In some neighborhoods in our region — and near many schools — young people face the threat of gun violence on a daily basis.
Can you afford to raise your family in Washington? WAMU’s new series on families in the Washington region is exploring the question, along with many others.
This hour, we discuss child care challenges and triumphs and hear what it’s like for D.C. transplants raising children in the city — how they find their villages and why they still consider moving elsewhere.
Produced by Julie Depenbrock
WAMU'S Families Series
WAMU will spend time over the next few months listening to and reporting on the issues faced by families in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Is it the uneven patchwork of paid family leave programs? The sky-high cost of child care? Being too far - or too close - to grandparents?
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. Can you afford to raise a family in Washington? WAMU's new series on families in the Washington region is exploring that question along with many others. This hour we discuss childcare challenges and triumphs. Plus we hear what it's like for D.C. transplants raising children in the city, how they find their adopted family away from home and why they still consider moving elsewhere. We'd love to have you join the conversation. Joining me in studio is Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle, reporters with WAMU. For three months they'll be working on a series about families in the Washington region. Elly Yu, thank you for joining us.
ELLY YUThanks for having me.
NNAMDIMartin, always a pleasure.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEIt's good to see you again.
NNAMDIYou're the lead reporters on WAMU's family's project. Starting with you, Elly, what's the idea behind this series focusing on families in the Washington region?
YUSo it's a really broad topic obviously, the topic of families. But everybody has one and it's so personal and there are a lot of issues that we've been hearing from a lot from listeners about what they want to hear more about. So child care costs are something that really resonate with a lot of people. How to raise a family away from home as you mentioned, but we're also looking at sort of, you know, families in all shapes and sizes, adopted families, housemates as families, the foster care system, adult children caring for their parents. So there's a lot to explore in this region and we've been hearing a lot from people.
NNAMDIMartin, why families as a subject? How did that become the focus?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, it was basically -- there was a brainstorm a couple of months ago at WAMU. We're like, "What should we start looking at? What are we not covering well? What is something that is important to just about everybody?" And we kind of settled on families because, again, like Elly said it's an extremely broad topic, but it encompasses so many things. And it also felt, I mean, for me personally, I have two kids. I have a family.
AUSTERMUHLEI have -- I had also been covering as part of -- you know, I covered D.C. politics. I had been covering child care, because that was an issue that was kind of percolating in the District, because it's expensive to have a child here and also other parts of the regions. So it seemed like there was enough kind of -- there were enough stories. There was enough, kind of angles to look at to go with this for three whole months and really focus on families in their many varieties.
NNAMDIElly, how does this topic relate to you personally?
YUWell, I mean, everyone has a family, right? I have a family. I'm actually -- I live away from family, who is in Los Angeles where I grew up. So it's a topic that sort of, you know, I'm thinking about all the time. My family is away from home. I'm talking about how, you know, as my parents are aging, how am I going to take care of them in the future? How will I end up raising kids in the District? I think that's a topic that a lot of people are wondering about.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you're thinking about this more broadly than just parents and kids. Families are created and configured in all kinds of ways. So what do you mean when you talk about families?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I mean, this has come up in some of the early reporting. Obviously I think the traditional sense of family could be, well, you have a mother, a father, and you have children and then there's grandparents and that sort of stuff. But obviously that's -- it's not a static definition. It's dynamic. It's evolved the decades and nowadays families means everything.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, I just had a story this week where I got to talk to Mayor Bowser -- Muriel Bowser from the District about her child she adopted last year. She's a single mother. And, you know, she said -- I think one of the great quotes was she's like, "The nontraditional is now traditional." She is a single mother raising a child by herself. She does have grandparents in town. Her parents are here in town. So she has help.
AUSTERMUHLEBut it kind of nicely exemplified the fact that we no longer -- when we say family we no longer just mean this kind of like nuclear family where it really is just mother and father and kids living kind of in a single household. There's a lot of other ways to define it. And we want to kind of dig in to that and find all the different variations that you find -- that you would have not just in the Washington region, but across the country.
NNAMDIBriefly in your own experience, what are the pros and cons of raising a child in this region?
AUSTERMUHLECons, cost, obviously. I feel like everybody can attest to that one. Pros, you know, I've been here for 17 some odd years. I've had kids now for the last five years. The one thing I really realize that -- I always liked the fact that D.C. has so many free museums and so much parkland and kind of open space and that sort of stuff. It made a lot more sense to me suddenly when I had kids, because free Smithsonian are huge huge for kids. They're great. Also just kind of, yeah, the outdoor space. I feel like it's a manageable place to be with kids, because it is a big city, but it doesn't have an overwhelming big city feel.
AUSTERMUHLELike I go to New York with my kids and it feels as intense as a city of nine million people would be. Whereas D.C. you feel like you have air to breath and kind of space to work with and that's critical with kids. You just -- I feel like you need to have space that they could just run freely. And D.C.'s good for that.
