Alternative Work and Childcare Arrangements
When I was pregnant, I met an artist, who worked from home, at a party. I was quite visibly pregnant, and this man enthusiastically began to describe the childcare arrangements he had for his son back when his son was young. He has his partner had founded a coop together in Los Angeles. While cooperative daycares are not especially uncommon, this one was different. It was staffed entirely by parents, and all parents were required to donate one day per week of their time as volunteers. About 8 children attended, and no money changed hands at all. Parents were responsible for lunches and snacks on the days they volunteered. The entire operation was run out of one family’s home.
I never forgot about this interaction – not only because Los Angeles daycare tuition was entirely beyond my budget but also because it seems to me that there is no better way to dismantle our economic system than to rethink the regimentation of our bodies, time, and daily schedules.
I think we’ll need a worker-led movement to fully disrupt the system, but in the meantime, I’d like to start brainstorming alternative childcare and work schedule arrangements. Below I’m making a list of alternative structures. While there is some emphasis on childcare here, this list is for anyone looking for an alternative to the “9-5” regiment. If you’re looking for a list of organizations advocating for flexible work and paid leave, check out this post.
This is the most common non-traditional approach to scheduling. Some employment is time-specific, but so much work these days can be done at any time in any location. Folks who have energy to work four ten-hour days per week, could find themselves with an extra free day. What about working from 6-9 and 12-5? A break from 9-12 could provide important time for being with our children, for exercising, for reading, or for simply being off our screens.
While most family require two incomes these days, I’ve begun to wonder: would most families require two incomes if there were no childcare costs involved? Would families be willing to slash expenses in return for more free time? Would you be willing to move to a place where the cost of living was less if it meant that you could spend more time doing what you love each day?
Job sharing is one possible arrangement. Job sharers split work and income according to specific, previously determined arrangements. In most scenarios, this would be something you would need to discuss with a supervisor, but not in all cases. Freelancers and self-employed individuals, for example, might find that this works well, and for obvious reasons, job sharing can be a great option for caregivers, including parents, as well as people with illnesses or disabilities that prevent them from working a “full workday.” Moreover, while it might seem natural to job share with a spouse or partner, this could be great arrangement between trusted friends or other close family members. It some cases, it could even allow sharers to divide work in a way that best matches each person’s skill set and personality. Learn more here.
One reason that Americans are working themselves to death is the rapidly rising cost of living across the country, especially in cities of all tiers. Incomes are not even remotely keeping up with rents (a problem that is most acute, of course, in low-income neighborhoods where the majority of residents are people of color, immigrants, and other systemically discriminated groups).
At the same time, the American obsession with the single family home as the symbol of having achieved the American dream is wreaking havoc on the environment and driving up rents by making poor use of space that could otherwise be used for better, higher density (non-luxury!) housing.
One way to address both of these problems is to consider alternative housing arrangements. Non-nuclear arrangements can allow you to slash your rent or mortgage, make paid childcare unnecessary, and reduce your environmental impact. It’s worth noting that non-nuclear housing arrangements are much more income in low-income, BIPOC communities where no choice.
Multi-generational housing is one option. With grandma or grandpa around, childcare has the potential to become a lot cheaper. But you can also move horizontally. What about living with a sibling? An adult niece or nephew?
If you’re a family, housing sharing with another family is one unusual possibility. If one adult preferred to cover daily childcare rather than work a paid job, this could be a real game-changer for both families. It might sound like a crazy option, but consider the fact that many families have started renting bedrooms in their house on Airbnb. Housing sharing with another family is not that different from renting your spare bedroom on Airbnb.
I described this arrangement above, but to recap: a daycare cooperative consists of several families agreeing to care for their children as a group. Parents take turns volunteering to care for and feed children during the days, and, ideally, no money changes hands. This is great for close-knit communities. It might be a good way to give your children a chance to learn some new skills. Artists, musicians, and writers have a lot to teach even very young kids.
Nanny Share + Let Your Nanny Bring Their Children Along
This is not really a possibility for anyone below a middle-high income threshold, but it’s still worth including here. Sharing a nanny with a friend can reduce your childcare cost if you were already planning to hire a nanny rather than pay for daycare. This kind of arrangement might work great for remote workers, who could occasionally hop off their computers and away from their work stations to say hello (or breastfeed) their children during the day.
But this arrangement would be even better if we advocate for allowing nannies to bring their children with them. Not only would this reduce the cost of living for many nannies, but it means extra playmates for the kids!