Essential workers need childcare, so grandparents are filling the gap

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.

My village lives far away—but my Target baby registry helped them support me from afar

Virtual support was the next best thing to in-person hugs

They say you shouldn't make too many major life transitions at once. But when I was becoming a mama for the first time nearly five years ago, my husband and I also moved to a new town where we didn't know a soul, bought our first house and changed jobs.

To put it mildly, we didn't heed that advice. Luckily, our family and friends still made it feel like such a magical time for us by supporting our every move (literal and otherwise) from afar. They showered us with love through a virtual baby shower (expectant parents nowadays can relate!) featuring the unwrapping of gifts they were able to ship straight to me from my Target registry.

Here's one piece of advice I did take: I registered at Target so I could take advantage of the retailer's benefits for registrants, which include a welcome kit valued over $100, a universal registry function and more. Fast-forward a few years and Target has made the registration perks even better for expectant parents: As of August 2020, they've added a Year of Exclusive Deals, which gives users who also sign up for Target Circle a full year of savings after baby is born on all those new mama essentials, from formula to diapers and beyond.

Honestly, even without the significant perks of a free welcome kit with more than $100 in coupons, additional 15% off coupons to complete the registry and a full year of free returns, registering at Target wasn't a hard sell for me: Even though the experience of shopping for baby items was new, shopping with Target felt like returning home to me… and the comfort of that was such a gift.

And of course, Target's registry plays a vital role right now, as expectant parents everywhere are being forced to cancel in-person baby showers and navigate early parenthood without the help of a hands-on village. A registry like this represents a safe way for communities to come through for new parents. If you're anything like me (or any of the other mamas here at Motherly), you certainly have emotional ties and fond memories associated with Target.

What to register for at Target was also an easy talking point as I began to connect with moms in my new community. I will always remember going on a registry-building spree with my next door neighbor, who had young children of her own. As we walked the aisles of Target back in 2015, she suggested items to add… and we laid the foundation for what has since become one of my most cherished friendships.

Even as I made connections in my new hometown, I was nervous that expecting my first baby wouldn't feel as special as if I were near family and friends. But my loved ones exceeded all expectations by adding the most thoughtful notes to gifts. They hosted a beautiful virtual baby shower and even encouraged me to keep the registry going after my baby made his debut and new needs arose.

In the years since, "community" has taken on a wonderfully complex new meaning for me… and, in these times of social distancing, for the rest of the world. I've come to cherish my newfound friends in our local community alongside those long-time friends who are scattered around the county and my virtual mama friends.

Now, as my friends' families grow, I'm so grateful that I can show them the same love and support I felt during my first pregnancy. I sing the praises of Target's baby registry—especially in light of the pandemic, since I know mamas can do everything from a distance thanks to Target's website and the added benefit of getting trusted reviews and helpful registry checklists.

And now that I'm on the gift-buying side of the equation, I've found new joy in picking thoughtful gifts for my friends. (Because goodness knows Target has something for everyone!)

For my friend who is a fellow runner, I teamed up with a few others to give the jogging stroller she had on her registry.

For my friend who is a bookworm, I helped her start her baby's library with a few books that are also well-loved in our home.

For other friends, I've bundled together complete "sets" with everything they need for bathing or feeding their children.

I know from my own experience that, yes, the registry purchases are so appreciated, but the thoughtfulness and the support they represent means even more. Because although my village may have been distant, the support they showed me was the next best thing to in-person hugs.

Start your own Target Baby Registry here to experience a Year of Benefits including a Year of Exclusive Deals through Target Circle to enjoy for a full year following your baby's arrival, a year of free returns, two 15% off completion coupons and a free welcome kit ($100 value).

This article was sponsored by Target. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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