Meet the SAHM Who Turned Her Pandemic-induced Child Care Shortage Into a Village for All Families

Learning how tough being a stay-at-home mom was, Helen Mayer created Otter. The service is helping stay-at-home parents and working parents connect and help one another. Here's what this mom of twins wants parents to know about child care.

When schools and offices went virtual in March of 2020, it began a pandemic-induced saga that laid bare how little we support working parents and value those who stay home with their children. Some people, mostly women, became stay-at-home parents, either because they felt forced to without other options or they got laid off. In September of 2020 alone, more than 150,000 women lost their jobs.

Six months earlier, Helen Mayer was one of those parents. Her twin boys, Arthur and Andrew, now 3-and-a-half, had been attending daycare. But when it shut down, she became a stay-at-home mom.

One day, Mayer put her children down for a nap, poured herself a cup of coffee, and decided to take a trip down memory lane to the last—and only—time when the U.S. invested in child care infrastructure.

"I discovered the only time the U.S. invested in child care infrastructure was during World War II because men were at war, so women were coming to work in factories," Mayer says. "The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter that's going 'We can do it' only could happen because she had assisted child care…that stuck with me."

Mayer understands child care isn't one-size-fits-all. It depends on the family's goals and finances. (Even when child care centers reopened during the pandemic, the price tag went up 40%.) Some have family help. Others use nannies or center-based or home-based daycares. And others, like Mayer, become stay-at-home parents.

But amidst a pandemic that forced many to feel isolated and alone, Mayer dreamt up a community-based solution—one that helped parents find and rely on a village to help care for children. It started as child care swaps and turned into a service called Otter, which brings together working parents with stay-at-home parents. Here's Mayer's advice about child care and being a stay-at-home parent.

Know Your Worth

When Mayer became a stay-at-home parent, she learned first-hand how much work—yes, work—it was.

"I think people really undervalue stay-at-home parents and don't think parenting translates into real-world skills," Mayer says.

Mayer now respectfully disagrees with that assessment. As a stay-at-home parent, she had to learn to set boundaries, come up with activities to entertain her children, negotiate with toddlers (not an easy gig), and coach.

It's a job that Mayer felt deserved compensation. Stay-at-home parents who sign up to care for working parents' children using Otter make more than $600 per week on average. Meanwhile, working parents can save money because the caregivers on Otter charge less than other providers.

Normalize Financial Discussions With Your Family

For years, Mayer felt uncomfortable talking about money. "A lot of people, especially women, are just conditioned not to talk about this stuff," Mayer says. "I want to change the status quo around that."

Contributing to the family balance sheet gives stay-at-home parents a seat at the table and can open up the conversation about finances. Sharing positive stories about money, such as an increase in weekly earnings, is a simple and casual way to normalize talking about financial planning with family members.

Focus on Safety

Though affordability is a critical factor in child care decisions, nothing is worth it if a child isn't safe.

"Our primary goal, first and foremost, is to make sure kids are safe," Mayer says.

Otter has guardrails in place to ensure safety. To sign up for the service, parents will need to:

  • Create a profile. This profile will include information about your children, schedule, and parenting style.
  • Pass a background check. Otter uses third parties to conduct background checks on providers and does home safety checks.
  • Find matches. Once the providers pass a background check, working parents can connect with them on the platform.
  • Book care. Parents can arrange scheduling, payment, drop-offs, and pick-ups using Otter.

For Mayer, the real reward comes from giving parents the opportunity to build the community they lacked during the pandemic.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Otter out in the world and to watch this have an impact in people's lives, to help people not only sustain their families but to turn around and nurture the people around them."

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