Childcare Is A Family Issue
This guest post is authored by a Lieutenant in the United States Navy, whose name Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots have withheld. The views expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy. Mom2Mom Global and Breastfeeding in Combat Boots are deeply concerned at the lack of adequate childcare and the added stress this places on breastfeeding military servicemembers and families. We are pleased to share this “boots on the ground” perspective.
As a young Ensign, I was taught that childcare was a “parent issue.” In other words – you better figure it out. There was little to no room for slippage, and if you did, be prepared for the onslaught of opinions – even by your leaders. After a situation where a sailor had to come in a little late because her childcare did not open until a specific time, I saw firsthand the cutthroat environment the Navy had for parents – in this case, a single mother. “She should have figured it out.” “It’s not our problem her daycare doesn’t open on time – she should have made alternate arrangements.” “CDC opens at 0530, there’s no excuse for her not to be here on time.” Those comments stuck with me. I was not a mother at the time and the childcare issue did not touch me personally – Ship, shipmate, self – it made sense. That self-portion means your family too, or so I was taught. We all were.
One Navy study in 2015 found that average wait times in the Greater Washington, DC area alone was 89 days for infants. Fast-forward a few years, my dual-military family was going to become a family of three. I was told I needed to sign up for the CDC immediately as the wait list was extremely long – we ended up waiting 11 months. Fortunately, I listened to the advice and the slot was available right as I came off maternity leave. 11 months is not uncommon – and many installations have wait times that may last up to a year. Some are luckier than others, and priority always plays a role. I saw families scramble during PCS season, families losing their slot when it was time for their child to move up into the next class because there was no room, and breastfeeding undermined because of lack of support and training by the staff.
How are we supposed to focus on ship and shipmate when these are the issues our families are facing? How, as a leader do I support my sailors when we write off parents who have to leave early to pick up their sick child from daycare because the children can’t stay there according to CDC policy? My next batch of OJT on the subject of parenting and childcare was on exactly that. “I don’t understand why they always have to leave early when their kid is sick. I don’t get to do that. My wife is able to handle that.” Shipmate, not everyone has the privilege of having a parent stay home. There are dual-military families, single parents, dual-income homes, full time students, the list goes on. We preach that the focus is on women’s integration, diversity and inclusion – yet we ignore the fact that women also bear far more of the domestic workload than men, even in dual-income families.
Childcare issues have been addressed, awareness has been made, and there are efforts in place to start addressing the shortfalls. These are good things, however to continue to call this a “women’s issue” doesn’t even begin to describe it. A military family has a chance of moving every two to four years – this means new childcare hardships every single time, in a childcare market that is already strained to capacity. A civilian household waits for childcare, gets it, and generally stays put for a long period of time before needing to uproot and start over. Our families are facing a different hardship, and it’s constant; we need to acknowledge that. There are many spouses that give up their careers because of lack of childcare. There are also service members that leave the service because there is no peace of mind when it comes to the care of their children. Not all families can afford care on the economy, or a nanny, but we often times have to turn to these options as they are the only option. This leads to economic stress as families must live outside their means in order to pay for childcare, which, in turn compromises both servicemembers’ careers and national security by placing military families in financial insecurity.
We have unveiled, as an organization, an extreme bias on this issue. Childcare is, according to Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations in the most recent CNO/MCPON call streamed on Facebook Live, a “female issue, female officer issue, the whole crowd.” With this public statement, our Naval leaders have validated the sentiments that I have witnessed throughout my career: that this burden belongs only to women and specifically to mothers. Ship, shipmate, self, but only for mothers, the self-portion includes childcare along with the various other struggles working motherhood brings with it. What about our fathers? What about our working spouses? How does this impact our “Navy Family” when the underlying message is clearly that women are solely responsible for ensuring adequate childcare for Navy dependents? When I left for the first time after my son was born, the care of my child fell to my husband. He depended on our childcare provider to care for our son while he was at work so he could focus on his mission. Not all of our sailors are able to do that.
The issue of CDC shortfall is not limited to the Navy, and different service branches are approaching the problem in a variety of strategic action steps. The Army has just ended subsidies for civilian employees enrolling their children in childcare, in order to shift those resources to Army families. Their priority is ensuring that their soldiers can focus on the mission, meanwhile we are making childcare a “female issue.”
This is a sailor issue. This is an operational readiness issue. This is a retention issue. We must take care of our families so we can take care of the mission. Where do we start? As many comments on the Facebook Live stream began, by bringing awareness and understanding at the leadership level, acknowledging that this is a sailor issue and that it is unique compared to our civilian counterparts, and continue and further the efforts in place for finding a solution. Adm. Richardson released a statement in response to those comments, but we need our leaders to truly understand and value the stress placed on sailors and families by inadequate and inaccessible childcare. As sailors, the burden of the Country’s business is placed on us – the least we can expect is that the future of the nation is cared for appropriately. As leaders, be mindful of the hardship the service of parenthood may be on your sailors and do your best to support and act, responsibly. Male and female service members and spouses have to come together and bring awareness to the hardships placed on ALL of us due to childcare – this burden does not fall on one group alone. Stand up. Mission first. People always.