Breeyn here! From time to time our blog will feature a guest author—someone who can share a unique perspective on one or more aspects of our field. This week I am pleased to present the thoughts and ideas of my colleague Donna Fowler. In my seven years at Teaching Strategies, I have had the great pleasure of working closely with Donna, who not only supports our Teaching Strategies partners in her role as Content and Implementation Partnerships Manager, but who also serves as President of the National Association for Family Child Care. Donna’s vast experience in the family child care arena gives her a firsthand view of the sometimes-delicate balance that the family child care provider needs to continually revisit and refine. Here’s what she wanted to share with us all.
I’m Donna Fowler, a former family child care provider and current advocate for the important work of this field. In my day-to-day interactions with folks, I am often asked to describe some of the challenges I faced in my practice and what I did to overcome them.
I often think of family child care as being a three-legged stool of sorts.
- The first leg represents the children and families being served.
- The second leg represents the family child care provider’s family (partner, children, etc.).
- The third leg represents the family child care provider him- or herself.
By design, the support system of a three-legged stool—its legs—share the load equally. If any one of those legs becomes damaged or overstressed or weakened in some way, the stool can collapse. It is therefore critically important to look after each leg of the stool to ensure that the load is properly balanced.
So, the question is, how do we find that balance?
As a brand-new family child care provider, this was my biggest challenge. I would find myself working 80-plus hours a week to get my business off the ground and to ensure that I was meeting the needs of the families and children I served. What this left me with was very little time for my own growing family and virtually no time to focus on self-care.
When I became pregnant with my third child, I had a difficult pregnancy. My doctor told me that I needed to slow down and take care of myself. Fear quickly set in! Were my families going to leave me for another provider if I didn’t give them 110% of my attention? How was I going to slow down for myself and still take care of my own family? I was wracked with stress, which eventually caused me to go into labor at 20 weeks. I truly believed I was going to lose it all: my child, my business, and myself in the process.
The time had come. I had to break it to my families that I needed to help them find other means of child care for the next 18 weeks. What I failed to recognize is that I had developed extraordinary relationships with these families. Each family was more concerned with my health and the welfare of my family than with the hassle of finding a child care alternative. We survived it, and every single family returned to my care 24 weeks later.
If you’re a family child care provider, I encourage you to sit down and take some time to think of one strategy you can use to ensure that the three legs of your stool are in great shape and balancing the load equally. How can you build relationships with your child care families? How can you keep your own family at the forefront? Lastly, and equally important, how can you take care of yourself?
Here are three strategies from my practice that I hope will give you some ideas for finding balance in your own.
- First, I built relationships with my child care families by hosting quarterly dinners in my home. The children and I would make the main course and the children’s families would bring the sides. This encouraged the families to socialize with one another and with my husband and sons, who also joined us.
- Second, I listened to my own family about what they needed from me. We had a family calendar where we clearly planned and prioritized activities ahead of time to ensure that I made time for my boys’ school events and for date nights with my husband. Having these times with my family to look forward was a great reminder of how fortunate I was to have so many great relationships in my life.
- Third, I did not give up my own passions. I loved growing my own food, for example, so I made it a part of my program—something that the children and I could enjoy doing together. I am also an avid reader. So no matter what, I always carved out at least 15 or 20 minutes to read for pleasure. Modeling strategies for taking care of myself not only benefited my own children and the children I served, but it also seemed to inspire some of the very busy working moms I served to recognize how important it was for them to also take time to shore up the legs of their own three-legged stools.