Working Family Summer Part II: When no other options exist
Arlondo Quinn, of New Hope Church in Des Moines, hands out freeze pops to his Vacation Bible School kids in Des Moines, Iowa, July 18, 2011. | Andrea Melendez / The Des Moines Register via AP

This article is part two of Jonita Davis’s Working Family Summer series. Part one can be read here.

During the summer, many working parents find themselves stuck without the cash or the traditional connections—grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.—to help care for the kids. Working families often do not have the disposable income to take advantage of many of the costly options available. This forces parents to get creative.

Swinging shifts…and sleep schedules

I worked many jobs over the years to supplement my husband’s income and keep my family fed and clothed. One of those jobs was as a “weekend warrior” for an Arkansas Walmart. There were five of us—all women, mothers. We agreed to each work three shifts of 12 hours—which never does add up to a full 40-hour work week. My shift started at midnight on Thursday and ended Sunday at noon. My four kids stayed with my in-laws the entire weekend, all summer long.

Walmart employee Nidia Flores arranges shirts at a store in Brownsville, Texas. | Brad Doherty / The Brownsville Herald via AP

The flexible schedule allowed me to have an almost full-time job without having to sacrifice money we couldn’t afford for childcare. The kids essentially spent the weekends with their grandparents. The grueling schedule, separation from family, and low pay (just a little over $7.50 an hour in 2003) made this a temporary position.

Despite the toll on the body and mind, many parents look to jobs that are flexible. Avery Parker is a young mom of two from Northeast Arkansas who is looking to rejoin the workforce this summer, and 9-to-5 is not in the cards for her. Parker seeks part-time work in the A.M. so that her husband can care for the kids while she is away. “He will have the kids in the morning and I will have them while he is at work.” Such a schedule means that Parker’s husband sacrifices some of his sleep, but it has to be done. She says, “Daycare is too expensive and there aren’t really any quality ones here.”

Program stacking: Vacation Bible School

Vacation Bible School is a staple in Midwestern and Southern summers. Moms like Janine Harrison, a professor from Indiana, have no choice but to take full advantage. “I was a broke single mom when J. was small,” she said. “Of the many things that I did to gain work time, one was to send her to different Vacation Bible Schools. As long as the church wasn’t a cult or homophobic, I’d send her!”

Most day camps and programs run on a half or 3/4-day schedule. Parents become skilled at stacking programs so that the kids go from one to another during work hours. More than a few parents talked of mornings in the YMCA day camps and afternoons with Boys and Girls Clubs. Program stacking requires spending time on applications and creating the calendar of “who goes where and with whom.” It can get overwhelming.

Perpetual Playdates

Shelby Irons, a teacher from East Texas, tapped into the playdate as child care.

“When I was broke and single, I’d alternate between family and friends who could help.” One family, she said, “took the older two on any outings they took their own kids on. So, if they were going to the zoo, Noah and Jamieson got to tag along for the day. I only needed to pay the cost of admission, which was waaaaay cheaper than the cost of a babysitter.”

Working parents have to be resourceful when they get desperate for good care. For working parents, the choices surrounding child care are momentous and have the power to change the family’s life decisions. How many moms became teachers to get the summer off? How many freelance writers turned to writing for hire because the summer care for four kids almost bankrupted the family? That last one was me, but that’s a story for another time.


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Jonita Davis
Jonita Davis

Jonita Davis is a writer, comic nerd, and scholar on the intersection of popular culture and social issues.