In the final weeks of Trump’s campaign, the president’s daughter, Ivanka, promoted a plan to help her father get the working women’s vote. Trump’s plan would give women six weeks of paid maternity leave and a larger tax credit to make childcare more affordable. Some women wonder, however, if a longer maternity leave and more affordable childcare can make moms feel better about leaving their children at daycare centers so they can work. Do these innovations soothe a mother’s heart as she drops a screaming child off at daycare while rushing to an important meeting?
Daycare isn’t like other services. You’re not dropping off shirts to be washed, pressed, starched, and picked up a day later; you’re dropping off your child, the dearest thing in your life, to be molded and cared for by caregivers in your stead. It can feel awful to leave a child at daycare, especially just coming off maternity leave with a three-month-old infant.
Where is the plan that can assuage the working mom’s guilt at leaving a child with strangers? Who can make daycare desirable, rather than a necessary evil? Is there a working model to emulate? What would that look like?
For working mothers employed by Kars4Kids, a nonprofit headquartered in Lakewood, New Jersey, it looks a lot like the onsite daycare system provided by their employer. Once you’ve worked there, you come to believe that what working moms need is for daycare, family, and work to be seamless. Here are some of the practices this nonprofit has adopted to accommodate working mothers:
- The daycare center, serving children newborn to four years, is next door to the office. Moms can check on children at any time. Parents and even grandparents visit with children and grandchildren whenever they like.
- Onsite childcare for employees is steeply discounted, making it much less expensive than other daycare options.
- Working mothers have an extended paid break to nurse their babies in the first year. After this, moms can nurse children whenever they wish, with that time deducted from working hours.
- New parents receive gift cards for a local children’s store to celebrate new arrivals.
- There’s a designated office for moms and sick children, outfitted with standard office equipment. Moms can work here as they care for their sick children.
- The onsite childcare center exclusively caters to Kars4Kids employees, which leads to a family-like relationship between caregivers, children, and parents.
- Twice a year, the nonprofit hosts employees’ families for an informal, catered, family-style supper.
Chana Chava Horowitz, a business development specialist, is a huge fan of the workplace onsite daycare center. In fact, Horowitz credits the center as the number one reason she’s been with the nonprofit for the past nine years. She likes the fact that the daycare is open full-time, and remains open during all office hours. “If I’m running late because I’m working on a project, there’s a lot more latitude than had it been an independent daycare. They’re also right next door so I can go visit and make sure things are okay and there aren’t any concerns.”
Educates and enriches
As a working mother, Horowitz is pleased that the staff doesn’t just play and care for the kids, but really educates and enriches them. “The only thing I can think of that I’m not crazy about is that I’ll sometimes get called to come over and resolve something that possibly could have been dealt without my involvement had I been on the other side of town,” says Horowitz, acknowledging that this is a minor issue.
With no little irony, Chana Roth, director of the daycare center, is a caregiver as well as the parent of a child in the center these past three years. She cites the opposite “problem” as her main challenge. “Having the moms so close by allows them to visit any time, sometimes at inopportune times, such as during nap-time, lunch, or other times when their children are supposed to be participating in the class activity, and after seeing their mom, will jump up and disturb the other children and the flow of the classroom. If moms come too often, it can mess up the child’s schedule that we try to set for them.”
Still, to Roth, the benefits of being an onsite caregiver far outweigh the challenges. “As director, I like the setup of an onsite daycare because I can get to know the moms, since I work with them in the office. It feels cozier, warmer, not like a ‘commercial’ daycare.”
Sarah Gayle, a business data and process analyst, appreciates the professionalism of the onsite daycare center. Her daughter spent two and a half years in various in-home daycare centers before Gayle came to work at Kars4Kids. “This center is a lot more professional than anything in-home. Because it’s full-time, they do a lot more, whereas centers ending at 2 pm, well, between the 30-minute drop-off and 30-minute pick-up windows, the hour plus of nap-time, 30 minutes of lunch etc., the kids have very little time to learn.”
Gayle remarks that unlike the in-home care centers, the caregivers at the workplace center are always looking out for the children’s development. “When my daughter was in an in-home from ages three months until 11 months, she mostly sat in a pack-n-play or on a carpeted floor alone all day. My son is now in the newborn room, and I see the caregivers constantly on the floor working with the kids; helping them learn how to roll, sit, and crawl. They know every baby’s schedule, preferences, and personality like it’s their own child,” says Gayle.
Gayle is also pleased with the physical aspects of the daycare center. “It’s a far cry from the windowless basement my daughter was scheduled to go to this year if I hadn’t come to work here,” says Gayle. “That’s aside from the amazing convenience of having an onsite daycare for employees, where we don’t worry the minute we find out we’re expecting where our baby will go; where we don’t spend every waking minute pumping if we wish to nurse; and where we don’t drive around every morning to multiple playgroups before heading to work [since the center spans several ages]. It’s also amazing that I can visit my children on my lunchbreak, and it’s nice for us mothers that we’re friends with our children’s friends’ mothers!”
Director of Public Relations at Kars4Kids, Wendy Kirwan, would tell you that providing fabulous onsite daycare is one tangible expression of how women are seen within the organization. Working mothers aren’t passed over or excluded from important work projects by virtue of their families or busy home lives. Women employees don’t need to hide the fact that a new baby is on the way, or that the family is currently undergoing some sort of stressful change such as a move to a new apartment.
“Here, there’s respect for women and balancing their family lives with work that trickles down from the top. Women are expected to perform excellently in the workplace – no different than men – but there’s an inherent understanding of the challenges and daily struggles they experience. It expresses itself sometimes in subtle ways – a well-placed comment, a one-time exception made to policy – but it’s undeniably there and it helps,” says Kirwan.
The nonprofit with the jingle (“1-877-Kars4Kids, donate your car today”) is more than a way to get your car towed for free and a tax deduction. It’s more than a place that funds educational and mentoring initiatives for children. Kars4Kids also serves as a model workplace for working mothers, and now you have the blueprint.