A Conversation with Heidi Murkoff About Our Nation’s Child Care Crisis

I recently sat down with Heidi Murkoff, author of New York Times bestseller What to Expect When You’re Expecting, to discuss a crisis that we don’t talk about nearly enough. All around the country — in cities, suburbs, and rural communities — families are struggling to find and afford high-quality child care.

I can’t go anywhere without somebody telling me a personal story about calling dozens of child care centers and not being able to find a center they can afford, or that has a spot for their child. Some parents end up on waitlists for years for a high-quality program. I also hear stories all the time of parents who go into work every day, but know that their child is not in a great place — so they struggle to perform up to their potential, worried sick about their child’s wellbeing. Others have told me that they’ve been offered promotions and turned them down, because accepting the job would mean transitioning into full-time work and leaving their child behind.

This is an issue for parents everywhere.

I met a dad from Richland, Washington with three little kids. He and his wife are both working professionals with good jobs, but he was thinking about quitting because child care in his area was too expensive and they were out of options. This family faced an impossible choice. The father knew that by leaving his job, he would fall behind in the workforce and jeopardize the family’s financial security, but his three kids were more important to him than anything else, and he couldn’t bear the idea of leaving them in a place he couldn’t trust. Situations like these aren’t just mentally and emotionally taxing for parents — they deprive our children of opportunity.

Fifty years of research has shown us that what children learn before their fifth birthday doesn’t just affect how they perform in kindergarten, or how they’re doing by seventh grade — it affects who they become as an adult. Will they go to college? Will they have the skills they need to succeed? Will they be able to compete in a changing world? Will they be able to earn a comfortable salary? All of those answers are dependent on quality early childhood education.

We cannot afford to ignore this child care crisis any longer. Every child in America should know that we’re committed to helping them succeed and achieve their dreams, and every working parent should have the peace of mind that comes with knowing their children are being cared for in a safe and nurturing environment.

We’ve got to do away with the mindset that this is somebody else’s problem. The onus is on all of us to fix this, which is why I’ve introduced the Child Care for Working Families Act. This bill would ensure no parent has to pay more than they can afford on child care, increase access to preschool for 3 and 4-year-olds, and invest in child care teachers and caregivers with better training and a living wage.

I fight for quality child care because it’s about something so much larger than any one of us — this is about making sure families have the income they need to live healthily and happily, and it’s about making sure that our children are prepared to be the future leaders, thinkers, and professionals this country needs them to be.