“Why can’t YOU just pick us up?” my daughter asked, annoyed. “I’ll wait. I did it last week.”
“It’s too much to pick all of you up at different schools,” I said. “I need help.”
“Isn’t this what you tell other dads to do? That’s what The Company of Dads tells dads to do, and you’re not going to do it for us?”
My daughter was angry, but so was everyone in our house. Our best laid childcare plans had gone awry – like abruptly, head-scratchingly awry.
For years we had a caregiver who became part of our family. She retired, and we figured we didn’t need childcare so much as driving. So, we decided to go with an au pair and a program matched us with a young woman eager to come to the United States and learn a new culture. In return for furthering her education and paying a modest stipend, we got 45 hours of help with our children per week.
It sounded perfect! Our au pair was wonderful with our children and fit into our home easily. Only problem was she had never traveled beyond her English village and was so terribly homesick that she called it quits after two weeks.
This, we had not planned for.
A replacement au pair would take weeks if not months to arrive. I was, in a word, panicked.
To work and parent, we plan. Our calendars are a color-coded Jenga game. “Au Pair Leaving in Week Two” was not in the calendar.
Like all working parents, we try to build flexibility into our work life, but some weeks are more flexible than others and this was not one of them.
But there was my daughter accusing me of being a Lead Dad hypocrite. She was angry at the au pair for quitting but she was directing it at me.
It wasn’t the time for me to tell her she had misunderstood the definition of Lead Dad – the go-to parent whether he works full time or devotes all of his time to his family, while supporting his partner in their career.
I wasn’t new to that role. Before I founded The Company of Dads, I was an undercover Lead Dad – since my friends knew me as a New York Times columnist, book author, public speaker and occasional golf writer.
Then I got the idea during Covid to start The Company of Dads because one, a third of all fathers in the U.S. took on this role without any community or support, and two, I was confident that companies would struggle with the post-Covid return-to-work and fail to realize that Covid had changed how a vast swath of their workforce – namely parents and caregivers – thought about work and life. Both were needs I could fill.
I was right on both accounts, and that’s been amazing. But you can’t hold yourself out there as Lead Dad No. 1 and be a hypocrite. I wasn’t – lead doesn’t mean solo, finding help is crucial. But my daughter thought so.
So I shifted my schedule and sought backup.
I’m fortunate to be good at maximizing a tight window for work – years of being a journalist. But that’s not possible for everyone.
So I ask: What have you done in your childcare crises?