Building a Child Care Village Is Hard—Here’s How You Can Do It

There is no one-size-fits-all way to create your support system. Here's how families across the country are making it work—and expert advice on how to build your child care community.

Fathers play with their kids

Oleksii Syrotkin / Stocksy

When I was pregnant with my daughter, the number one question I was asked (besides if I knew the baby's sex) is "what's your child care plan?" As a working mom, we cobbled together a complicated, inconsistent hodgepodge of care that consisted of my husband's days off (he's a firefighter/paramedic without a traditional work week), the on/off availability of nearby family, and daycare. The reaction to my situation was always the same: "It takes a village, doesn't it?" I couldn't agree more and felt lucky to even have those limited options.

That was in 2015. Fast forward to 2023, and the idea of creating a village to suit a wide array of ever-changing childcare needs is top of mind for most parents of babies and toddlers. The catalyst? COVID-19. It really changed the landscape, causing many families to work from home, worry about the risks daycare brought with it (before vaccines were prevalent), or move—bringing them closer to family or, in many cases, much further away.

Lauren Smith Brody, CEO/founder and author of The Fifth Trimester, and cofounder of the Chamber of Mothers, says a big reason so many more families are leaning on their villages is money. "Child care is more expensive—the cost of daycare went up 41% during the pandemic, and babysitting costs rose 11%, while child care is more scarce. And 51% of American kids under age 5 live in a child care desert," Brody explains. "Parents need their income more than ever—hello, inflation and cost of living—but, simultaneously, shifts from COVID have normalized unconventional work hours that are not as suited to traditional child care provider hours."

Creating a child care village has been especially hard for new parents, who are dealing with a pandemic and other illnesses that have some of us wanting to head right back into lockdown while grappling with rising costs and the potential of a looming recession.

"Although this feels like a negative start, it's spurred more families to ask the questions of 'what help do we need?,' 'where are we struggling?,' and 'how can we help other families and parents in the same situation?'" says Margaret Zablocka, founder and CEO of the parenting app Onoco. "So many working mothers are being pushed out of the workplace due to rising childcare costs. Finding a supportive village doesn't remove the stress and strain of this loss, and it certainly doesn't fix the child care crisis, but it can help parents take back some control in their lives."

Here, a few families share how they built their village, and the beautiful benefits it's brought them professionally, personally, and emotionally.

The Child Care Co-Op

Keri Gaylord

Keri Gaylord

Keri Smith Gaylord, 35, Winston-Salem, NC

My husband, a United Methodist Pastor, and I have two kids, ages 2 and 4. I'm a clinical social worker in private practice and primarily work with parents, untangling the web of generational trauma and figuring out how to build families that are equitable, thoughtful, and whole. I work three days per week, and am the primary parent the other two week-days.

Meet the village: Our village is an informal childcare co-op started in fall 2021 with another local family. Courtney, a colleague turned dear friend, and I swap picking up our collective four children from a local half-day preschool and providing care for the afternoon. We each provide care two days per week while the other parent works. When my parents are in town, my boys see them weekly, and often spend one night per week at their house. They're the best.

What if things don't go as planned? Whew, this has happened plenty of times! Kids are so germy. We notify the other family as soon as possible. We've sent plenty of 9 p.m. "my kid threw up" texts. We then cancel co-op for however long it takes for everyone to feel better and scramble to adjust our patient schedules to cover childcare. My husband has some flexibility in his work, too, and often covers kid sick days so I can work.

The benefits of having a village: My kids don't live near any extended family children and have created a cousin-like bond with our co-op family. They get to practice all kinds of social-emotional skills with one another, and fight and make up constantly. Our family as a whole has benefited by having a whole family nearby who knows our kids, their needs, and their schedules. Knowing that I can call Courtney anytime that I need help and that she'd drop everything to be there—and vice versa—is such a relief. Financially, it's been a massive help as we both get eight-ish free hours of child care per week. And I get to see one of my best friends several times a week! Having the option to chat for 20 (or you know, 90) minutes with a best friend, in person, several times a week is such a gift. We're both building businesses right now, and the ability to spitball ideas back and forth has been invaluable.

