Working parents don’t want before- and after- care: they just want care

Mindful Parenting

Camps (spring break, summer, PA day) seem to universally run from 9am to 4pm. Period. If you need more care, you’re going to have to pay for it – monetarily, or with your vacation or flex time. And even then, often 5pm is the latest available pick up option.

What about people who work until 5? How are they supposed to collect their children at the same moment they are (hopefully) able to leave the store or office?

This is something I dealt with for more than 10 years. When I worked in retail I was able to wrangle a set schedule after my first maternity leave, but it included two “late” shifts (until 6 p.m.) which meant my husband HAD to be able to get the kids on those days. And when he got tied up with work, we either had to plead with our caregiver (who was amazing, and we couldn’t have managed much of what we had to do without her), or our family members to pick up the kids – usually at the last minute.

You hear a lot about the stigma and pressures on working moms, so I’m not going to get into that here. What I am going to dig into is this culture of being “off at five” or somehow magically available to collect your kids in the late afternoon, just because camps or events end at 3:30 or 4.

This is not real life.

Stores and offices don’t often allow workers to leave simply because their kids need to be picked up somewhere. And once you pick them up, they’re in your care, and most of the time there’s no one else to look after them. That’s why they were at camp (or whatever) to begin with, right?

Related: Working Parents, School Aged Kids, & Summer Routines

Dual working parent households, or single-parent families, struggle with this all the time. We were lucky, having family nearby to help us out when we can’t manage every pick-up. A lot of people are not that lucky.

How can we change this disparity?

Educate the organizers

I am a huge fan of informing organizations about my personal struggles. Sharing why it’s hard for me to drop off after 8:30 and pick up before 5 may help them see that this is a problem for many working parents. (I’ve come to realize the people on the front lines of these organizations don’t want to hear my story. They can’t change anything. So look into who can make the change, and speak to them directly.)

Really though, who is most likely to take advantage of fun camps during times when the kids are out of school? Parents who can’t be at home with their kids, right?

Pro-rate camps and care programs

Change the language of fee schedules. Try pro-rating or use inclusive language. This takes away some of the feelings of inadequacy parents feel when their life doesn’t conform to “normal”, and they can’t pick up kids before 5 pm.

Example: Here’s the fee from 8 until 6, discounted if you can pick up by 5, and by 4.

It would make me feel less discriminated against if it wasn’t always labelled as “before- and after-care”. Before and after what exactly, because lets be frank – very few working families conform to what might be called “normal”.

Speak up as parents

Use your voice. No one knows your struggle unless you share it. Speak up at both your workplace, and with potential care providers for your children.

Flexible working is becoming more accepted at offices and businesses now that the COVID-19 crisis has shown people can be very productive on their own schedules. Unfortunately retail workers are still at the mercy of their store schedules, but accommodations can be made.

Care providers should also recognize that flexibility for working families is very important. Especially for those who may not have a set schedule, or need to respond to emergencies. By speaking with your care provider ahead of these situations, you may be able to meet in the middle and perhaps create some flexibility for both the family and the provider.

Of course we can’t assume our care providers are available 24/7 – no one wants that – or that our workplaces will allow us to leave early often, but some trust and understanding can go a long way toward less guilt for working parents, and a happier and less stressful workweek for everyone.

Have you advocated for change at your workplace, or with your care providers? I’d love to hear about it! Drop a comment below so we can celebrate each others victories.


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  1. Great post. You feel like you are not being a good parent if you need before and after care. It is very difficult to have two full-time working parents these days but most families need the income.

    1. Thanks Sara. That definitely is the reality of today’s economy. Let’s keep having these conversations to normalize that there is no “normal” when it comes to families, parenting, and lifestyles!

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