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Want to support rural development? Think child care

Once in awhile, I work with my kids at home. It’s not often, but it does happen.

A few weeks ago, I knew I would be getting my girls a little early and planned to quit early. But a couple breaking news stories that day disrupted my plans.

I asked my girls to play nicely while I did some quick interviews and finished things up. I was amazed both at how well my stories went and how well my children behaved.

And then, just as I was giving my stories a final look, it started:

“Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Baby shark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Baby shark!”

If you’re a parent or you spend a lot of time with kids, you know what I mean. If you’re not, I beg you, don’t Google those lyrics. Let your mind be clear of the earworm that has infected the families of small children.

When people hear I work from home, they often assume I keep my kids with me. In a perfect world, where all calls come in during nap time and children quietly await their parents’ attention, that might work.

Instead, working from home with my kids at home, even for short periods of time, means blocking out obnoxious children’s programs, locking myself in a room or, in one instance, realizing that a 6-year-old was staring into my ear from 6 inches away while I talked to a U.S. senator.

I love my children and I love spending time with them. But I also need to work, and I find that when I have my kids with me, I’m either neglecting them or neglecting the tasks at hand.

For farm families, it isn’t uncommon to have one parent working off the farm. For years, I commuted an hour to my job. Subtracting gas money, vehicle expenses and daycare costs, I wasn’t netting much. But having a full-time job means having health insurance and other benefits that we would not be able to afford on just the farm’s income.

Besides that, I like my work. I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was young, and being able to do that and help support my family with it has been a dream come true.

I’m thankful I now have a career where I can use my abilities and experiences without a lengthy, everyday commute. But to make it work, we’ve needed someone else to watch the kids during the day.

We’re unbelievably lucky that when my older daughter was a baby, I called a neighbor with an in-home daycare and she had a spot for an infant. Since then, Linda and her husband, Jeff, have become like an extra set of grandparents for our girls. The other kids at the daycare are special friends, more akin to cousins.

Not everyone is so lucky. It’s not uncommon in a rural area to hear about people driving out of their way to get their kids to a caretaker. In some cases, parents juggle childcare between their other duties, like a dad taking a small child along in the tractor while the mother works odd hours to accommodate everyone’s schedules.

You hear a lot of talk about economic development in rural areas and about the possibilities of new careers coming to small towns because of telecommuting. But to make those things work, we all have to remember that rural families, like their urban counterparts, might need some help. When you look at what your community needs to thrive, don’t forget to acknowledge the daycare providers and babysitters who help make it all happen.

I’m thankful for each opportunity I have to finish my work without Baby Shark ending up stuck in my head.

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