When the last payment reached my son’s childcare provider, I felt what could only be expressed as sheer liberation. My finances were finally unfettered, but the expenditure was worth it.
That fall Joseph was to begin full-day kindergarten and his providers had handily prepared him for its academic requirements. They sat with the four-year-olds in small groups and taught them basic reading, writing and math skills — throughout the year.
With pride, Joseph showed me the pages and pages of work he had completed and I was truly astounded. The shapes of his letters and numbers progressed from shaky and uncertain to firm and deliberate. Erasure marks and pencil smears became less frequent as his self-respect and knowledge grew.
His last day at the center was one of celebration. In a suit and tie, Joseph joined other children in his age group for a “graduation” ceremony. Each child received a “diploma” and shared their career goals with the many family and friends in attendance. Joseph’s future plan was simple: “I want to be a worker.” Not necessarily the response I expected, but I was so very proud of him and thankful to and for his teachers.
Arriving at this milestone in my son’s little life, however, was not without its challenges. Childcare did not emerge as a necessity until my son was nearly 10 months old, allowing me to forego the expensive care an infant requires.
My father and I had worked out a schedule in which he would care for Joseph in the morning. Around noon on my way home, I would pick up Joseph at my father’s work before his shift began. This approach was feasible mainly because of my father’s unused personal and vacation time that he had carried over for several years. Eventually, these precious hours were exhausted.
During these months, Joseph’s father and I had been addressing custody, visitation and child support through heated emails and attorney correspondence. The ordeal had been stressful, difficult and expensive.
Exacerbating this legal situation were his father’s visits to see Joseph, which occurred at my parents’ home where we lived. I suggested these home visits because his father did not have the necessary accommodations for a baby at his apartment and Joseph was safer here.
Not surprisingly, these weekly visits tested my family’s and my endurance and patience, particularly as his father became more abrasive and condescending. Notes I left for him about feeding and caring for Joseph were treated with contempt — and demanded when not prepared. Messes were created and left for us to clean up. Property was accidentally destroyed and inadequately replaced. Photos were secretly taken of rooms in our house — and submitted to the court. Visitors congregated in there without our knowledge or permission. Such liberties were taken despite us giving him privacy during his visits.
For 10 months.
These mounting tensions, the end of my father’s leave time and Joseph being nearly 1 year old persuaded me that changes could and needed to be made. Not only did Joseph begin visiting his father outside of my house, but he also was enrolled in childcare.
I took the lead in researching and selecting a childcare center, rather than home-based care. Naturally, his father and I argued. He wanted the cheaper home-based approach in which one older woman ran the show. I preferred a center because of its accountability for meeting and maintaining standards, including early education and safety. In the end, he did not want to pay the higher rates of center-based care.
My Googling generated three possibilities, all of which had openings for a child my son’s age. The first one had received rave reviews for the socially and emotionally well-adjusted geniuses it sent to kindergarten. The center had two floors, the main of which was painted with bright colors and bustling with the constructive activity of children ages 3 to 4. The bottom floor where my son would spend his time for a good year was a stark departure from the inviting space above. It had very few windows, giving it a dreary feeling, and exuded a cold, uninviting atmosphere. Plus, the providers on that floor were intimidating and unfriendly, to say the least.
The second center was creepy and disturbing as well. When I pulled into its parking lot, I was surprised at how small the building appeared from the outside and was curious as to how it could house so many children. The short tour quickly answered that question. I was escorted to a door where I peered into a smallish room through a little window. There I witnessed pandemonium. Stressed and overwhelmed, a woman tried to coral several children around my son’s age, who were crying, talking, fighting, running and generally getting into anything. I learned that the provider may — or may not — have an assistant, and the children were cooped up in these “cells” for the majority of the day.
The third center was situated among trees at a somewhat busy intersection. As with the previous facilities, I arranged a meeting with the director and I found her to be responsible, outgoing and actively engaged in meeting the needs of all of the children at the center. She understood that childcare providers were comparable to a second family for the children and they needed to know they were loved. She introduced me to the two women who worked in the room where my son would stay. They were sincerely loving and kind, holding the little ones, cradling them at times, catching them when they toddled and stumbled. This was the environment I wanted for my son and he stayed here for more than a year before he attending a childcare center near my father’s work from which he graduated.
In the meantime, his father and I, through our attorneys, were preparing the groundwork for the custody agreement, a process laden with anger and frustration. He agreed to pay me a small amount of money that helped offset a mere fraction of the childcare costs. For months, I paid attorney’s fees, childcare costs, health insurance and bills, and any other needs my son had. To do so, I had to live with my parents, for which I am most grateful. It was impossible for me to live on my own in a safe place — and pay for these expenses. As luck would have it, I earned just enough not to qualify for assistance but not enough to survive.
Eventually, the agreement was finalized with me receiving sole physical and legal custody, and the child support was adjusted to factor in our son’s childcare needs — moving forward. Unfortunately, I don’t recall him repaying his share of the childcare pre-agreement. At that point, I was just thrilled to have an agreement in place.
I was fortunate enough to have a supportive family, who helped me during my son’s early years, but many single parents do not and their financial struggles can quickly become overwhelming and seemingly insurmountable. For example, childcare expenses eat a larger percentage of our income than married couples who both work.
Child Care Aware of America is a great resource for single and married parents with children in need of childcare. Users can search by state to determine if they are eligible for childcare subsidies and find childcare establishments.
As of 2014, Congress reauthorized the Child Care and Development Block grant through which funds are distributed to states that in turn award aid to eligible recipients and ensure the high quality of childcare facilities. This program was created in 1990 and amended in 1996. It is expected to be funded through 2020, after which time federal legislative action must occur.
On Thursdays I will be sharing a blog about a day in the actual life of a single parent. Every fourth Thursday, instead of a personal post, I will put together one where I assemble news on and about single parents nationally and globally.
I would love to hear from you! Feel free to send any comments and questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on Twitter @parentsonurown and can be found by searching #singleparentandstrong.