NNAMDIYou're been asking WAMU listeners for input to tell you about the issues they face putting down roots and raising a family in Washington. Can you talk about some of the responses that have stood out for you so far?
YUSo child care seems to be kind of a resounding topic of people talking about how to afford child care in the District in the region. How people make it work. I think both parents are working. They're sort of juggling how to commute through D.C. area traffic to pick up their kids. We've heard also a lot from moms especially. So it's been interesting.
YUWe started a Facebook group called WAMU Families where people are sort of sharing what they'd like to see covered more. But we've gotten an overwhelming response of members that happen to be moms. So we're -- we wanted, you know, also explore sort of that aspect of it where the dads are in our Facebook group. And some moms have talked about sort of kind of the mental load that happens in families. So we're interested in exploring that as well. That's something that we've been hearing as well from listeners about sort of the emotional labor that sometimes happens.
NNAMDIMartin, what other issues and topics will the family series be focusing on?
AUSTERMUHLEOh, all sorts of things. I mean, we have one story that Elly is working on right now that is kind of is really interesting because it deals in how cities and places are designed and how you don't notice how they're not well designed until you become something. Let's say if you are in a wheelchair you will very quickly notice when curbs aren't accessible when there's not a ramp to get up onto the sidewalk. So there's a very similar experience when you have kids.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd we were kind of brainstorming ideas and it just came up that Metro buses are really bad for kids. You're not allowed to bring a stroller. You can have it folded up. But you can't have it extended out. And I was mentioning I have family that lives in Europe and the buses are designed in a way that allows for strollers -- for the kid to be in the stroller and in the bus. So there's a story about that. So, you know, it's everything.
AUSTERMUHLEObviously, a lot of the stories that I'm looking at are about politics and policy of parenting and raising children and there's a lot of stories to be told. But we also want to kind of delve into like the smaller things that you may not even think about until you become a parent or until you may have, you know, a mom or a dad who is suddenly no longer, you know, they may not be walking anymore. They may need more help. So you start noticing small things. And we're trying to dig those sorts of things out too.
NNAMDIElly, you wrote recently about how D.C. transplants find community away from their own families. What did you discover in your reporting?
YUYeah. It's been fascinating. I think this is a topic that resonates a lot with people, who are away from family. I actually spoke with one of our guests here in the studio, Erykah, about her experience. And people, you know, have made it work in a lot of different ways and have found their community here in the region. I spoke with one family who lives in a house in Maryland with two housemates. So it's a couple and they have a young daughter, a two year old toddler and two other housemates, who, you know, the parents say happen to be like their child's aunt and uncle. I think the father told me it's almost like having four parents in the house. I don't know how other people like live in other types of situations.
YUI spoke with one D.C. mother, who happened to meet other mothers through an app called peanut. It's a peanut app. It's an app that connects parents. It's like a friends dating app for parents I guess to find friends. And so a lot different of people finding their community.
NNAMDIElly just mentioned Erykah St. Louis. She joins us in studio. She's a parent and host of the podcast "The M Word." Erykah, thank you so much for joining us.
ERYKAH ST LOUISHappy to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou moved to D.C. nine years ago from Canada. Why?
LOUISThat's correct. So I moved for opportunity. There was a humanitarian organization that I was eyeing that I wanted to work for. I got the job and started working there and had a great experience and loved it and learned so much about the city. And the city is great for single people, but as I became a parent that experience changed quite drastically.
NNAMDIWell, the first thing you learned upon becoming a parent here in Washington in the United States is that the time you got away from work would not be the same as you would have gotten had you been living in Canada.
LOUISAbsolutely not. And that was the big shock to my system. I was, you know, programed with this one year maternity leave in my mind. I was programed with my career as a woman is not going to be impacted, because I will have all this time off and jump back into my job. And I realized that is not the case here.
NNAMDIExactly right. You're raising your son, Eric, in Rockville, Maryland. What has that been like with your own family far away in Canada?
LOUISIt's very difficult. So I grew up in a big family. Being connected to your family and seeing them all the time was a part of my childhood experience. And now I'm giving my son a very different experience that honestly, I'm still going through the process of figuring out, "Is this the type of experience that I want him to really have?" And so it's definitely been a challenge. You know, we try to stay connected to family through FaceTime, through social media, all of that stuff. But it's just not the same.
NNAMDIWell, you found other ways nevertheless to build a kind of village for your child. Can you tell us about the home day care that your son attends?
LOUISSo he goes to a home day care in Silver Spring, Maryland and it is run by a woman from El Salvador, and she is just absolutely amazing. She has a similar cultural background that I come from from the Caribbean. And I loved her immediately because I could tell that she loves children. And she is just very nurturing and loving and over time I thought to myself, "She is my village. She's my mom here. She's like helping me raise this boy." When he's not eating well, she takes over and she steps in and she, you know, tells me what to do. And she keeps tabs on his weight as much as I'm keeping tabs on his weight. She's keeping tabs on his sleeping as much as I am keeping tabs on his sleeping. And so at first she was a stranger to me, but now she really has become family.
