When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to the gym every day. I participated in exercise classes for pregnant women, I used the cardio equipment and weights, and I felt great. That was six years ago and I have not been to the gym since my son was born. He’s in first grade now, but I have a toddler daughter at home. It turns out that finding quality, affordable part time child care on military bases is incredibly difficult, which means that my trips to the gym have become a thing of the past.
I also work part-time from home as a writer. Well, I did. I haven’t taken on any projects in two years because I found that in order to complete my work on deadline, I often had to work through the night. Working was impossible while also caring for my kids, so the only time I had to write was while they were asleep. Needless to say, this was terrible for me and my family. If part-time or hourly care were available on the installation where I live, I could go back to work. I could also volunteer with local organizations. Heck, I might even be able to use the bathroom by myself once in a while! Like most installations, the base where I live has a Child Development Center, but also like most CDCs it offers limited to no options for hourly or part-time care. Current base policies in many locations require that there be no wait list for full-time care before any part time care may be offered. Priority for enrollment is given to dual-military families, single parents, and families with spouses employed or enrolled in school full-time. The CDC enrollment package at our current base states, “Employment and status as a student with current enrollment are taken under consideration when determining the need for childcare. Due to the many families requiring care in order to work or continue their education, an unemployed spouse is required to gain employment of 30 hours per week or more or show proof of registration as a full-time student in order to remain eligible for care.”
It’s true that our family requires fewer hours of care each week than a family with two parents working full time. That does not make our need for care any less urgent. Part-time work, volunteer work, and part-time university enrollment are all situations that create a need for childcare. These are all valid pursuits. Volunteering or working part time are worthwhile activities for anyone, but without safe, reliable, and affordable child care available, they are impossible. Child care is also critical to help maintain physical and emotional well-being. Military spouses are strong and capable. We usually live far from extended family members, often in remote locations. Many of us live on a small salary in an area with a high cost of living. Add a couple of small children, send the service member on deployment, and you have a recipe for major stress. I once took a stress management workshop on base (before I had children), and the recommendations included: meditation, exercise, volunteering to connect with your community, caring for your health, etc. At the time I thought they were good suggestions. Now I think they are hilarious because, of course, all of this is next to impossible with small children in the home while the service member is working long hours or deployed.
Quality child care choices off base are often incredibly expensive or impossible to find. At our current duty station for example, preschool costs $1000 per month! Some organizations offer child care reimbursement for volunteers, but most do not offer the going rate for an in-home sitter, which can be $10-15/hour or more, depending on the location of the duty station. That adds up quickly! You might be able to trade child care with a friend once or twice a week, but the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, five days per week. Of course, that total doesn’t include the time required to drive to the gym, change clothing, shower, etc. So that’s at least an hour a day, five days a week. That’s really asking a lot of a friend. We are already asking our friends to help out when we need to mow the lawn or do other vital household tasks that aren’t child-friendly.
I know I am not alone in my need for quality part-time care. Our military and family service providers need to understand why hourly and part-time care is so important to our military families. It would be a welcome tool to keep our families on track and running smoothly.