Building a modern village
I had a plan to take my youngest daughter to a Christmas Lights event earlier this week and she was having a day. Nothing was right. Wearing a hat was out of the question (even though it was going to be 40 degrees outside), layering up with a jacket and a sweater was an insane mom proposition and while going to see lights with a friend sounded fun, she only wanted to sit next to me in the backseat.
Defeated, I approached the idling car outside my house, to give my friend the news. Without skipping a beat, my friend and a parent of similar-aged kids handed me a box of colorful tic tacs and suggested that I offer 2 of my daughter's choice, to get in the car right now and we can deal with the hat and jacket once we arrive. Thirty seconds later, my kid was in the car, laughing and smiling and we were on our way.
Before having a family, I’m not sure I truly understood the importance of a community around you - whether it’s a neighbor calling to invite you to a holiday lights show or having fellow families to spend snow days with. As two working adults and two growing kids with no family around, managing the day-to-day logistics and social wellbeing of our family is intense. At any given moment, a domino in my carefully architected system of being able to bring my best self to work, keep the kids developing, cared for, and engaged, as well as keeping the house running (meals, laundry, family obligations) can fall down.
As our kids are getting older, challenges are changing but the framework we use to approach solving an unscheduled event (be it a tantrum, a schedule change, or a new kid need) is not vastly different. So in this post, I share our family’s approach to planning for the unplanned.
The Approach: Calendar, paid support, community, and transparency
When needing to be prepared for change, I break down the approach into two big buckets of activities: the tactical immediate things to tackle (adjusting calendar and paying for any additional help you can manage) and longer-term investments into building out your community and learning to give yourself grace by asking for support.
Manage the calendar
When an unexpected event happens (childcare falls through or an unscheduled commitment appears), the first thing Adam and I do is sit down and look at the calendar together – we both go into “crisis mode” and start canceling noncritical meetings and postponing recurring ones to a later time in the week. Doing it together prevents me from assuming that I have to carry the burden and pre-solve problems by moving things around.
Crisis calendar management: I have found that just this practice, opens up breathing room in the day to accommodate for school drop-offs and pick-ups as well as activity coordination that is usually handled by our nanny.
Having said that, the above approach works for us now because our kids are slightly older. When we had kids under 3, Adam and I took a shift-based approach (if no other care was available).
Shift approach: Split the days into 2 parts (morning until noon, and 1-5pm). One person would take the morning with kids and the other person would take the afternoon. And we did a day-by-day split based on our work needs. If possible, taking a full day off is also really helpful especially if your child is sick and you are able to swing it. We learned early on that trying to multitask with small children was exhausting and counter-productive.
When nanny care or school falls through (quarantines for close contact due to COVID have been top of mind), it’s been important to have a backup plan for childcare.
1. List of sitters – I keep a OneNote page of backup sitters/nannies whom I’ve worked with in the past (name, email, phone number, and compensation rate). The ideal is to have 2-3 to rotate through, but currently, I have one go-to babysitter who I call whenever we need evening or weekend support.
2. Back-up care services – those are great for planned absences but I’ve had mixed luck with day/last-minute emergencies. I have had access to these kinds of services through work benefits in the past, but if you have used an agency to find your nanny, they usually offer a service like that as well.
3. Neighborhood nannies – one of the greatest things that we’ve been able to do is work out an arrangement with a nanny who supports our neighbors with kids of similar age. So our nannies coordinate planned absences and arrange coverage as needed.
Having a pre-determined payment agreement so that it’s not negotiated or discussed every time, makes it much easier and faster for all parties involved.
4. Exhaust any care extension options – our preschool lets us extend the day from 12pm to 2pm (and pay extra for it). Other programs I have come across do similar things, so I try to know my options and add hours as needed in the least disruptive way.
What I try NOT to do as much as possible is introduce new people/new care last-minute. Schedule changes are as jarring for kids as they are for adults, so I aim to minimize change to the best of my ability.
Build a Community
We do not have family nearby, so while moral support can be provided remotely, physical help (ie can you drive my kid to school tomorrow morning), as well as local tips and tricks (ie what’s a good pool to join, is there a good piano teacher around, etc.), is best found locally in your neighborhood.
1. Neighbors - We’ve been in our area for 3+ years now, so we have met people and built relationships around us. These are the people who have become near and dear to my heart. Seeing familiar faces in school orientations, coordinating camps so kids have friends as they start, figuring out carpools and joint trick or treating – doing these together makes parenting a way better experience. Investing in this takes time and effort. I thought it would happen overnight but it has taken years and I am so grateful for our awesome neighbors.
2. Get a family coach (or a few) – A friend recently helped me name this, having a family coach means leaning on people who are ahead of us in our parenting journey with whom we share similar values. When we just moved to the area, a friend dropped off a local Parks and Recs brochure with highlighted classes that her kids have taken in the past. The same friend called when a pool membership slot opened up at their local pool because she knew I was looking. When I was hiring my first nanny, I talked to an acquaintance at my book club who was experienced and passed on a nanny contract template, told me about payroll, and later met with me for coffee as I was evaluating preschool options.
As kids are growing and our needs are changing, having coaches to go to for help, advice, and resources because they’ve been through this part of the journey, has been incredibly helpful.
Being open with yourself and your co-workers when the s* hits the fan has been really helpful in navigating life as parents.
1. Tell your co-workers, friends, and neighbors: COVID normalized this, but I have always been open with people at work when things like childcare or health were off track at home. No matter how many systems are in place and how well the adjustments are made, I am never 100% at work if things at home are not running as expected. So I share that and ask for grace.
Additionally, I don’t commit to work travel or evening plans without explicitly telling my boss or those asking for my time, that I have to check my calendar and confirm that I can make it work – even if I am pretty sure I can do it.
As a leader, I believe in normalizing bringing our whole selves to work, so I want to hear from my team when they have a sick child or a sick parent or a dog that needs to go to the vet so I can support them through that.
2. Focus on surviving not thriving: When weeks get thrown off, I don’t focus on getting it perfect. Meal planning changes to take out, laundry gets delayed, TV limits go out the window and dishes pile up. These are temporary reprieves that do not make me a bad parent and things get back on track once a regular schedule resumes.
Summing it up
As I reflect on this situation and a myriad of others that happen to all parents throughout a day, a week, a month – I think about all the ways in which Adam and I have been able to build a “village” around us. It is not the village that people had 200 years ago with large families living in the same area supporting each other, but it is the village of the 21st century that enables us to thrive as a family. And for that we are grateful.
If you are interested in our other posts on parenting, check out these: