Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: Here in the U.S., child care is in fact one of the biggest challenges facing families. Whether or not a parent works, at some point they will have to turn to someone else to help watch that child. Is it in a day care center or home care? Will a family have to hire a nanny? Share a babysitter or turn to grandparents? And how will they pay for all of this?

Now, before you assume this story has no relation to your life if you don't have children, look around. This is what preoccupies fellow drivers in traffic rushing to get home. It's what complicates the schedule for coworkers. It has an impact on America's productivity.

(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)

NORRIS: So we gathered a group of parents to join us in Studio 4A to talk about the challenges of child care. We sat in a circle on comfy couches. All the parents are from the D.C. area, where the cost of living is quite high. And before we start our conversation, some quick introductions.

SHARON JOHNSON: My name is Sharon Johnson.

NORRIS: Sharon Johnson takes care of her three-year-old grandson while his parents work.

ANGELA TILGHMAN: My name is Angela Tilghman. I'm a single mom.

NORRIS: Who works long hours. After ups and downs with several daycare providers, a lifelong friend now cares for her special needs son.

CORIE DISCOLL: My name is Corie Driscoll. I'm a stay-at-home mom of two small girls.

NORRIS: She's also a lawyer by training, who describes herself as an accidental stay-at-home mom.

KELLY HRUSKA: My name is Kelly Hruska and I have a soon-to-be eight-year-old daughter, Emily.

NORRIS: Kelly Hruska's husband is on active duty in the Navy.

TANAE FOGLIA: My name is Tanae Foglia. I have four-and-a-half-month-old twins.

NORRIS: While she and her husband work in downtown D.C., an au pair cares for the babies.

ADAM GRAHAM: My name is Adam Graham.

NORRIS: Adam Graham is the lone father in our group. A former stay-at-home dad, he now works as a high school teacher. He and his wife have two daughters, 14 and nine. And then there's Stacy Ferguson. She works as a lawyer for the federal government. And she's had every kind of child care imaginable for her three kids.

STACY FERGUSON: And now we are in transition, so entering another crazy chapter. But our wonderful, fabulous, angel of a nanny for four years got married and moved to Philly. And so, while we are...

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: And you're so happy for her.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And you're really happy for her.

FERGUSON: Right, exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: We were like, Yay. Aw. You know, she's gone. And so, she just left last month. So we're literally, my husband and I are trying to figure out how to manage all three schedules. Everyone is at a different stage. And then we have to commute to D.C. from Maryland every day. So it's a little bit of a nightmare. Not to mention, I have no help with laundry and I'm just completely overwhelmed.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: So, you know, we're making it work. But it's definitely been a journey.

NORRIS: For today, everybody's child care is in order. But I wondered how our group handled the inevitable complications - a sick day, an unplanned business trip. Are there backups to the backups? How does that all work?

FERGUSON: This is Stacy. We really don't have a backup. The backup is us, me and my husband. All of our grandparents are in Florida. So they're a ways away. And we don't have family here, so it's just us. So if the child care falls through, then either I leave work or my husband leaves work.

NORRIS: Have any of you ever had - been in a pinch where you've had to bring a child to work with you? Or...

FERGUSON: Two weeks ago.

GRAHAM: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: Yup.

GRAHAM: Yup, yup.

NORRIS: Are you sure?

FERGUSON: Absolutely.

NORRIS: And what about a situation where maybe someone is sick but they're on the cusp; their nose is runny, is it running clear or not, do I have to...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: Do I have to take a sick day? Do I send them to school and hope that I don't get that call at 10 a.m. saying, come get your child?

FERGUSON: Just last week, I sent my friend a text saying, I'm the worst mother in the world because I just dropped Lauren off at camp and she was sick. But I had to go to work. I felt really crappy that day that it was something that I had to do.

NORRIS: When you go to work, you don't want to let people know really how much of a juggling act it is. So when you're at work, you're trying to make sure that people think that you're skating along, that everything is good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: And so you don't really talk about how difficult it is and how scary it is, and how terrifying it is in some cases because you really don't want to show that side of yourself. Is that part of the reason, at least, that this isn't a public discussion?

FERGUSON: Yeah. You raised a great point. I think it most definitely is. And I'm hoping that things are changing now as the workforce becomes more balanced and more dads are more active at home and more moms are going back in the workforce. I hope that's going to become part of the larger discussion.

CORIE DRISCOLL: Corie here. One of the reasons I left a private firm in 2007 was because I felt that I would be completely unsupported when I had a family. I actually called my husband on the phone in our first year of marriage and said: I cannot work here and have a family. I have to go. And when I parted on good terms with this firm, which was made up of mostly men whose spouses were at home or partners were at home with their children, and there was one woman partner who had no children. And I would be probably the first woman associate in line to have a child and kind of test this firm out, which I did not want the role of doing. A male partner came to me to say his goodbyes and must have, on some level, sensed that I wanted to have a family and actually had the gall to say to me: You can't do both.

NORRIS: Wow.

DRISCOLL: You can't do both. And right there, he just confirmed every feeling and fear I had of staying in that particular practice.

NORRIS: Is there ever any discomfort that your children get closer to someone else or get very close to someone else and you realize that - wait, all that love is supposed to be generated toward me?

FERGUSON: This is Stacy, and I was totally OK with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: Because I love Carol, too, and it's funny because now she's gone and my son - the other day he fell and scraped his knee and he called her name. And I was like, ohh. But you know, at the same time, I'm OK with it because I know that that just means that she would have held him and cuddled him, where I was like, oh, you're fine. Get up.

NORRIS: Angela?

TILGHMAN: Well, I spend maybe about 10 to 12 hours a day away from my child where he's with somebody else. His bus comes up at 7:30 during the school year and I get home at around seven o'clock. More than anything, I feel more grateful that there's somebody else there who cares about him that much. That's a greater sense of comfort, I think than, you know, a source of jealousy. Because when you're not there, you want somebody else that your child feels is comparable to you. If he's doing well, then that's all you can ask for.

NORRIS: That's single mom Angela Tilghman. Tomorrow, the dollars and cents of child care. Often, it adds up to frustration.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MELISSA BLOCK, host: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.