A home day care in our small town is closing this month after 27 years in business. Now, I’m not trying to start a debate about working outside the home and sending your kids to day care versus staying home with your kids. Day care is a reality for a vast majority of families, and in small towns such as ours, day cares support the local economy. As small business owners, if trusted day care options didn’t exist, our family business would suffer without key employees. My husband and I need our small town to offer day care options to recruit and retain employees.
Day cares are not simply “babysitters.” They’re small businesses, too, operated by people who love children and dedicate themselves to meeting the needs and interests of the children in their care. They establish structure and routine for our children. We trust them with our most precious gift every day we go to work. A harried day at work melts away when you walk through the day care door and greet your happy and fed baby who’s all smiles.
Day care shortages are widespread, and the desire to start a new home day care or childcare center isn’t for the faint of heart. I, for example, would not be the best long-term day care provider. Our day care provider, Lori, played a bigger role in preparing my girls for public school preschool and kindergarten than I did.
Lori is organized. Her kitchen floor is cleaner than mine, every day. Her toys are tidy in bins. At home, our toys are scattered. Lori’s activities, songs, outings and homemade meals created a childhood utopia for our girls in their early formative years.
As a mom, I’ve juggled numerous work and travel schedules. In 2011, I flew 133 times and worked from home between trips. I saved my Delta summary as a reminder I didn’t want to be away from my family to that extent again. In 2013, I walked away from a full-time career to be a more at-home mom and wife. Even then, I still needed part-time day care. My kids thrived under Lori’s care. Their first friendships flourished and my girls didn’t want to go from spending 40 to 50 hours a week at Lori’s to zero.
Lori supported me through career changes, lost pregnancies and a host of other difficult times. She encouraged me as a mother, wife and professional. Coffee at her kitchen table was therapy. She’d let me talk through the things on my mind and just listen. She wasn’t afraid to be tough or say the things I needed to hear. When she spoke, I listened. Other than my husband, Lori was my most trusted confidant.We are forever grateful for Lori’s investment in our daughters, and she will always hold a special place in our family.
The same special place is held in our family for Leora, our first daycare provider in Wishek, who lived across the alley from us. I was a pregnant prairie mama who had recently moved to our small town and needed daycare but knew no one. Leora calmed me when she agreed to take my unborn baby girl after her arrival and my twelve weeks of maternity leave. I will never forget the day in March 2008 when I went back to work, leaving Elizabeth with Leora. I had fly to a meeting in Calgary. Leora gave me encouragement as a Christian mom and wife when I needed it most. She lovingly cared for both our baby girls and many others like her own.
I wouldn’t be where I am today it were not for those who worked at the United Day Nursery in Grand Forks, N.D., where my son attended while I was in college and early in my career. It steadied an out of balance life and established important young friendships and fabulous learning for our boisterous boy. My siblings and I attended the same “school” as we called it three mornings a week as soon as we were potty trained. United Day Nursery is happy memory of my childhood and our son’s.
I hope someone else steps up in our prairie town to fill the void of Lori’s day care—and not just in our community but across rural America. State and county agencies are working to solve the day care shortage. It comes down to the willingness of a caring individual or two to start a day care—a small business. It’s a cornerstone for families, businesses and communities to thrive.
If you haven’t had a chance lately, thank the day care provider(s) who nurture, or once did, your children, grandchildren or other children in the community. Today is a good day to write them a note or give them a call. Thank you to all the dedicated childcare providers in homes, day care centers and churches who love our kids like we do.
An edited version of this originally was published in my weekly Agweek column. I cried over this topic and piece as it is so important to me as a mother and small business owner. Thank you to all day care providers!