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If You Want to Raise Feminist Sons and Daughters, Consider Your Relationships with Childcare Providers

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“Where is my witness? This is the most challenging work I have ever done in my life,” I think to myself often as a stay-at-home parent, like when my baby flips over on the changing table and tries to dive headfirst into the hamper, forcing me to come up with a new silly song to belt at the top of my lungs to keep her attention while I wipe her for the fifth time that day.

The everyday work of childcare has pushed me to my limits—not just my patience, but my creativity, physical stamina, organizational skills, and more. The experience gives me much greater respect for the work that nannies and daycare providers perform, and frankly makes me angry that this field of work is not valued more.

Childcare providers often put in long hours, in a demanding line of work that usually includes cleaning, cooking, singing, heavy lifting and other physical wrangling—plus the emotional labor of enduring temper tantrums, not to mention the stress of working with hard-to-please parents.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s 2015 report, 95.6 percent of childcare workers are female, and those workers are disproportionately people of color and immigrants. Not surprisingly, the median hourly wage for childcare workers is low: 39.3 percent below that of workers in other jobs.

So if we are feminist enough that we value all women (not just our socioeconomic peers), then the people who help take care of the children in our lives should be top of mind. Besides, our professional and personal relationships with these providers will inform children’s early ideas about race, class, gender, and justice.

What, specifically, can parents do? If you do hire outside providers for childcare, or are considering it, here are some tips to set up a fair dynamic in your own family’s arrangement.

Try not to complain about the cost of childcare.

Childcare costs can of course be a strain on the family budget, but domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible. This powerful, succinct statement has been used in campaigns for domestic workers’ rights around the world, and it’s hard to argue with: Without someone else to literally keep their children alive and fed (not to mention enriched and nurtured), many parents would not be able to go out into the world and accomplish other things.

But are your childcare providers making a living wage? The Economic Policy Institute reports that childcare workers “are much more likely than workers in other occupations to live in families with incomes below the poverty line.” Do they have basic benefits and policies that you may rely on in your own workplace, such as a reliable weekly schedule, sick days, vacation time, overtime pay, and access to health insurance? The same 2015 EPI report states, “Only 15.0 percent of child care workers receive health insurance from their job, compared with 49.9 percent of workers in other occupations.”

Educate yourself about best practices and how to implement them.

If you are hiring a nanny or babysitter in your home, it’s up to you to think about a fair wage and benefits, and work with your employee to agree upon these policies. Luckily, there are resources to help families navigate what is often a brand new situation for them, that of being a domestic employer.

Hand in Hand is a “national network of employers of nannies, housecleaners and home attendants working for dignified and respectful working conditions that benefit the employer and worker alike.” The organization’s website provides resources such as tips for interviewing potential employees and sample childcare work agreements. The organization hosts free monthly “My Home Is Someone’s Workplace” webinars.

Another good place to start is by signing the Fair Care Pledge, which is a project of Hand in Hand and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and is supported by The Fair Care Pledge website offers information on ensuring fair pay, communicating clear expectations, and offering paid time off. And once you sign the pledge, you will receive emails with even more practical tools, such as Contracts for Nannies.

You can also check to see if your state has laws protecting domestic workers (such as New York’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights)—and if yours doesn’t, read it as an example. The Hand in Hand website has a list of resources specific to certain states, including existing laws and campaigns for new laws. But remember that many of these laws are meant to be a bare minimum to protect workers against abuse in an often isolated, unregulated workplace; there is likely more you can do.

Make it your business to know about conditions and benefits for daycare workers.

If you are sending children to daycare, consider asking questions about the staff members’ hours, breaks, and turnover rates in your initial interview. In your interactions with staff, be attuned to possible red flags such as unhappy, exhausted workers or high turnover.

Some websites for large daycare companies will have information about benefits offered to full-time and part-time providers hired by the company, but if not, you can ask on your tour or in a follow-up email to the daycare director.

Take further action.

In addition to Hand in Hand, which also organizes advocacy campaigns, the National Domestic Workers Alliance and other local groups across the country are organizing to support the (mostly) women who work in other people’s homes. You may want to look into becoming a monthly sustaining donor, joining as a volunteer, or referring domestic employers and employees to their resources.

NDWA’s membership program for domestic workers includes trainings, the opportunity to be part of an organized community, and benefits such as a Worker Resilience Line for workers to call when feeling stressed. Families who hire nannies could consider subsidizing their employees’ membership in the program as one way of upholding everyone’s accountability in this unique economy of childcare.

Joanna Eng is a a freelance writer and editor and a 2017 Lambda Literary Fellow. She lives with her wife and child in the New York City area, where she is constantly seeking out slivers of nature. Find her on Twitter @joannamengland.

This is a personal essay. All views and opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors.

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