Here’s the problem(s) with “don’t have children if you can’t afford them”.

Photo Credit to Elza Miquel-Blain via www.hipmommies.ca

Spoiler alert — that view is incredibly elitist.

I’ve become a little more involved in child care advocacy work lately. While I have been campaigning for the fair wages of early educators for awhile, since beginning my second maternity leave my voice on quality early education has become a great deal louder.

Here is a little background for why I want to call out this “the solution to daycare costs is you” position. Spending a great deal of time working in education, including teaching at the Elementary, Professional and Post-Graduate level, I am sensitive to the challenges Educators face. My children and I have attended rallies, protests, media scrums and town halls focusing on federal, provincial and municipal child care issues. We hear you and we are frustrated too.

You may have noticed that the child care conversation is in the local news ALL.THE.TIME. I don’t think a week goes by without some sort of “how can we solve the child care problem?” type story, featuring angry politicians (you rock!) and upset parents (yay you!). That coverage is good, right? Shouldn’t it be great to be discussing about how prohibitively expensive and inaccessible high quality FT centre-based child care is in Toronto. Isn’t that the point? In all these stories, rallies, call-in programs and meet-ups I’ve noticed too much problem identifying without enough immediate problem solving.

How is it, with all the woman-and-man power, the brilliant minds, the politicians, economists and journalists alike, we can’t just fix this one?

I think we haven’t seen immediate action because we can’t agree on the true challenges with child care. I do not think this is because that we are lacking empathy, but we face a total fragmentation of what caused the issue in the first place. There is so little agreement on what we can do today to make child care accessible to all. It’s a little mind-boggling. I’d like to suggest some answers right now, but today my focus is on the blamers.

It’s the parent expectations! Rent fees are too high! Everything in the city is expensive, deal with it! We’ve lost our family values! Women should just stay home!

Finger pointing is common in cause based work. This is especially true when looking for who’s going to pay to solve said issue. But why can’t we agree that playing the blame game is counterproductive and that everyone wants what’s best for the children AND staff AND parents?

I think we agree that child care is expensive (hello, $2200/mth/child in some centres in Toronto). Many of us are paying for childcare spots even when we don’t need them, during winter and summer breaks for instance, just to hold the spot for when we do need them. I want to believe we all understand that ECEs are severely underpaid. 24% are making less than $15/hr. I know that many parents feel the desperation in 2+ year long waitlists. But when programs like this air for two hours on a Sunday evening, we hear from our fellow community members who put the blame squarely in the laps of our caring parents with no reasonable solution for getting more families into high quality centre care. Comments like:

“If you can’t afford children, don’t have them”.
“Just move to another city where this problem doesn’t exist”
“Get a Nanny”
and my personal favourite, “just stay home and watch your own children”.

This doesn’t work for me. And it doesn’t get to solving our issue. Child care is NOT about child minding. Did you know that 80% of cognitive brain development happens between ages 0–3? High quality licensed centre care is responsible for preparing children for school-aged learning, increased language development, enhanced emotional intelligence, not to mention growth and socialization. Why should the option of putting our children in the arms of qualified Educators be restricted to select families?

Here’s where we get real. There are vacant spots in high quality centres alongside two year waiting lists in Toronto. We have a serious problem.

I recognize that I am writing from a position of privilege and that a lot of the solutions I’ve developed in my own family care scenario are not an option or the experience of others. I have a parent who has offered to put her daytime life on hold so she can help me watch my children. And that I have an employer who understands working from home at times is critical for surviving my piecemeal child care situation. I’m lucky. I have the option to return to work even though I do not have full-time centre based child care. We’ve been on waitlists for over 2 years.

Not all parents are able to find an excellent alternative to FT centre care. There are so many women I’ve heard from who have done exactly what I fear; regrettably leaving careers they built to stay home because the cost of childcare exceeds their wage. I heard from one mother who described the endless 14 hour days — CEO at home before and after work, a full professional work day, all the fees, work and little rest. The stress of finding care is nuanced. It is so wrong of you to assume that those who are working from their home are doing so “because they choose to spend more time with their children”. No. Many are doing it because there is no other option.

On a personal side note, I LOVE my job. I work for a tech startup that makes an app to help Early Educators send messages to Parents, privately and with dynamic, quality observations of their child’s learning and development. When I had my daughter, I said I would return to work in 9 months. Shortly after being slapped by the “holy shit, parenting is HARD” reality, I stayed home for 11 months. Now at month 8 of my second maternity leave, I’m preparing to return to work soon. I will cry at the extended separation between my children. And I will relish in quiet coffee breaks and adult conversations with nice shoes on and pants with pockets. I want to go back.

To the whole “well why did you have children in the first place?” talk… Canada’s 2016 census results show us that for the first time in history, seniors outnumber children. We are working more and having less children. If the cost of child care restricts quality care and the ability to work outside the home to only Canada’s wealthiest, we are going to run short on a diverse youthful future. Not to mention that if our number of senior citizens is growing substantially, supportive care for all ages should be embedded into our consciousness.

“Do not have children if you cannot afford it”. Well. It’s far too presumptive to expect every parent to have a full-proof parenting plan before they have children. And how lovely is it for you to make family planning decisions based entirely on financial viability? I don’t know of many people who build their families from underneath their wallet. I also can’t think of too many examples where a baby is born alongside a magical alignment of perfect job, great living arrangements and unlimited family support. Things happen. Many have been working for years and struggling to conceive. Should they be punished because they finally have a baby in a less-than-ideal time? Some babies come from challenging home life situations (and horrific incidents) and make a decision to continue with a pregnancy. Some didn’t have a choice at all (and with you I will continue to fight).

So let’s think twice before we lambast families for having children in whatever their family financial situation is at the time. Let’s not tell women their top priority is their children above their self-worth, career success and mental health.

Child care is an economic issue. The respect I have for Early Education Associations is far-reaching. I have to ask though, where are the business leaders standing up to champion child care on behalf of their top talent? By supporting Educators, you are supporting your women leaders in your workplace. Let’s start to point our innovation lens towards solving the space, cost and wage challenges in early education, and stop blaming the parents who are barely holding it all together in all economic situations.

And if you have an idea for how we can begin to see real change in early education, I’d love to hear it. If you live in the East End of Toronto, TEECC would love to see you at a meeting. Join me and the others doing this work.

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p.s TEECC’s request is simple — increase the number of high quality child care spaces, at an affordable rate, with better information about child care resources. The fight for quality childcare involves more than parents of 0–5 year olds: employers, Teachers, Directors, ECEs, Friends, Family.