Provider Appreciation is usually a time for the community and families to pause and show appreciation for the child care providers who, through our work, keep others working. This year, I wanted to pause and reflect on my own appreciation of family child care and what this profession means to me.

First, to those of you who are reading this, don’t expect that this will be an unemotional, factual view of child care. It won’t be. We’ve all seen numbers that illustrate the monetary value of what we do, and the relatively poor remuneration for what we do. That’s not the story I want to tell.

I started my family child care business in 1989, when I was 28 years old. I wanted to stay home with my young daughter (she was 1) until she went to school. That may resonate for you. Four years later, I wanted to stay home with my second daughter until she went to school. A few years later, I separated from my husband and made a push to develop my business so it could support my girls and me if I were to divorce.

I did divorce. And my family child care business did support us.

I was smug when I entered family child care: I had a bachelor’s degree in education, so I’d literally been schooled in working with young children. But frankly, I had no notion of what else was involved in running a small business and keeping all the records and keeping all the balls in the air. There were times – especially after I was divorced – that I was completely terrified of the prospect of a family leaving and the unexpected and precipitous drop in our family’s income. There were times, despite my training and education, that I really did not know how to handle a situation with a child and had to figure it out. Sometimes it went well, and I incorporated whatever trick or strategy I’d used into my bag of tricks. Sometimes, it didn’t, and I turned to my seasoned provider friends, who graciously and generously shared their experiences and support.

Over the years there were many times I thought I might quit. I’d come to a valley in the wave-like ebb and flow of this – or any – profession, and feel like it was time to transition to something else. And something would happen to change that: A new family would start and bring their unique energy, or a new pattern of interaction would develop between the children or between me and the children. At one point, I’d become an Area Coordinator for the WECA Food Program and was visiting other family child care homes. Some of the providers inspired me and made me glad, again, to be part of the family child care work force. Some of the providers were not as well-suited to this work, unfortunately, and did not have the heart nor demeanor to work with young children. And they inspired me, in a way that was contrary to the former group, that good providers were needed. And, even in the lowest points of my own satisfaction with child care, I still believed myself to be a good provider.

I have come to the far-from-easy decision to retire from family child care. Since I now number among the seasoned providers, I am sharing my experiences – and my support. I have found that this work is difficult in a way that was completely unexpected to me when I started. I have found that creating the atmosphere and setting for good child care to unfold is vital: Set up your space thoughtfully and consider what you imagine children working at – because we all know that children’s play is their work – in that area. Give children as much choice and power to handle things as they are developmentally ready for, and be prepared to intervene, support and offer acceptable and good choices when they need help. Offer planned, developmentally appropriate activities throughout the day to keep children interested and to keep their play from devolving into less and less acceptable choices and learn to watch for the cues that that is about to happen.

We all need a rest. Children sometimes need a chance to be quiet, doing a solo, uninterrupted activity that is protected from the interference of other children – or from the provider. They need calming activities like sensory play (think water play or sand or playdough) or intervals to snuggle up and be read to. We providers also need a rest. Take a moment to have some sips of tea, or turn on music you enjoy. Sometimes, ask children to wait. (You must discern from moment to moment whether children CAN wait. Do not, for example, ask it of them when they are very tired or if a child is struggling and needs your help.) Take care of yourself as much as the unfolding day will allow: Eat well, stay hydrated, and relax if an opportunity presents itself.

You may discover, as I have, there are things you can do you never imagined yourself doing: Performing first aid if you are squeamish, holding an office in a child care association if you are shy or lack self-esteem. You may discover, as I did, that my supposed, short-term entre into family child care evolved into me finding the work of my life, something I have truly loved. At my worst moments in family child care – and there have been MANY – I have never stopped feeling like there was anything more valuable that I might be doing. I had the amazing opportunity to be home during my own children’s youth. And I developed wonderful and lasting relationships and surprising connections with the children and families I cared about and grew to love – and with the others of you who also ably and lovingly do this work.

Care to share?
What do you appreciate and value about being a family child care provider?

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