NNAMDIThat's the part of your village that you're continuing to build. Also joining us in studio is Beatriz Otero. She is President of the Otero Strategy Group and special assistant to Mark Eldridge heading up his Early Care and Education Initiative. I have known Beatriz Otero for at least three decades and never knew her first name was Beatriz, because everybody calls her "BB". BB Otero, good to see you again.
BEATRIZ "BB" OTEROThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIBB, as a you're our resident policy expert here. You have, of course, served in D.C. as the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services under Mayor Vincent Grey. And now you're the Special Assistant to Montgomery County Executive, Mark Eldridge. How would you describe the landscape for child care in our region, BB?
OTEROWell, a lot of what was said today is what every family deals with and every family is thinking about and concerned about. And I think from a policy perspective I think we spend a great deal of time thinking about issues of affordability, issues of access, issues of supply. And then the realities of the early care and education workforce, who themselves are often women and often women with young families themselves.
OTEROAnd so these are the issues that as you look at whether it's the District or Montgomery County or any other state, these are the issues that policy makers are grappling with right now, and I think the largest issues here is what is the public responsibility? What is our social responsibility? And from a funding perspective, who bares the cost and how does this compare to other areas whether you're talking affordability in healthcare, affordability in certainly public education? We've made decision in this country around our responsibility as a public for public education. So what is our responsibility in early care and education?
NNAMDIAnd we'll talk specifically about what's being done about that in Montgomery County. But I'd like to bring our listeners into the conversation. Let's start with Carlie in Fairfax, Virginia. Carlie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLIEHi, Kojo. It's such a thrill to be on your show. I'm such a fan.
CARLIESo my story is that I had been a nonprofit executive for many years. And my husband has a pretty big job in Bethesda. And we live in Fairfax. And in August I was laid off. And I thought that was the worst thing ever that could happen. And it ended up being the best thing. Shortly after I was laid off my son became seriously ill with a condition for the second time and was hospitalized for two weeks and out of school for another four or five. And after a while we realized that it was easier for me -- for all us, the family and the kids for one of us to be home.
CARLIEAnd that it was really easy to handle it financially, because we weren't spending any money on people taking care of our lives. Our dogs, you know, walking the dogs, cleaning our house, caring for our kids before and after school. And so I am now a stay at home mom, which has been a real change in how I self-identify. At first I was -- it was easier for me to tell people that I was laid off and that I was a stay at home mom, which there's nothing wrong with being a stay at home mom. But it was not how I viewed myself for, you know, 25, 30 years.
NNAMDIDo you use social media at all as a lifeline to other parents?
CARLIEI use social media as a source of entertainment, but no. I have a good network of friends and we have a really great support network of moms in my neighborhood. And there's a group of six of us that if one of is running late or something is wrong, you know, we will swoop in and take care of each other's kids at the end of the day. And so I haven't had that need thankfully.
NNAMDIWell, I do have someone on the line, who uses social media extensively in that way. So, Carlie, thank you very much for your call. And I'd like to talk with Chelsea Christianson before we go to break. Chelsea is a D.C. transplant from Iowa. She's a parent who works at Imagination Stage and has used social media as a lifeline to other parents. Chelsea, are you there?
NNAMDIHi, Chelsea. Tell us your story.
CHELSEAYeah. So I, as you mentioned, am a transplant from Iowa. I've been here for 10 years. But the friends I have, who are amazing and so supportive of me starting a family are not in the same place in life or situation in life. So I was really looking for an expanded village of people, who were kind of in the same place that I was. And being able to talk to someone about our kids and, "Is this normal? Is this not?" The child care concerns.
CHELSEASo Elly actually mentioned who used peanut and that's me. So one of the moms I met on peanut actually started a Facebook group of D.C. moms with kids that were all born in the same year. It's a group that's over a 100 people deep now and has been fantastic for starting conversations. We're all kind of in the same place with our kids developmentally. Looking forward to like, Pre-K 3 and what does that mean and lottery, and so being able to share those same concerns and then also having meet ups.
CHELSEASo we're all meeting up for a book -- story telling event on Sunday and being able to take those relationships online and offline in the real world and playdates. And it's been really fantastic to be able to grow my village in that way and meeting those new moms and families on Facebook, Tweeter everything in between. And I really appreciated the speaker on families (unintelligible) a lot in that conversation as well.
NNAMDIChelsea, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. I raised a family here in Washington many decades ago before social media existed. So, Elly, I'm just interested in to what extent parents who are now trying to raise children in this region are finding social media a source of assistance?
