How to plan child care in times of uncertainty

Published on Wednesday, 21 October 2020
Last updated on Wednesday, 21 October 2020

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Even the best laid plans can come unstuck, and when it comes to child care, it’s important that your family makes contingency plans to deal with unexpected events, like a sick child, a last minute trip or a grandparent who can’t provide their normal child care.

This year’s pandemic has reminded us that we can’t always predict the future, but, fortunately, it is still possible to make child care plans – and back-up plans – in uncertain times.

To help you do this, entrepreneur and mum, Avni Patel Thompson has come up with a three-step approach that enables you to build a personalised and adaptable child care plan for your family. Here’s how:

    1. Start by listing your priorities

Ms Patel Thompson says that, ‘In times of greater uncertainty, we need to protect the most important things – no matter what.’ To do this, she recommends that you make a list of all the priorities in your family’s life, with a focus on the next three months.

These priorities are the things that are most important to you and they might include:

  • Relationships with your partner and children
  • Your physical health
  • Your social-emotional and mental health
  • Your extended family
  • Your family’s finances
  • Your career
  • Education and other learning
  • Socialisation with your friends

Once you’ve made the list, Ms Patel Thompson says you should then choose your top three priorities, keeping in mind that the other ones are still important, but ‘will have to take a backseat’ if the top ones are at risk.  

  1. Identify your options for each priority

Your top three priorities will guide you when you’re looking at different child care options; and Ms Patel Thompson says you should think about the best ways to maximise your top three priorities by creating a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C:

  • Plan A is the child care you’ll use in an ideal situation
  • Plan B is your ‘classic back-up’ for when Plan A falls through for a more obvious reason, like your care-giver calling in sick, and
  • Plan C is your ‘safety net’ which can be put into action when the first two plans aren’t working (this might be a more drastic option).

To create these three plans, Ms Patel Thompson says you need to consider how your priorities might impact the child care options available to you. For example:

  • If you’ve made ‘career’ a top priority, then your Plan A might be hiring a nanny, Plan B could be last minute child care, and Plan C could be taking turns with your partner to handle sudden ‘spanners in the works’.
  • If you’ve prioritised ‘extended family’, then your Plan A might be using grandparent care, Plan B might be a casual babysitter, and Plan C could be moving house to be closer to your family (COVID-19 permitting).
  1. Put your plans into action

Once you’ve made Plans A, B and C, based on your priorities, Ms Patel Thompson says, ‘It’s time to enlist the help of others and create actionable weekly plans.’

Speak to your early childhood education service, nanny agency, grandparent carer or other care-giver to discuss the ‘high-level points of your plan,’ then make a regular time (e.g. Sunday night) to meet with your partner and make an actionable weekly plan.

As a guide, you might take this time to:

  1. Review your family’s schedule and identify any meetings, appointments or other priorities that need to be worked around.
  2. Organise ‘child care shifts’, deciding who’s going to do drop-offs and pick-ups or which parent will be home when the nanny/babysitter arrives.
  3. Make a meal plan by jotting down a quick list of lunches and dinners for the week (this will streamline shopping and cooking).
  4. Discuss ‘key reminders.’ These are any additional things you and your partner need to remember, like a dress-up day at child care or another parent taking your school child to sport.
  5. Choose some ‘priority household to-dos’, such as washing the car or getting a plumbing quote. There’s no need to go overboard with these – just choose five or less chores to share out and schedule for the week.
  6. Do some back-up planning, where you and your partner discuss the most challenging parts of the week and ‘how Plan B and Plan C will kick in if Plan A fails.’

This might sound a bit like hard work, but if you get into the habit of making this weekly plan with your partner, it is possible to save time, reduce stress, divide duties more fairly and adapt to the unexpected.

We hope the above tips help your family to feel more settled and enable you to segue from Plan A to Plan C if need be. Good luck!


Harvard Business Review

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