Advice for other families: I had no idea if my co-op idea even made sense when I presented it to Courtney in the summer of 2021. It felt like a big ask and I assumed she'd say no. But whew, has it been a relief and gift for both of our families. My advice? Don't be afraid to ask people for help, and to offer help in return.

Extended Family Care



Jacqueline Canlas-LaFlam, 42, Oakland, CA

I have two kids—20 months and 5 years old. My husband and I are both attorneys and as lawyers, we work beyond a Monday through Friday, 9-5 work week.

Meet the village: Both sets of grandparents are local. Since going back to work after having my second child in November 2021, we've relied on a combination of my parents and a nanny, which has been particularly necessary because the hourly cost of a nanny (paying above-board) went up significantly during the pandemic! My in-laws are a little older, so we don't rely on them quite as much for work-related child care, but they occasionally help by coming over at dinner and bedtime when one of us has to travel for work. Our nannies have been an indispensable part of our "village," too, as we trust them with our kids, dog, and home, and being the parents, we certainly don't take anything they do for granted!

The benefits of having a village: The best surprise of having a village is that I can go to my in-home office and work a full day without being distracted (unless I choose to be, that is). I can feel safe and secure that my children are being cared for. Being a lawyer is a hard job. Being a parent is a hard job. I wouldn't be able to do either very well without the support of others.

Advice for other families: Find people you can trust. If you can find people who are flexible on top of that—even better. It doesn't come naturally to me to be flexible; I'm a planner, but I think the pandemic really taught us that you can only plan so much. So the best you can do is plan, but be prepared to roll with the punches and problem-solve...and hope you've surrounded yourself with a village willing to do the same!

Daycare and Trade-Offs

Ellyn Drathring Jung and Family

Aaron Jung

Ellyn Drathring Jung, 34, Chicago, IL

My husband and I have a 2-year-old son. I work Monday through Friday managing a psychiatry clinic. My husband works retail. From January through May, he works Tuesday through Sunday, from roughly 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. In June the store hours change so his days off are unpredictable.

Meet the village: Our son goes to daycare Tuesdays and Thursdays. He's been going since he was 10 months old. I have to adjust my work hours to match the daycare's hours on those days. For now, my husband doesn't work on Mondays. On Wednesdays and Fridays, my mother-in-law drives 35 minutes to our house to provide child care. She travels often plus cares for her mother-in-law, so when she's out of town we ask my mom to substitute. She lives an hour away and is a little older so it's harder for her. They both love being with my son and it gives him a break between the long days at daycare, but it's really hard to piecemeal care together when our parents have their own personal lives. Not to mention, my husband's schedule is not consistent during the second part of the year.

What if things don't go as planned? If one of our moms can't make it on short notice, I usually call off from work. My husband has done so a couple of times, but he has less paid time off (PTO) than me. Occasionally my sister-in-law is able to come over for a half day (she works evenings). Sometimes I'm able to work remotely at least for part of the day, like during nap time. We've never had a babysitter. We don't do full-time daycare at this point because we can't afford it. If I ever need a haircut or have a doctor's appointment, I have to take PTO because the other option is asking one of them to stay late or come on a Saturday which I would feel guilty about. At the moment I have unlimited PTO so it's fine but then I feel guilty if I take "too much."

The benefits of having a village: I'm glad my son doesn't just know his grandmothers, but he's comfortable with them and loves them. And frankly, because our moms don't know how to relax when he's napping, they regularly do our dishes, take out the trash, wipe down the stove, and fold the laundry. I think my husband also benefits from seeing his mom regularly. I've seen my mom more since having my son than I had over the last ten years. It's good to know her as an adult.

We definitely could not have purchased a home if we had to pay for full-time daycare. Our combined income is $160,000, which I know is a lot, but we don't live luxuriously (and much of it is commission-based so not reliable). Our house is an old, single-story ranch. But if we had to pay for full-time daycare, we never could have saved enough for the down payment and would still be in a small apartment.

The Stay-At-Home Dad

Shannon Carpernter and his dads' group

Genevieve Carpenter

Shannon Carpenter, 48, of Kansas City, MO

I'm married and have three children, ages 9, 15, and 17. I've been a stay-at-home dad for 15 years, and am the author of the manual, The Ultimate Stay-At-Home Dad. When my kids were babies and toddlers, I joined a dad's group to help navigate parenting.

