A Love Letter to Family Child Care

February 14, 2023  |  Published by

I once had a parent look at me and say "I'd rather clean toilets than run my own child care business." I had to tell her, tongue in cheek, that cleaning toilets was definitely part of my job. And while my job can be difficult and frustrating, there's something indescribably beautiful about caring for children.

I "fell" into family child care at the ripe age of 37 after my youngest daughter was born. I had every intention of going back to work as a preschool director after a 2-month leave, but when she was born, I realized I just couldn't put her into child care. At least not right away.

I was fortunate that my husband had a decent income and we could survive without mine. So a few weeks after my daughter was born in 1991, I started to attend Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) classes weekly. These classes work in a similar manner to Candelen's Kith & Kin and Play & Learn programs.

I attended these classes with my neighbor, Christy, who had a baby just one month before me. When Christy found out that I was going to stay home for awhile, she asked me if I could take care of her son a few days a week so that she could get back to work in her painting business. I talked to my husband about it, and we both agreed that it would be fun to have a built-in playmate for my daughter. Then, just two months later, another mother from our ECFE classes asked me to watch her child, too. She gave birth just a month prior and wanted to get back to work as soon as possible.

Photo by Aditya Romansa
Photo by Aditya Romansa

Now I had a big decision to make. In Minnesota, where I was living at the time, you can't legally care for children from more than one family unless they are related to you. At this point, caring for two infants was so fun and rewarding that I thought having three would be even more fun! And, this may sound crazy to some of you, but I LOVED IT. I was in my element!

Again, my husband and I talked it over, and I decided to obtain my Specialized Infant Toddler License. I could care for up to five children, three under the age of 12 months. This was perfect because, by this time, yet another family asked me to care for their two school-aged children after school and all summer.

My friend Wendy, who was already in the family child care business, provided encouragement and helped me through the process of getting my home licensed. And while each rule and regulation made total sense, there were a LOT of things to check and consider:

- I had already child-proofed the house, put up baby gates, and our pets were current on their vaccinations.
- We had a fireplace on the first floor of our home, and it was no-brainer that we couldn't use it during child care hours.
- I had to hang a key to unlock bathroom doors in case they became locked by mistake.
- The Fire Marshall visited my home to make sure we were passing all regulations.
- We had to have our well water tested every year by the county Health Department.
- I had to buy fire extinguishers (and get them checked annually) in addition to conducting monthly fire and storm drills.
- We had to develop written policies.

I gave my preschool notice that I wouldn't be coming back in the fall, and took the plunge into what ended up being an 11-year love affair with family child care. Little did I know what a baby boom in our small Midwestern town, the closing of a school 10 minutes down the road, and my growing reputation would have in store for me.

Looking back, I could have never imagined the long-lasting relationships I would have far into the future with these families. I became a baptismal sponsor (twice!), cared for older children while mom was in labor, and attended graduations, weddings, and baby showers.

There is so much love and joy in becoming the "other mother" in so many children's lives.

Patty Nordahl
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