Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Day Care

During summer weeks when we are not traveling or otherwise having unstructured time at home, my daughter attends various week-long day camps. There is one in particular that she loves and that many of her school friends attend. In terms of schedule and expected degree of participation of parents, this camp is set up for stay-at-home parents. That’s fine for us for a week or two because we have a very flexible schedule in the summer (a benefit of being a professor), but it makes it very difficult for kids of working parents to attend.

The camp organizers wondered how they could increase enrollment and diversity, and I suggested that the camp could be made more accessible to working parents by offering extended hours (until after 5 pm), and not having 20% of the camp days involve parent attendance at events. You would have thought that I’d suggested that they perform Satanic rituals and/or feed the kids Twinkies for snack.

One of the organizers snarled at me “This is NOT day care”. What’s so bad about day care? I send my daughter to camps because they are fun, she loves being around other kids all day (she’s an only child), and my husband and I need to get some work done in the summer. I feel not the slightest need to be apologetic or defensive about needing/wanting summer day camps to be all-day activities.

The other day when I picked my daughter up from the camp in the afternoon, the woman who had made the this-is-not-day-care statement sighed and said to me “I’m exhausted. Doing this all day is hard work.” I felt like saying “This is NOT work!”. Instead I said “Yes, I know how you feel. I had a long day at work as well”, though I suspect the divide is too great for there to be any mutual empathetic feeling about our respective long days at work.


Anonymous said...

Curious -- why did you feel like saying "this is not work?" Do you not think it is work, or is it because she had been nasty to you?

Anonymous said...

You know, I can remember vividly being a TA at a summer science day camp as a teenager, so I've been in both worlds. It's definitely a LOT of work, it's just very, very different.

However, it sounds like the demands of the camp your daughter enjoys really are unusual--no camp I ever worked at or heard of had so many demands or was so rigid about parents who worked. When I was younger, we had parents who had to drop their kids off before the first class, sometimes around 7:30 (classes at 9) and the last kid frequently didn't leave till 6:30 or so. We didn't complain about it--we just wanted to know whose parents were expected when so we wouldn't worry about a forgotten child.

Anonymous said...

I think you are mistaken. It IS work to be around that many kids all day - I am a female grad student in chemistry, but worked at science camps taking care of other peoples kids through college. It's more stress than you might imagine - parents are VERY particular about their children, and unfortunately, many kids are spoiled brats. All of them seem to have boundless energy, and it's hard work to try to keep them engaged - you are essentially performing all day. It's pretty nerve racking to keep them safe and hope they learn.

Additionally, my mother is an 8th grade teacher at a rural school. She encounters your attitude rather often (that she's a babysitter) - and it's work to deal with kids whose parents are too high to make sure there's food in the house or that their children aren't getting drunk and pregnant (or committing crimes). She's had pregnant 6th graders and registered sex offenders in class- it's work, but not in the "I can't interpret this data" way. It's in the "these kids lives' suck and it breaks my heart" way.

I don't think day care is bad, and I agree that camps should go until 5 p. However, I think you should have more respect for the day care provider and people who choose to spend their days with children. Try it. It sucks. Being in the lab is way better.

Marciepooh said...

She sounds offended that one might want "day care kids" to attend the camp as well. Isn't the reason for summer day camps is to give school-aged kids some where to go in the summer? (some of them kids who would go to after school progerams during the rest of the year) What's the big deal with extending hours? Are the children of "working" parents untouchables? (Caring for children is work whether one gets paid for it or not.)

Female Science Professor said...

I didn't realize the "This is NOT work" comment was not obvious as sarcasm. Note parallelism: "This is NOT day care" = "This is NOT work". Of course it is work. And of course the camp is day care.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, sister.

The intensity of the response to your obviously sarcastic comment underscores the fact that this really is a hot-button issue, and an increasingly bloody front in the culture war.

Judith Warner had a great piece on this in the NY Times, unfortunately protected, but if you are or know a Times Select subscriber, it's worth a read.

Also, there's a new Pew study on working moms and SAHM's, a decade ago and now, at

And Cathy Young, who is often reasonable on this issue, when she's not in her liberals-are-just-as-bad-if-not-worse-than-wingnuts mode, discusses the Pew report here:

I have a child in day care, which actually IS daycare, and it is astonishing to me how much stuff we get asked to do during the work day. I'm lucky that as a professor I have some flexibility so I can and do often attend, but it is usually just me, the other professor mom/dads and all the latte moms, in between pedicures and appointments with their personal trainers. And lots of disparaging comments about the people who don't have the flexibility to just cut out of work, bake a pie and go hang out at daycare.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your clarification FSP - I didn't get that either. It makes the post much more amusing when you put it like that. :)

Irie said...

Doesn't she realize that she's providing a service and that they should be catering (to an extent) to the needs of their clients? I was given flack by my son's preschool teachers for dropping him off during the summer. I pay for the service year round so why not use it?

Unknown said...

