Somehow I didn’t fully comprehend what having a child would mean. Caring for someone 24/7 seems easy enough to understand, but it gets a whole world clearer once you’re actually living it. Even though I have worked in child care for years, I was not prepared for the lack of me-time. Quiet coffee breaks, focused exercise, reading, and hobbies become almost impossible to squeeze in, unless you stay up til all hours of the night, winding up as an exhausted mombie come morning light.
And then, as that precious maternity time runs out, comes the question of work. Wanting to contribute to the family, we must decide what our roles will be. Will we stay home and raise our children all day, to make memories while pulling through the frustrations, and saving on daycare costs? After all, once you pay someone to provide child care in your absence, for many of us, there’s usually not much of a profit margin left.
Do we, instead, go back to work, finding again some semblance of our past identity as a sole-functioning adult while increasing the family income? For some, this isn’t even a choice, but a requirement. One cannot live on bread alone, and with the amount of nutritious (read: expensive) food that will find it’s way to the floor, now is not the ideal time to take a major cut to finances.
Either way you look at it, there are compromises to be made. If only we could have it all! To be home more often, spending time with our littles, but to also be able to experience time without children in tow, to work on our personal life, be it relaxing or working. To be a stay-at-home-mom with breaks, along with an income not spent in it’s majority on child care costs. To have our proverbial motherhood cake and eat it, too.
Fortunately, that it’s the reality I have come to know. There is a solution to all of these questions I’ve been faced, and I could not be happier in it. I call it the child swap.
What Is A Child Care Swap?
In our situation, it works like this. One day a week I drop my daughter off with another family, to play and explore with the mother and her peer, while I enjoy a day to myself, to do whatever I want with, without paying a cent for childcare. Oh the opportunities for self-care! I can work on my blog, write and pitch to publishers, enjoy reading or crafting, go for a run, get a massage, attend appointments, clean the house, take work as a substitute educator, or really do anything I want to do. All by myself, with nobody clinging to my pant leg, immediately undoing my housework, and constantly vying for my attention. In return, another day belongs to the other mama, and her child comes to play with us. It is, indeed, a beautiful situation.
Don’t get me wrong – I love my child to pieces and am so glad I get to share my life with her. However, 24/7 is a lot, and this mama needs to save her sanity and make some money in between serving meals and guiding behaviours. And so, we swap.
I think it’s clear to see the benefits for myself of having a free day all alone – increased mental and physical health, less stress over all the many to-dos, time for personal development, and an opportunity to earn an income that all comes home. However, I’m not the only one who benefits.
My daughter is an only child. Along with the many benefits we see to raising an exclusive child are the drawbacks. By having a consistent playmate who has become very close, she gets to experience a sibling-like relationship, with the friendship, love, and challenges that come with spending so much time together with another little person. This goes both ways, as the other child gets a chance to experience this bond, too. In this relationship, they are constantly learning about empathy, friendship, kindness, negotiating, teamwork, and sharing materials and attention of the adult they are with.
Not only that, but when a mother is able to step away and work on her to-dos and personal life outside of motherhood, she is more able to find the patience, calm, and fun spirit that makes living life together so much easier. With less stress and more room to breath, I know that I am a better mother because of this arrangement, which allows everyone to benefit.
How To Set Up A Child Care Swap
The first step in creating a win-win-win situation of your own is to connect with another family who shares your struggle. A mother or father who wants to be present as a stay-at-home parent, but who also wants to be able to work part time or enjoy some freedom to pursue their dreams, whatever those may be. (If you need some ideas for where to meet families, I’ve made up a list of possibilities here.)
Next comes the proposal. After spending some time together and noticing if your parenting styles mesh and your children get along, start chatting with the other parent about how things are going, and if they feel they could use some time to themselves. (Tell me, what parent would say no?) Would they feel confident caring for your little one(s) when you’re not around? Are they ready to start letting their child experience some time away from mom with you as the caring adult? Is a child care swapping situation something they would be interested in trying?
If all the answers are yes, come to an agreement about how often, how long, and when this arrangement would work for everyone. While you can go week to week, planning for different days each time, it does make it easier on everyone to come up with a consistent plan about when the children will be with you and when they’ll be with the other family. For us, Tuesdays are usually my day, which I can plan appointments and work ahead, and Fridays are best for the other mama, who uses her free child care day to schedule clients.
While this situation may not work for everyone, it has been an immense blessing for me, for the other mother, and has offered our children a richer experience of life, love, and independence. If you, too, feel like the struggle to juggle parenting and life is just too much, give this child care option a try. You never know what benefits you might discover for yourself.