By Emily Barnes, Owner/Manager, Barnes Child Care, for the Spring 2021 Issue of Kansas Child magazine.
After my second child, postpartum anxiety started interfering with my ability to work. Thoughts swirled around my head: What would happen if I stepped away from my job to take care of myself and my family? Would I lose out on professional growth? Would I ever be able to get a “real job” again? Would I still be able to earn what I was worth?
Despite the fact that my world felt so scary, one constant was my ability to take care of others. I’d provided support to people with varying abilities for over a decade. I’d also taught in a Montessori preschool. I had the knowledge I needed. Was it time to take a leap of faith?
In 2013, I opened my own family child care. The journey was much more intense, and much more beautiful, than I ever could have imagined.
Through trial and error, I learned to focus on the unique benefits offered by family child care. You won’t find circle time in my program, but you will find organic learning opportunities in every square inch of my home. Structured activities fall flat with the kids, but we thrive outside. Play-based learning replaced Letters of the Week. The weekly ritual of watching the trash truck sends toddlers running to the front porch to offer applause, cheers, and calls for the horn.
I found that strict schedules lead to stress, but enjoying the moment brings laughter. Our only non-negotiables are meal times and naps. My program focuses on social and emotional learning, as well as practical life skills. I teach compassion and care for others. When I worry less about their academic performance and focus instead on our connections to one another, the children improve all their skills. They end up developing a compassionate heart and an eagerness to learn.
As a family child care provider, I can connect with parents on a deeper level. We discuss their child’s needs, as well as their development. Knowing how scared I was when I became a mother helps me open up conversation with new parents.
But this beautiful, intricate opportunity comes with a price. Providing care can be hard. I lose sleep when the children struggle. I work longer hours than the parents who pay me. I feel guilty when I need to close, even to go to the doctor. When enrollment dropped in the past, it meant the difference between paying bills and buying Christmas presents for my kids.
As with all small businesses, I’ve seen mine ebb and flow. A few years ago, I expanded my license and grew. I learned about staffing and taxes. We were finally able to buy a new house! Then, after pushing my business to grow for a while, I saw signs that it was time to pull back. My assistant moved out of state. I decided to shift gears and operate alone again.
I questioned the decision at the time. But six months later, the pandemic began. Temporarily, some families stayed home, but I remained open. We connected through social media and video chats. As the world fell apart, my families still needed care. Within a few weeks, they returned. My smaller crew allows me to participate in advocacy efforts to educate the public about the value providers offer.
This job is still hard, but my career is beautiful. Many days, I find myself fighting provider fatigue. Yet I see what family child care can do. For as long as I have more to give, I’m here to give it.