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I Still Need to Go to Work. What Do I Do with My Kids?

A female health care worker sitting on a bench in a hospital hallway.

Schools around the country are closing due to COVID-19, and many parents are now unexpectedly working from home. But what if your job doesn’t allow that kind of flexibility? Here are some last-minute childcare options to consider.

First, keep pressing your boss for a work from home option. Some businesses might have initially said no, but could eventually change their minds given the seriousness of the situation.

There are some jobs that simply can’t be performed from home, though—like health care workers who are desperately needed right now.

Let’s take a look at what people in these situations can do with their kiddos.

Grandparents and Relatives

Parents often turn to their parents or other close relatives for emergency childcare. While grandparents are usually more than happy to help out, now is really the worst time ask them to do so.

As the CDC stated, people who are 65 or older have a higher risk of becoming severely ill if they contract COVID-19. Officials advise people in that age demographic to stay home and play it extra safe. So, exposing Grandma or Grandpa to all of your kid’s germs (even if they don’t have the coronavirus) isn’t the greatest idea if you can avoid it.

However, if Grandma is your only childcare option, you have to do what you have to do. If you must leave your kids with an older relative, you can take the following precautions:

  • Avoid air travel: Try not to have older relatives fly to you. See if someone can drive to pick them up, so they can avoid exposure at airports or other mass transit.
  • Stay home: Prevent Grandma and the kids from leaving the house. Even if your neighborhood is hosting an outdoor block party, or your child’s dance lessons are still in session, don’t go anywhere. Your backyard is safe, as long as no friends join in.
  • Take extra precautions: If you (and your spouse) are the only people leaving the house, do everything you can to avoid bringing germs home. Wear disposable gloves when you pump gas. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer or wipes in your car and change your clothes immediately when you get home (and preferably, in the garage). Shower or at least thoroughly wash your hands before you interact with your family.
  • Send the kids to Grandma’s house: Some parents have decided to pack up their kids and take them to Grandma’s house. This allows the working-out-of-home parents to keep both their kids and Grandma safely quarantined at another location. You can keep in touch daily via video chat, texts, or phone calls. Order them meals and groceries to encourage everyone to stay put.

Babysitters and Nannies

A woman and two children sitting at a table with paper and colored pencils.

You might already have a regular babysitter you adore. If so, check with her. If she’s a student, it’s likely her school is canceled, as well, which would be a win-win for everyone.

Ask your babysitter if she’s willing to commit caring for your kids exclusively. This shouldn’t be a problem if you’re able to hire her full-time, with 40 hours of guaranteed paid work per week. The main goal is to limit your babysitter’s person-to-person contact. Someone who’s caring for several different families could expose yours to extra germs.

An option for high-earning families who simply can’t take time off is to hire a live-in nanny. This allows you to put your house on lockdown and quarantine your nanny with your kids. Of course, a live-in nanny isn’t cheap, but it’s an expense certain families might find necessary.

If so, this helpful article covers all the logistics of hiring a nanny, including contracts and taxes.

Even if you have live-in help, though, you and your spouse will still be interacting with the outside world. So, remember to be diligent about cleaning and sanitizing everything before you enter your home.

Totally stuck trying to find a new sitter? The following websites can make the process easier:

  • Juggle: This app creates a network of trusted sitters via your social media connections. For example, one of your friends might know a childcare provider or babysitter. You don’t have to pay a regular subscription fee, either. You can pay $4.99 per job or $9.99 per month for unlimited bookings. Background checks are performed on most sitters—they’ll have a green badge next to their name.
  • Care.com: On this site, you can post jobs with details and specifics. For example, you can require that your sitter have CPR or First Aid training, be a nonsmoker, or have their own transportation. The free membership plan allows you to post jobs and see responses, but you have to upgrade in order to communicate with potential sitters. Plans cost $39 per month or $156 per year.
  • UrbanSitter: Every sitter on this site is required to undergo a full background check. Parents can pay $34.95 for one month or $124.95 for the year. Sitters also keep 100 percent of their payments.

Make sure you thoroughly interview any potential babysitters or nannies—you can do so via video chat! Only proceeding with someone who’s willing to follow the extra cleaning and sanitizing protocol to mitigate infection.

Also, reach out to friends or local Facebook groups. There are plenty of self-employed and contract workers who have unexpectedly found themselves out of work right now. A full-time childcare job could be a godsend to someone who really needs the cash.

Daycares, Preschools, and Day Camps

There are still some private preschools, daycares, and drop-in childcare centers that are remaining open. This is primarily because they know some parents—especially doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and emergency responders—must be physically present at their jobs.

If your daycare is open and you desperately need childcare, it’s a valid option to explore. Parents who can stay home are probably pulling their kids out, even before a daycare officially closes. The lower attendance will lower your child’s exposure risk.

A day camp or drop-in childcare center might seem like a quick and easy fix. However, definitely do an in-depth investigation into what the facility is doing to protect against COVID-19. They might be cramming in a gazillion kids to take advantage of the last-minute scramble for childcare. On the other hand, they might be using a cleaning protocol that would make the CDC proud.

You want a place that’s limiting the number of kids, enforcing strict cleaning and sanitizing protocols, and offering emergency care for parents who absolutely have to go to work.

Obviously, it’s hard to be 100 percent safe when you take your kids to a public childcare center. But you have to keep your job—especially if what you do assists others during this global pandemic.

When everyone comes home, just make sure you have a thorough routine. Everyone should change clothes in the garage and toss that day’s outfit directly into the washing machine. Take baths right away and wash away all those germs.

If you have to pack them a lunch, consider using disposable containers for now. You can also bring their spare clothes in a plastic bag, and throw out the used bag each day. Of course, this isn’t the most eco-friendly protocol. In some cases, though, you might have to temporarily put environmental consciousness on the back burner.

Finding last-minute childcare is always stressful—even when you’re not in the middle of a global pandemic. No option at present is likely to be perfect, but just focus on what will work for your family. And know that it might completely change a few weeks from now.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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