The New Latchkey Kids

Sharing the Care

alone in living room

Some parents with no caregiving options have found a refreshingly old-fashioned solution to the problem: They've reached out to friends, neighbors, and other parents for help -- an "It Takes a Village" model of collective child care.

That tactic worked well for Darlene Trujillo. When she and her husband were both laid off from their job within a few months of each other in 2009, the mother of three had already developed a network of moms in her suburban Denver neighborhood by getting involved in her kids' school. The couple landed new jobs, but the hours were longer and less flexible, so Trujillo relied on family and friends to avoid having her three children (ages 9, 11, and 13) come home to an empty house. But the situation is workable because Trujillo has support she can call on at a moment's notice in case one of her kids gets sent home sick from school or needs a ride.

Asking for favors can be a major challenge for independent-minded parents, of course, as can accepting them. But it's often better than the alternative. Allen, the North Carolina State assistant professor, had no immediate solution when a snowstorm canceled school last winter, leaving her without care for her daughters, ages 6 and 8. Luckily, a neighbor offered to watch the kids so she could work. Allen then offered to sit for the woman's kids the following weekend. "It wasn't anything official -- just two moms pitching in for each other," Allen says. "And you know what? It felt really good."

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