I belong to a lot of daycare resource forums on Facebook and elsewhere, and there is one thing that resonates through them all: No one believes we have a ‘real’ job. No one takes us seriously as professionals.
What is a ‘real’ job anyway? Do you need a time clock for a real job? A boss and a 401k plan? Insurance with dental and vision? A water cooler? Someone else to create our schedules forcing us to plan our lives around the shifts we work? A parking space? A paycheck with letters like YTD?
Sure, we work at home. So does the President of the United States.
Sure, we get to be there for our children. So does every farmer who grew everything you put in your mouth.
Sure, we get to set our own hours, days, and style. So does every person in the world who has ever owned a business, including the owner of the business you have to clock into every day.
Sure, you can say we just hang out all day while kids play and we sit on the internet or watch soaps, but that would be a fantasy, even to us.
Here’s our reality:
Tirelessly, and for less than minimum wage, we drag ourselves out of bed, pour coffee down our throats, and try our best to be the most chipper thing you encounter all morning, and this begins two hours before you have to leave for your job so you can clock in.
We are our own HR department. If we have a complaint, we don’t have anywhere to file it, we just grin and dig in.
There are no maintenance requests for us. If it breaks, we fix it, or we throw it away. Those are our choices, and most of the time we can’t afford the latter.
We don’t have someone else to cover for us, so you can bet that if we call in sick, we’re close to dying, yet we accept green snot, sneezing, coughing little ones with a smile because this is the PROFESSION we’ve chosen, and we knew what we were taking on when we began this journey.
There is no law that says we can demand lunch, we just have to pray that there will be a five minute lull in the chaos to shovel something into our mouths that we will neither taste, nor enjoy, and most likely regret because time for planning what to eat for ourselves is a rarity.
We are our own PR firm. When you mess up on the job, there is security in knowing that your manager has your back when an angry customer rears their ugly head. When we mess up, we have to suck in a deep breath, ignore that feeling in the pit of our guts, and apologize head on, all the while, hoping our mistake wasn’t enough to make our clients think of taking their children elsewhere, because that would shatter our soul.
We are our own advertising firm. There is no Walmart on our sign or million dollar ads driving people to our brand. We don’t clock in knowing that if we show up, they’ll come. We have to give 110% with a smile even on our absolute worst day because we gave it all we had to even get someone to look at us, let alone do business with us.
There are no mandatory 15 minute breaks for us. We’re on our feet 60-80 hours every week. That’s often twice the hours of a ‘real’ job anywhere else. We’re lucky to have a minute to pee before we burst. We dash to the bathroom hoping no one will hurt themselves while we’re gone, and in that 30 seconds of solitude, we find our chi. That is our mandatory break time, demanded by Mother Nature.
We are teachers, cooks, menders of all things broken, creators of policies, programs, and planners. Our week doesn’t end at 5pm on Friday when you clock out from your ‘real’ job. We still have an hour before you pick up your children, deep cleaning, supply shopping, lesson planning, menu planning, book keeping, and still somehow have to be available to our families.
We strive to be green, mostly screen-free, super awesome, natural playscape designing, ad writing, band aid placing, book reading, diaper changing, baby rocking, swing pushing, paint cleaning, mess managing, musical instrument tolerating, life skill teaching, parent-teacher-meeting-every-day having, butt wiping, puke cleaning, sneeze shielding, lesson teaching, coloring, cutting, balloon animal creating, rocket flying, bubble blowing, singing, dancing, consoling, loving, caring, hard-working…..and for many, that isn’t enough, but man, when we get a pat on the back or some kind words, it’s everything.
In many places, we’re in charge of upwards of 16 or more children in one shift(depending on your state rules). We make it possible for almost 40 people to go to work. We are an extension of them for their most precious commodity, entrusted to us to teach and care for long hours without overtime, bonuses, health insurance, or retirement benefits, and we strive to be everything to those people, because even if they drive us absolutely to the edge of our sanity, we are thankful to have them. We love and depend on them.
We strive to do our best while our friends shut their doors because the jobs just aren’t there…then we strive to do better because we’re afraid we’re next. We’re always second guessing ourselves, feeling like we’re not good enough, undeserving, and many times like we’re falling short, even though we give every ounce of what we’ve got.
We’re the first ones to be dumped, the last ones to be told of life changes, and the ones expected to pick up the pieces, and we do it without questioning, second guessing, or complaining, because this is the CARREER we chose.
Our hearts have been broken by parents who don’t care about their children’s needs above their own, or the mighty dollar. We’re the first bill to be forgotten, with promise that it will be handled again and again, yet we still keep going because we have made a commitment to the child that no matter what, when no one else is, we’ll be there.
We’re often the last person many think about on Christmas day, but we don’t do it for the money, the glory, or the swagger. We do it because we have seen the magic in a child’s eyes when they look at something with wonder, and that inspired us to put our wants and needs aside and strive to serve and protect children. When we hold a hand-made gift from a child whose parents supported their desire to make something for us, it could be a lump of coal and our hearts soar as if it’s made of solid gold.
Childcare Providers, Preschool Teachers, and Early Educators of all types, stand tall and proud. Your work will not go unnoticed. They will remember, and as they grow and have children of their own, our words will tumble from their mouths. We are the link between broken homes and brighter futures. We have the ability to shape and build the foundation of every child into a building block for a better tomorrow. We have the gift of the most important years of their lives, and we vow to make every minute of it count.
When a parent stands with us in solidarity for the sake of their child, we are an unstoppable force.
There will always be people who think we just eat bon-bons and watch Days of our Lives while we sit on babies, but remember, people with ‘real’ jobs don’t define us. The lives we change do. We don’t just have a job with a time clock and an employee of the month plaque on the wall. We have something better. We have a CAREER, and our plaque on the wall is made up of tiny little footprints on our hearts.