YUSo there are a lot of really active really Facebook groups online. Washington Area Moms is one. I think Nova moms. Our group itself I think is kind of becoming a group itself. It sounds like people go to social media a lot to ask about parenting advice about how to, you know, deal with children's behavior. I don't know if that's been your experience, Martin.
AUSTERMUHLEI think -- I mean, Elly is completely right. Social media, Facebook, Tweeter, kind of Instagram, all of this sort of stuff plays into parenting and parenting communities. I mean, the one place I think we'd be remised not to mention is D.C. Urban Moms and Dads, which has been around for 15 plus years was founded by a couple here D.C. It's basically -- if you don't know what it is it's a message board that addresses just about anything under the sun dealing with kids from birth up to college. Lots of discussions about school, about lotterying, about, you know, playgrounds, about -- you name it. It's there.
AUSTERMUHLEI know a lot of neighborhoods have email listservs and there's kid variations. So like there's the Brooklyn listserv where I live. And then there's the Brooklyn kids listserv. There's Columbia Heights, Columbia Heights Kids. So, again, those are good tools to kind of get to know people. Now, again, it takes -- it's good to hear from Chelsea and I think this is the experience that a lot of people have, like you can have an online relationship.
AUSTERMUHLEYou can get to know people online, but at some point you have to transition to getting to know the person in real life. And that, of course, when you have kids that's the most important thing is having your kids get to know other kids and that sort of stuff. And that can be always a little more kind of frightening, because, again, you know, you're trying to meet -- you're going to meet people in real life that you've only every known online.
NNAMDIErykah, have you used social media at all in your childrearing?
LOUISI do. So how I use social media to help me in my parenting journey, I post about whatever challenge that I'm having. Then I ask the question, "Hey?" You know, like right now I'm struggling with potty training and so I might post on Instagram, "Guys, this is a struggle right now. How are you doing it?" And I get a flood of responses.
LOUISAnother way that I social media is, you know, often times moms are up late at night one o'clock, two o'clock in the morning. This is a regular thing. And, you know, sometimes you're out there and posting and you find another mom who's posting at the same and you get into a conversation. And it's during those hours where the real stuff about this experience becoming a parent unfolds. This is where the mothers say, I'm struggling right now. I'm so tired. This is what's going on. But it's so nice that there's another mom out there a few miles away who's experiencing the same thing.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation about raising a family in D.C. and a lot of you have been calling or sending us tweets and emails. But you can continue to do so. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about raising a family in this region with Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle, WAMU reporters who will be working on a series or are working on a series about families in the Washington region. Erykah St. Louis is a parent and host of the podcast "The M Word." And BB Otero is President of the Otero Strategy Group and Special Assistant to Mark Eldridge heading up his Early Care and Education Initiative. BB, tell us about that initiative. How is that addressing the issue of child care and early education opportunities in Montgomery County?
OTEROSo I'm very excited that Mark Eldridge and the County Council have both taken this issue as a high priority issue and it's one of the first things that coming out of the gate that they have put out there. And they focus right now specifically on supply and making sure that we can increase the number of available child care seats across the county. And, you know, we spoke a little bit earlier about family childcare and one of those options is really increasing the number of mostly women.
OTEROIt's mostly women and many immigrant women, women of color, who see this as a real possibility in terms of not only a small business, but a service to the community, and so an intensive effort to increase the number of family child care seats. But also to look at regulatory issues about possibilities for expansion, you have a lot of child care centers throughout the county who are providing high quality care for children who could or would expand their services.
OTEROAnd so one of the things that we want to look at is all of the various licensing and planning and zoning and regulatory issues that may keep folks from opening a child development center in a neighborhood, and alongside with that looking at where the child care deserts are within the county. So that means where are there places where there's really a very low number of centers, but a high density of children.
NNAMDIHow much is this new initiative costing and how is Montgomery County going to pay for it?
OTEROSo Montgomery has -- the executive has put seven million dollars in his budget for this year to provide the funds to add staffing, to do some of the expansion, to do training, to support the training of family child care providers and early care teachers both through Montgomery College and other entities to be able to meet the state requirements to provide care. But it's also to be able to have some funds to help start up. So if you're a family child care provider and you want to be licensed and care for six to eight children in your home, you need some startup funding to be able to set your place up and to get it licensed. And so it will also provide some supports at that level.
NNAMDIMark Austermuhle, we know it's expensive to raise kids here. Just how costly is child care in Washington D.C. and how does it compare to other big cities.
