February 23, 2020

Why Americans Don't Talk About Child Care

“The Democrats recently held two nights of debate, each two hours long, and in both sessions the two words that most American families talk about, worry about and sweat about behind closed doors were barely mentioned. Those two words are “child care.” Finding it is a challenge; paying for it can be crippling; it’s an issue that resonates with voters regardless of party, race or geography; and, as of yet, we aren’t talking about it in a serious way.

It’s never been a top-line issue in presidential politics, but the relative silence on the matter this year is surprising. Most though not all of the candidates have children, and many of those are still young. And while most of the candidates are quick to praise spouses, aunties, in-laws and siblings who hold it down while they chase votes, few have talked candidly about their own reliance on outside help. And yet this quiet crisis percolates in millions of homes.

Why don’t we talk about it? Because we don’t want to admit that we need it so badly. Every parent knows the terror that jolts through the body when a provider calls in sick or the day-care center has to close for a few days because someone sent their child in with a contagious illness. Women don’t talk about it because we want to project that we are fully in control of the work-life balance, that ridiculous phrase that calls to mind some kind of Zen-like pose when in fact the whole process is a constant clutch of nerves. Every parent knows this, and most employers know it, too. Almost half of all parents miss work at least once every six months because child care goes off the rails.”

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