Meet the village: For stay-at-home fathers, isolation is something that we rarely talk about. I realized early on that I couldn't be the parent I wanted to be if I was alone. If I didn't have friends, neither did my children. Luckily, there was a new dads group in my area and I joined. I also got lucky that four other dads joined who were in the same boat. Together, we have raised 16 kids—the oldest is currently a senior in high school. Although we no longer do playgroups, we still meet weekly because parenting teens is difficult and the issues we face can be complicated. It's really great to be able to share the mental load of parenting with other parents. It's been a lifesaver for me. We take what we call the "Dads Trip" once a year—five dads, 16 kids, and the moms stay home. We spend about a week on a road trip seeing silly and fun things. The world's biggest ball of twine, touring an 1850s woodshed, the birthplace of John Wayne. It really doesn't matter, it's the memories we are after. We have done that 14 years in a row. What's interesting is that the kids expect to go, want to go, and continuously ask if we are planning yet.

The benefits of having the village: One member is in charge of scheduling the playgroups. We did that for roughly 10 years. Another member is in charge of scheduling the Dads Night Out, which is a chance to get together without kids. My job was to plan weekly adventures. That's what happened on the surface. Behind the scenes, it was based on friendship and knowing we are all in this together. Many times, a member has called because they had jury duty, were sick, or needed an extra set of hands. One of us would always show up. And it goes a bit further. We've remodeled bathrooms together. Another member of my group fixed my A/C unit, saving me hundreds. My wife and I had no family in town when my youngest was born, so one of the dads came and spent the night with my kids. During COVID, we arranged for our kids to Zoom weekly, talk about school, and have socialization. They actually started a D&D group that continues to this day. We have also done babysitting and overnights. When a couple wants to go on an adults-only trip, we take their kids in. We take their dogs. It's just what we do.

Advice for other families: My best advice is to engage. Don't count on someone else to find your village or assume it will fall into your lap. Go out with the intention of making it. And then once you do, be active. You get out of it what you put into it.

How to Build Your Village

The creation of villages sets a "beautiful" example for our kids because childcare shouldn't have to be this hard, says Brody. "As of 2021, the United States invested $500 per child per year in child care, compared with $14,000 average in other wealthy nations," she explains. "So yes, it's lovely to build community, but at what cost to our mental health? At what cost to our ability to keep going and not leave the workforce? It's important to band together and save some of that community goodwill and energy to demand systemic change and not spend all of our time and energy bootstrapping temporary, unsustainable solutions."

If you are unsure where to find your village—especially if you're far from family—you have the best icebreaker. Your kids! "Every other parent or caregiver is your colleague in working parenthood right now. Don't be afraid to ask and don't be afraid to offer," says Brody.

Tips for maintaining a village

Communicate: If you have a partner, be clear about who is the main contact for each care provider.

Organize: On Sundays, review your care and backup care plans.

Prepare: Have all child care contacts saved in your phone.

—Lauren Smith Brody

If it seems overwhelming, take solace in knowing that kids are adaptable! "Do not feel guilty for bouncing them around if you need to—but it's worth considering where an initial investment in continuity could help with transitions," says Brody. "If there's a favorite naptime storybook, for instance, and you can afford it, buy a copy for each care location."

The Bottom Line

If you are indeed overwhelmed, don't be afraid to ask for help. "This is by far my biggest lesson as a parent, and something I continue to work on even now my children are a little bit older," says Zablocka. "I hated the idea of picking up the phone and asking my friend to come round at the last minute for that work trip but you know what? She came without a word of complaint, because she knew I needed her at that moment, and that I would do the same for her."

Explore More

As the cost of raising a child in 2023 continues to skyrocket, caregivers are leaning on their communities more than ever. Read more of Parents' deep dive into what child care really looks like for American families—plus tips to create your own child care village.

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Parents uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Workers Spend Up to 29% of Their Income, on Average, on Child Care for Kids Younger Than 5. Lending Tree. 2022.
  2. America’s Child Care Deserts in 2018. Washington: Center for American Progress. 2018.

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