A daycare desert

In 20 years, if people ask me what was the hardest part during my season of raising kids, this is the moment I’ll reflect on.

Dropping my girls off at daycare 

Listen, I’ve been taking my kids to daycare since I first started having kids. I was a college student when I first became a mom and was determined to finish, so it was decided that they would be watched by family members and be in daycare. 

The benefit I had with that particular time, was that the in-home daycare I was taking them to was amazing and the woman who ran it was an angel sent from the Lord. Not exaggerating. She basically potty trained my oldest. (Don’t ask me for potty training tips)

I really didn’t have a hard time with drop off because I knew they were loved and cared for with integrity. I would later take them to a Montessori school/daycare that my mom worked at and we were able to go for free, which was a God send. I love Montessori schools. That would eventually end and they would go to another in-home daycare with a woman who was Spanish speaking (my kids are half Mexican) so we absolutely loved this and she would speak to them in Spanish. She had kids of her own and they loved on our girls so much. 

While all this was great, we were extremely privileged. We lived in Suburb, USA in Southern California where the standard of living is extremely high compared to the rest of the places we’ve lived. So most of our childcare options were pretty good options, even if they were not the preferred option. 

Then we came to East Tennessee. Where it is literally considered a childcare desert. Which means that in certain areas there are terrible choices for childcare and the good ones are a pretty good drive away. 

The standard of living here, is below the poverty line and everyone is looking for work, so they can just survive. There are lots of women offering childcare services in their homes for a decent price but most of the time, their homes are filled with smoke filled carpets and wallpaper that haven’t seen a stint of clean air in 40 years. 

I’m not bagging on smokers. You do you, okay. But if you’re going to care for children, this is just a big huge NO F***ING WAY. In California one of our pediatricians told me that if any family members who were smokers wanted to hold our baby, they’d have to change their shirt after smoking a cigarette. 

Change their shirt.

Now imagine someone smoking in their home, or going outside to smoke, 15 times a day and coming back inside to care for children who will most likely acquire lung cancer in 50 years because of this insane exposure. 

My husband and I visited a woman’s home to see if it would be a good place for our two youngest to go. Walking up to the house, I looked down as I lost my step and a trail of cigarette buds caught my eye. I realized after not seeing the end of cigarette trail that this would be a bad experience 

She opened the door and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t even look at my husband, I knew he had already started to hold his breath. We walk inside to find a basement turned make-shift daycare, dark and dreary with sheets covering the windows. The TV blaring and 6 little toddlers running around. My heart sank. 

Because I knew these parents had no other option but to take their kids here. 

Daycare is expensive. It typically costs more than your mortgage or rent, especially if you’re paying for more than one child. And if you live in a childcare desert, there are caretakers that will exploit your need. 

We eventually found a daycare, we were lucky and have been on the state program for childcare assistance which alleviates a ton of stress and pressure. 

It is still not the ideal place I want my children to be at. There’s a reason they accept our childcare assistance voucher. There’s more children and less teachers then there should be. They will be overlooked at times, their sippy cups and blankets will get switched around on accident, sometimes they come home with a different brand of diapers then what we have in our diaper bag and they have never been more sick. 

But at the same time, I have never been more thankful for this childcare. No, the women watching them aren’t as qualified as I’d prefer, they might not greet me with the cheerful smile I expect when I walk through the door to drop my daughters off in the hands of strangers for the next 9 hours and there are more tears in the furniture than there should be. 

But we live in a childcare desert, where our alternatives are honestly unthinkable. Our budget doesn’t allow for us to drive 30 minutes west to where my childcare standards are exceeded. 

And if God has taught me anything from moving to a city that is as far opposite of Suburb, USA where I grew up, it’s that our world is so much more broken than I grew up understanding. 

There are more people on the streets than I think. 

There are more working mothers waking up at 5am so they can catch the bus, take their kids to school and get to work, (at the daycare that my children go to)…then I ever actually thought. 

He has given me more respect, compassion and understanding for these people living below the poverty line, settling for their environment because they have no other choice. 

He gave me an understanding of what poverty actually is, and he’s doing the same for my daughters. They’re exposed to more at school than I ever was, they know more about drugs than I ever knew until I was older and they have the realization of what reality is for some people, because we drive past it everyday.

And I THINK he’s given me this gift of understanding, mostly because my heart leans toward being judgmental. Because of this experience, I don’t lean toward judgement of other moms and I won’t later on. I won’t judge the mom who takes her kids to a mediocre daycare or even a terrible one, because I’ll know she’s not proud of it. I’ll know the guilt she feels every morning when she drops her kids off. I’ll know the shame she feels as she drives away to go to work. And I’ll know how she pretends that it’s better than it actually is. I’ll know.

So if someone asks that in 20 years, I’ll say the hardest part was living in a childcare desert and trusting in God that my children will be okay. Experiencing the “no other choice” feeling that so many parts of America feel, as well as the rest of the world. And knowing that God doesn’t just live in the suburbs.

You’re not only a good mom if you take your kid to the best daycare with wooden toys. 

And you’re not a bad mom if you HAVE to take your kids to daycare. That is just the way things are sometimes, but the awesome thing is that God doesn’t work by chance. He’s an intentional God, pursuing you hard and fast, and he’s not in the game of playing favorites. This is the story of ALL of us. Poverty or not. Being a “good” mom comes in many different forms.