AUSTERMUHLEWell, so I'll pick on Arlington County, because Arlington County is the most expensive part of the region. And this is something that, actually, Arlington officials only discovered relatively recently. They're working on their own childcare initiative, and they have for the last two years. But as they started looking at the cost, they realized that for two kids, an infant and a four-year-old in Arlington County, to have them in licensed childcare could cost up to $40,000 a year. The District is a little below that, Montgomery County a little bit below that. But, generally speaking, I mean, from what I was talking -- I was talking to folks who kind of look at this nationally, and they're saying they think Arlington County and the region is, if not the most expensive part of the country, definitely in the top five.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd it's interesting that BB mentions this issue of kind of supply and regulation, because that's exactly what Arlington County did. I think it was last month they voted on a package of zoning and regulation reforms, and it was everything from big things to small things. I mean, small things like how many parking spots do you require every childcare center to have? Because right now, they required one spot for every single employee at a childcare center, which meant you're limiting where you can have these childcare facilities, because they have to look for parking for their employees, even if they're close to Metro or a bus line.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd then stuff like teacher-to-student ratios, apparently, in Arlington County, they were lower than the rest of the region. So, they increased them for home-based daycare, so now you can have up to 12 kids, whereas before, you could only have nine. So, there, again, like, starting to tackle it, but it's a really tough issue because just saying, okay, let's say you double the amount of seats in Montgomery County or Arlington County or the District, that doesn't address the issue of quality, like making sure that you have licensed professionals that are good at what they do. It doesn't address the issue of cost, making sure that it gets a little bit cheaper for parents, but also that the providers themselves get paid more.
AUSTERMUHLEBecause, again, like we were talking offline briefly, I mean, providers themselves are getting paid minimum wage, and parents don't understand how they can be paying up to $40,000 a year for two kids, and the person that is providing the care, who they love, could be struggling to make it themselves. Like, that doesn't compute.
NNAMDIBB, you've talked about the importance of high quality childcare. Can you explain why the cost, as Martin was pointing out, is so high?
OTEROWell, again, you have to pay the workforce. Right now, we pay entry level teachers in public education $50,000 a year. Childcare providers, depending on where in the region you're looking at, could be making $12.50 an hour, which means they have to have a second job to be able to support themselves and their families. If you're talking about a center based in a region where real estate is exorbitant, as it is here, child development centers have to be able to pay their real estate taxes. They have to be able to pay rent. They have to be able to support the staff with benefits and all, because you'd have to compete with the workforce outside of the child development center.
OTEROQuality is expensive. Quality in anything that we do in our world is expensive. Quality in childcare, it's related to ratios. How many babies do you want to have in a classroom, and the ratio of babies to adults? And so there are best practices across the country that relate to what is high quality. We tend to use Early Head Start, which is a federal program, as sort of the marker of high quality in terms of ratios and in terms of practice within the classroom.
NNAMDIMartin, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser has put forth a childcare initiative in her 2020 budget. What can you tell us about it?
AUSTERMUHLESo, specifically, in her 2020 budget, she's doing a couple things. She wants to make a tax credit for childcare costs permanent. It was a one-time thing that parents could take advantage of, so when they're filing their taxes now, but she wants to make that permanent. She also wants to build -- or convert three former elementary schools into basically standalone early education centers, which would provide care from zero to five. So, it would provide the early education stuff, which is zero to three, and then the District has free pre-K, three and four. So, then, it would also offer that. So, these would be standalone centers. So, this would address the issue of supply.
AUSTERMUHLENow, in past budgets, she was also addressing the issue of supply by using government facilities like UDC across the street from our station here. I think there's already a childcare center that has now opened there, and that was part of the initiative. And that cuts down on the rent and how much it costs to actually open a facility, so there's those sorts of things.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd then they're also increasing, and this was controversial, but they've increased education requirements for childcare providers and given them a certain amount of time to get up to those standards. With the logic being, well, research has really come a long way over the last couple decades showing how important it is that zero to three education is provided by people who are well-trained. But now there's concerns, obviously, as you increase education requirements, does a childcare provider want to stay in childcare if they now have this additional education requirement? Will they want to do something else?
AUSTERMUHLEImagine providing childcare on a daily basis, and you have to go to a night class twice a week for two years to get a degree that the city is requiring. Again, there's a lot of debate around these sorts of things. And then there was a bill that was passed by the DC Council called Birth to Three, and that addresses it in a much broader way but it could cost up to $500 million over five years. And that addresses a lot of issues around quality, also funding. It would inject a lot more public funding into childcare and treat it as part of education, the public education system, and not as, you know, some glorified babysitting that you have before your kids goes to school.
NNAMDIOn now to Ellen in Wheaton, Maryland. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENHi, Kojo. Thank you. I just want to say that as a first-time mom, we have a nine-and-a-half-week-old baby, your show has really hit on a lot of veins today. And I wanted to make a comment as far as using social media as a first-time mom. And I really turn to social media to try and find a tribe. My husband and I are not from the area. We're both transplants to the DC area, as are many of our friends. And I've had some success finding, you know, groups to socialize with.
