In Praise of Hourly Care: Why I Take Advantage of Military Child Care

I’m always amazed when I meet other stay-at-home military spouse parents who don’t use hourly care. Chalk it up to a lack of imagination on my part, but I simply cannot fathom the SAHM life in the military without hourly child care. This may sound ridiculous coming from a mother of three, but I’m not really a ‘kid person.’

In fact, I’m so not a kid person that, in retrospect, it’s kind of shocking I even decided to have kids at all. When I have an appointment or a meeting, and friends offer to watch my kids, I usually smile politely and say, “Maybe…” but then I log-in to see what’s available for hourly care. “Friendcare” is always a last resort for me. Partly because I can’t bear the idea that my kids might be badly behaved at someone else’s house, and partly because I don’t want to deal with any awkward fallout should they destroy their property. And finally, because I’m a terrible babysitter myself. The expected reciprocity that comes with friends watching my kids fills me with dread.

On the rare occasions I have watched my friends’ kids, I instantly revert to my 15 year-old self. I have no idea how to discipline my own kids, let alone someone else’s, so I usually just fall back on the same tool I used when I was a babysitter in high school: holding up a phone and threatening to call their mom. Additionally, when my friends are watching my kids, there is the constant hum in the back of my mind that they are doing me a favor, so I need to wrap up my kid-free activity ASAP and return home.

At a Child Development Center (CDC), my kids are being cared for by trained, paid caretakers, so there’s no guilt if I want to take a whole afternoon to myself to zone out at Target after I’ve finished my errands.

I can hear the objections right now.

“Why don’t you just get a job if you want someone else to watch your kids while you enjoy yourself/volunteer/pursue goals?” 

My reasons for staying home are multifaceted and personal, as I know they are for many military spouses who stay home with children. For the most part, for now, the decision to stay home works for me and my family. Clearly, that’s the case for many military families, because the military offers hourly childcare for people, like me. And when our service members are deployed, they even give us 16 free hours. Childcare is often talked about as a readiness issue in the way it affects dual-income families. That is undeniably true. But as I’ve argued elsewhere, family readiness is Force readiness, and if the military is going to rely heavily on family member volunteers to support their own readiness programs, those volunteers need to be resourced and supported, too. I could not have performed my responsibilities as a Family Readiness Group leader if I didn’t have reliable childcare. An hour here or there to myself allowed me to call new family members to welcome them, attend steering committee meetings, and perform administrative tasks.

Anxiety and guilt about leaving children in child care is often an issue. It shouldn’t be–at least not where the military child care system is concerned. Believe it or not, the military’s child care system is the envy of the civilian world. “In national surveys of state oversight and program standards for child care, the Department of Defense (DoD) repeatedly comes out on top. In a 2013 report from the nonprofit Child Care Aware, the DoD’s child care system was the only one to earn a B, the highest grade awarded,” reports The Clarion-Ledger. The author goes onto point out that the DoD childcare system is “the only child care system in the country that requires center directors to have a bachelor’s degree in or related to early childhood education.”

When I leave my children at hourly care, I know they’re not just being entertained or merely kept alive while I get my hair done or renew the car registration. While I’m recharging or taking care of business, my kids are taking part in a curriculum geared toward their specific developmental stages. When we left our last CDC, I gifted a Starbucks gift card to share for everyone who had helped take care of my kids during our three and a half years there. If I had ever doubted these people cared, they proved me wrong when they even slipped my kids in to ‘super Saturday’ (all-day Saturday childcare) at the last minute when our movers came–past the registration date and without my even asking.

I would encourage family members to educate themselves on their child care benefits, and to use them. Attend the pre-deployment briefings and get educated on what’s available to you (hello, 16 free hours!) Your service member can relax knowing you are getting the guilt-free ‘you-time’ that you need, and you can relax knowing your kids are in good hands.

Do you take advantage of hourly child care on base? Why or why not?

Posted by Maggie Phillips, military spouse and NMFA Volunteer

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    Could not agree with you more! All three of my kids have spent countless hours at hourly care at multiple CDCs around the world and it is not only an awesome service, but also a very inexpensive one compared to the few civilian day cares that offer this type of service!

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