America is in the middle of a pandemic but it is also in the middle of an unprecedented childcare crisis. With schools and day cares closed and babysitters, nannies and grandparents out of reach parents are overworked and overwhelmed.

In some nations parents who must stay home without pay due to the closures of schools and daycares qualify for income supports, but the United States does not have such a program and so many parents who cannot work from home—those working in retail, food service, janitorial and health care—are facing a desperate dilemma.

Do parents break quarantine by having someone watch their children while they go to work, or do they lose their job?


As Nicole Rodgers, founder and executive director of Family Story, a think tank dedicated to understanding how individuals are forming and reforming families in America, told CNBC, this is an unimaginably impossible situation for many working parents.

"This is when we would ideally lean on our communities and share the burden of filling in and caring for each others' kids," Rodgers explains. "But when we're being asked to practice social distancing, that might not be feasible. It's a truly impossible situation."

These are desperate times and for some parents these times are going to call for desperate measures. The very people in occupations we now deem heroic are having to weigh the risks: Keep the kids quarantined and lose the family's income or break social distancing guidelines so that someone can watch the children while parents work.

That's why, even though older adults are more at risk for COVID-19 and that kids can often be asymptomatic carriers, grandparents are stepping in to fill the gap (and are potentially risking their health to do so.

"We're the day care now," 64-year-old grandmother Terri Barhite told the Boston Globe after her toddler grandson's daycare closed. "We're reading Sesame Street."

It's easy to see why in some states childcare centers have reopened for all workers despite risks to the children enrolled—because as Barhite's situation proves, they are such a vital service and parents cannot work without them. Some local governments have recognized that, but more needs to be done nationally.

In some states, frontline workers can access subsidies and help finding childcare. In Connecticut, for example, workers can access $500 a week in childcare subsidies and help finding a childcare provider that is still open. In Virginia, the state is spending federal grant money to keep childcare centers open for vital workers like doctors and sanitation workers.

But across the country, many centers that have closed will never reopen as they will never recover from this loss of income. A new report from the Center for American Progress estimates that without public funding, the nation could lose 49% of licenced childcare spots during the pandemic.

"Families were struggling to find and afford child care before the new coronavirus, but our estimates make clear that if Congress fails to act, this pandemic could have a catastrophic toll on America's childcare system," says Simon Workman, director of Early Childhood Policy at CAP. "This will have profound implications for working families as states begin to ease social distancing guidance; for the nation's ability to mount a robust economic recovery; and for women, who shoulder a disproportionate share of in-home family caregiving responsibilities."

That's why childcare advocates and some politicians, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, are calling on Congress to help this industry as it has helped others.

Even before the pandemic, finding affordable, quality childcare was a huge challenge for working parents with 2 out of 3 families struggling to find care that meets their standards. Childcare needs to be part of America's plan for economic recovery because the system was broken before and now it is shattered.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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My husband and I always talked about starting a family a few years after we were married so we could truly enjoy the “newlywed” phase. But that was over before it started. I was pregnant on our wedding day. Surprise!

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