ELLENAnd, you know, we mentioned that it was important to take that relationship beyond online media. But I've been a little frustrated, especially since we moved to Montgomery County, because I found that a lot of the parent groups meet in the middle of the day, or are kind of only open to stay-at-home moms, which is a little frustrating, because at some point, you know, in three weeks, I’m going back to work. And so then I won't be able to make these meet-ups and whatnot.
ELLENAnd then the other comment I just want to make is, now that we've moved to Montgomery County and became residents of Montgomery County, I'm really happy to hear that the county is doing something to address the supply issue of childcare providers. We came across this issue when we first found that we were pregnant. The very first thing we did, I think even before we told our family we were expecting, was started looking for daycare.
ELLENAnd I work in Rockville, so I started looking for daycare near my office. And I was incredibly frustrated by the number of facilities that were in the area but that had an incredibly long waitlist. And we're talking a year or two on waitlist, and these are even for small, in-home facilities. Never mind, you know, big child-development centers. So, I just thank you for your show today. I think it's been really helpful.
NNAMDIElly, have you been hearing that kind of complaint a lot, people who are having just a problem finding daycare and who are trying to participate in groups? But since they're not stay-at-home parents, the times these groups are meeting is unavailable for them.
YUI think that -- we have gotten emails about that, about how parenting can be kind of isolating, even though there are social, you know, media groups online. I don't know about the childcare aspect, but I know that's a main concern of parents trying to find childcare before, like, getting on waitlists, right.
AUSTERMUHLEThe waitlist dance, I mean, it is -- the amount of parents that get on, like, dozens of waitlists -- and, of course, it distorts the system, because you go to a childcare center, and they've got, like, 200 kids on the waitlist. But 200 kids aren't going to show up, but it's just parents that preemptively said, well, just in case, I want to make sure I'm on a waitlist somewhere.
YUI totally agree. That was my experience, too, when we first became pregnant. People in the area were telling us, oh, you need to make sure that you find childcare. And this was a big issue that other parents were, you know, pushing us to do. And I didn't really understand until I started the search myself, and then I learned, oh, these infant spots are highly coveted. Oh, I can't just go to anyplace that I think is great. There is a list. And that was really disheartening, because I really thought with an area that is so well-resourced like, you know, the DC area, I thought the options were endless and, you know, I would find a spot so easily.
YUI had a friend recently who had that challenge. She just started working again, and she was looking for childcare. She's from California. And she, too, you know, thought that, oh, no big deal. I'll go to this website, CareLuLu.com. I'll find what I need. And she was having a difficult time. And, fortunately, our childcare facility had an opening, and she was able to make an exception and let her child come in early. But, yeah, she had a three-month-old baby, and almost had to turn down a job offer because she couldn't find childcare.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll focus a little more on education and on the issue of multigenerational households. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about raising a family in Washington. BB Otero, you founded CentroNia Centers in DC before you served as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services. What does CentroNia offer?
OTEROWell, CentroNia was -- I founded CentroNia back in the mid-'80s when we were having a significant influx of immigrants into the Washington region, and realizing that those young parents also didn't have access to quality care and moving into communities that were already poor African American communities. And we wanted to create a way to link families from those communities together. And so that's how CentroNia started.
OTEROIt started as a child development center and grew to afterschool programs and family services. And eventually started DC Bilingual Public Charter School SOA to extend the work, because it was a bilingual early childhood program. And parents wanted their kids to remain in a bilingual program, so we created a charter school tied to that. But when I left, we were serving, I think, about 1,200 children, the large majority of them zero to five, both in the District and in Montgomery Country.
NNAMDIMartin, offering pre-K from the age of three or four can really help ease the burden on parents paying for childcare. What options are currently available in our region for pre-K?
AUSTERMUHLESo, if you're in DC, every parent knows pre-K three and four, it's free. It's been around for about a decade. It's, needless to say, a huge cost savings. I mean, you have kids. You realize how expensive childcare is, but you know you just have to get to three. And everybody watches, I kid you not. Everybody cares about when their kid is born, because of the cutoff. My first daughter was born October 6th. That is six days after the cutoff to get your kid to pre-K three when they're three years old. So, my kid is a year behind, essentially. That one hurt the pocketbook, just a touch.
AUSTERMUHLEBut that's where the District is. Now, Montgomery County -- well, the state of Maryland, generally, part of the Kirwan Commission which is looking at school funding across the board. One of their proposals is to first expand pre-K four, which is now -- it's available, but on a limited basis, to kind of low-income families, generally. But they want to expand that, maybe eventually get the pre-K three.
AUSTERMUHLEBut what was interesting when Montgomery County announced its childcare initiative, I asked the question about pre-K. And they made a good point, which was kind of -- they learned from DC, that when DC expanded into free pre-K, that drew three and four-year-olds out of childcare. And younger kids cost more to care for, because you need more people there. So, essentially, you had childcare providers which are now just dealing with zero -- like, kids that are, you know, six months old, a year old, two years old. But all the three and four-year-olds went off to the free program offered through the city.