Well, as a current SAHM, I'll say yes it is work... but last month when my husband was out of town someone actually said to me, "Now you know what it feels like to be a single mother."

Yeah, right. If I was also independently wealthy.

I continue to be amazed at the stuff that goes on during working hours now that I'm not on that work even beyond programs for children. For example, most of the farmer's markets in my area run between 9-12 on weekdays. Who else but SAHMs and retirees can shop there?

Anonymous said...

It's so depressing that you got that response. Maybe she was having a really bad day, but's fine to say you are all for diversity and opening up your camp to working class kids, but when it comes down to brass tacks and actually doing something, then you can't be bothered to actually do the thing that would make your camp more accessible? When I worked at K-State we were always trying to figure out how to make our summer camps (which were only 2 or 3 days camps) more accessible to a wide variety of kids and we worried about stuff like how kids from the far reaches of the state could have access to our campus when it would be such a long drive for them to get there. You have to care about stuff like that or you will only end up with the children of privilege who don't need your service as much as the others do. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Since I know a lot of students read your blog and have questions about how to manage a career and kids let me share my experience.
I also put my kids in day camps for most of the summer, although we usually take about 2 weeks of family vacation time. I could hire a nanny and have them stay home but they get bored as most of their friends are also busy in the summer. I havent encountered a hostile attitude to working parents at any camp or from any teacher (who are mostly working parents themselves), although I often meet stay at home moms who have a superior attitude. But most camps, even with extended day care, end by 5 or 5;30 which is kind of early for me to come home from work. Also I find that more than six hours of camp a day is too long for my kids who meed some time to chill out at home or have playdates at home with friends. So I also hire a college student as an afternoon nanny to be home with the kids after school during the year and pick them up from day camp in the summer, at around 3 or 4. She can also drive them to afternoon activities like sports or music lessons, or to see friends or go on an outing. Another good thing about a nanny is she also cleans up the kitchen and house when the kids aren't keeping her busy. But the best thing is that the nanny is a college student of impeccable character and work habits so is a great role model for the kids, especially my daughter. She is not so much older than them that they cant identify with her. I find her totally worth it.

Another comment--
What I find the most ridiculous about parenting school age kids is all the driving. I read that the average amount of chauffering time required for kids in an american family is 20 hours/week. We are pretty close to that, and I hate driving, and am glad I dont have to do all of it.

Jay said...

This gives me a headache. My daughter attends the same day camp every year for the full 7-week session, because I need full-time care just as much in the summer as I do the rest of the year - actually more, because my husband's schedule is less flexible during the summer and I'm often covering for vacationing docs as well. There are lots of other day camps around, but none start before 9:00 and all end by 3:00. That just doesn't work for me.

One of my friends, three years ago, said "but don't you feel badly that your daughter can't experience the other camps?" No, I don't. She likes the camp she attends, and my needs also count in this equation. I have never felt guilty about taking my daughter to day care.

In my more generous moments, I'd wish I could hear the organizer's answer to "what's wrong with day care?" I think there is a divide between the day care community (caregivers) and teachers, and there may be a status issue in her mind. She may also be responding to the wish that kids would come for the experience because the kids want to come, and not because the parents just need day care. That's not an either/or in my mind, but it may be in hers.

For the record, I got the sarcasm in your internal response, and I would have thought the same thing.

Marciepooh said...

I got the sarcasm. I meant that all parents are working parents and some get paid to take care of other people's kids, as well as thier own. I wish we could come up with a better term than "working mother" for those who also work outside the home. My mother (and father) both worked equally hard when they worked outside the home, ran a business in the home, and were "only" a cargiver; all very different jobs but still a lot of work.

I've noticed many day camps, classes, etc. that children without a SAHP or nanny would never be able to attend. It has started to become common for the local churchs to run VBS in in the evening because SAHP are becoming rarer and volunteers don't want to keep the kids all day.

AngryMan said...

They could try kidnapping from poor neighborhoods.

Quantum Moxie said...

I got a laugh at this, but probably not for the same reasons as others. Day camp? My wife and I have a hard enough time affording pre-school. My kids do a few structured things here and there throughout the summer, but, for the most part, our summers are mostly unstructured - much like mine were when I was a kid. Luckily my wife manages to work from home and I can be at home on days I don't have classes (I'm a theorist so I can carry my lab with me). On the one hand, there are a lot of days I would sell my brain for a quiet day away from the kids. On the other hand, it turns out my kids prefer a bit less structure so I'm glad we can provide it.

Anonymous said...

Your comments suggest arrogant attitude when you dismissed the day care workers' comment that she was exhausted from day camp related work... hmm...I'm guessing you have had your kid in daycare since 6 months of age. Very sad comment that you believe stay-at-home mom or blue-collar workers just don't have real jobs like you? Or work as hard like you?

Female Science Professor said...

Sadder comment that you didn't understand that it was a joke (see previous comments). That's OK - it can be difficult to catch an attempt at humor/sarcasm in an anonymous posting - but you might want to think a bit more before rushing to label someone as arrogant.