?

1 comment:

jeff said...

Great article! Are you going into business? :)