AUSTERMUHLESo, Montgomery County mentioned -- I think the county executive said -- listen, we want to be careful about that, because we don't want to just drain kids out of childcare providers and send them into Montgomery County public schools, because it'll create some of the distortions that you saw in DC. But, yeah, Virginia's in the same boat. There's a very limited number of slots for free pre-K for low-income families, but other than that, I mean, DC is the place to be if you want your kid to go to free pre-K.
NNAMDIBB, what's it going to take to bring free, universal pre-K to Montgomery County?
OTEROI think we learned a lot in the District in terms of universal pre-K, as Martin said, and the impact on the whole industry, which is the early care and education industry. And so we need to make sure that we have a balanced approach. I think there is a real opportunity in Montgomery County for us to look at pre-K in community-based settings, not just in public education, to make sure that we are helping child development centers stay whole.
OTEROAnd so I think some combination of public funding in community-based settings where people are meeting high standards both in terms of the educational requirements for teachers and the quality of programming and a coordinated effort with MCPS, with public education, so that transitions are seamless for young children and for their families between what happens in the childcare setting and what happens in public education.
NNAMDIElly, I'd like to turn now to what you've covered in your reporting on this series. You've written not only about DC transplants, but about the growing number of multigenerational households. What have you discovered?
YUSo, what multigenerational households mean is having multiple generations in a household under one roof, so child, parent, grandparents. This is a pretty common thing for a lot of immigrant families who happen to live with grandparents. I lived with my grandparents growing up, but it's sort of catching on, sort of, across demographics. And a key turning point that experts say was the recession. During the 2008 recession, a lot of people started moving in with their parents, or having their parents come move in with them for purely financial reasons, to help with childcare costs.
YUAlso, as people are living longer and seniors are sort of running out of retirement savings, that sort of, you know, goes both ways for people taking care of their parents. So, it's a trend that started during the recession, but experts say are sort of kind of holding on, that people sort of came together by necessity, but are staying together, quote, "by choice." So, I think that's sort of an interesting trend.
YUAnd I talked to a real estate agent, actually, in Virginia, who is -- there are actually developers who are marketing houses as multigenerational houses. So, places where people have kind of their own independent space within a house. You know, their own kitchen, their own living area, but they're also within this one household. She herself, the real estate and I spoke with, actually lives with her son in that sort of situation. So, she takes the bottom floor, and her son and his family live on the top floor.
YUAnd she's a baby boomer. She says, you know, it's also interesting, because she never really had that relationship with her parents. So, it sounds like attitudes are shifting, in some ways. She says that she has a really good relationship with her millennial son, and so I thought that was an interesting thing to hear.
NNAMDIThere are really no typical families, anymore. Some of the statistics you've gathered in this region shows that the number of grandparents living with grandchildren under 18 is like 140,000. We've been talking about childcare, but there are efforts also underway, Elly, to get parents to get more time off when they first have a child. DC's Paid Family Leave program goes into effect next year. What's the latest with it?
YUYeah, so the District is now getting ready to collect taxes from businesses starting in a couple -- in July, actually, so that it can actually fund the program. The program will start next year. It applies to anyone who works in the District, including people who live in Maryland and Virginia, who commute in. It doesn't apply, though, to federal workers and city employees. What the program will do, it'll pay a portion of wages for new parents for up to eight weeks for a new child, six weeks of leave to take care of a family member, and two weeks of medical leave to take care of yourself.
YUAnd it's been interesting how I've heard from folks about how this new program is affecting their decisions in family planning. So, I spoke with one couple who, they're waiting until July, 2020 to have their first child. They're on a timeline to have their first child after July 1st, 2020. One of the spouses is self-employed, so she wouldn't get access to any sort of paid family leave program. But under this new program, she will actually pay in to the tax as an employer herself.
NNAMDINot exactly Canada, Erykah, but a slight improvement.
ERYKAH ST. LOUISRight, yeah, it sounds like we're making some progress, and that's good.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Yes, we need to talk about “The M Word.” That's the title of your podcast, which dives into the unspoken truths of what it really means to be a mom today. What ideas were you hoping to explore there?
LOUISSo, I want to talk about this type of stuff that, you know, moms are struggling. You know, one of the callers mentioned earlier that she couldn't imagine herself as a stay-at-home mom. And this shift that she's experiencing, you know, a lot of other moms, like myself, are experiencing the same thing. I came to this area with a vision of my career and how I'm going to grow and progress and, yes, family was part of that. But I didn't think that I would have to make a decision about my career and taking care of my child and all of that. Like, this was a new decision.
LOUISAnd so these are the types of conversations that I'm going to be covering on my podcast. You know, these anxieties that moms are feeling. You know, women who are waiting to have children by a certain date because of all these other anxieties. You know, I want to cover things that go beneath the surface of being a parent. Not just potty training, or what to feed them, but what does it mean to be a mom in 2019. How do you feel as you transition into this new version of yourself?
NNAMDIYou've said that parenting is a process of letting go. What did you mean by that?
LOUISSo, I feel that after a mother has a baby, you know, she has nine months, this baby's in her, she's bonding, she's, you know, figuring out what's going on. The baby comes out, and it's, this child is out of me now. And then, you know, the child turns a year, starts getting teeth. I have stop treating this baby like a baby and make the transition to, you know, treating this child like a toddler. And I found myself doing this. I found I was babying my toddler too much, and I had to let go of that version of him. Now he's a toddler. He's going to be going to preschool next year. Okay, that's a new version of him. I have to let go of these stages that he's entering into.
LOUISAnd I imagine, as he gets older, that letting go continues. You know, leaving the home after college, when he gets married, all of these things. I've realized, I think, parenting really is a process of letting go of these stages that your child enters into.
NNAMDIWhat's been the response to the podcast?
LOUISVery positive. Women are hungry and anxious to talk about these issues. And they're really happy that they finally can talk about this change in identity in the open, you know. These conversations were happening behind closed doors before. Now, as the show is, you know, revealing to us, these issues are starting to bubble up on the surface.
NNAMDIIs the DC area somewhere you would consider staying, long term? Why or why not?
LOUISIt's funny that you ask that, because my husband and I have been just having conversations about considering moving to other places like North Carolina. Or even sometimes we joke about going back to Canada, and that's because, you know, places like North Carolina are cheaper to live. You know, there's more of an outdoors feeling there. When we talk about Canada, we have a huge family support system there, cousins around my son's age. So, we joke about it, but at the same time, you know, there are such good resources in the area, free museums, all of these things. So, it's a difficult, you know, decision to stay or to go.
NNAMDIIs that something you think about, too, Martin?
AUSTERMUHLEYes, all the time. Mostly because we are -- like Erykah, we have family -- no family in the immediate area. None of the grandparents of my children live in the country. They live abroad. They live in South America. My closest sister lives in Vancouver, Canada. My wife's closest sister lives in Rome, Italy. So, getting to see family is an incredible hassle. It's great when it happens, but it also means that when we see them, it's always a two- or three-week process. There's no short visit, ever, which can be great, but anybody will tell you, it can be challenging. I mean, two weeks with your parents...
LOUIS(overlapping) Wrangling the kids, yeah, it's a lot.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, it's a little much. And, yeah, the cost of living here is always on our minds. Now, that being said, we're settled now. We're happy in the District. We like where we live. We've built a community, and that's our biggest concern, is that since we don't have family to go to -- I mean, we could go to them, but we'd be tearing ourselves away from the community that we have established, which is, you know, friends, jobs, that sort of stuff. So, there's always a consideration of, like, yeah, it'd be cheaper. We could be closer to family, but then we're losing friendships. It's a tough one.
NNAMDIElly, is that something you would consider, living here long term, or moving away?
YUI don't know if we've gotten to that conversation yet. (laugh) I don't have children, so I don't know what it's like to raise a child here without family close by. So, I'm here for now. Yeah.
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Natasha in Kensington, Maryland, who says: I recommend putting your kids in a co-op nursery school. It's a great way to meet people and to build a trusted community. I guess people have a variety of ways of building community. And Sarah emails: my family lives in the basement apartment of my mother's home. It's two bedrooms, bigger than what we could have afforded for the size in San Francisco, where we'd been living prior. It's a great situation for everyone, except that it's illegal in Virginia to have two kitchens in one house.
NNAMDII wish the Commonwealth would allow for exemptions to that rule. I understand the concern about short-term rentals nowadays, but with the housing shortage and the desire to keep aging parents in their homes, there needs to be a reevaluation of this. And I’m afraid -- thank you for your comment, Sarah, but that's about all the time we have. Elly Yu and Martin Austermuhle are reporters with WAMU. For three months, they'll be working on a series about families in the Washington region. Elly, thank you for joining us.
YUThanks for having us.
NNAMDIMartin, thank you for joining us.
AUSTERMUHLEThank you so much.
NNAMDIBB Otero is president of Otero Strategy Group and special assistant to Marc Elrich, heading up his early care and education initiative. Beatriz Otero, thank you for joining us.
OTEROThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Erykah St. Louis is a parent and host of the podcast the M Word. Erykah, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
LOUISThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Julie Depenbrock. You can find WAMU's reporting on families at WAMU.org/families. And if you have a story to share or have questions about WAMU's family series, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Coming up tomorrow on the Politics Hour, we'll talk about the latest scandals facing regional leaders like Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Plus, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot joins us in studio to discuss his ongoing battle with state lawmakers. And DC Councilmember Mary Cheh discusses the ethics concerns regarding lawmakers with second jobs. That all starts tomorrow at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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