May is Mental Health Awareness Month and here at Vivvi, we believe child care is mental health care.
We’re not the only ones; science shows a clear link between child care and maternal mental health, especially for working parents. According to the Journal of American Medical Assocation, “Supporting mothers through specific policy changes that are associated with increasing access to mental health treatment, paid leave, and affordable childcare can improve mental health and well-being for mothers, their children, and generations to come.”
With increased work demands, skyrocketing inflation and still somehow only 24-hours on the clock, parents need the support of child care right now more than ever. And yet, so many working parents can’t afford child care, don’t have access to it, or don’t realize how valuable it can be to their mental health.
“You can’t meditate your way out of a 40-hour work week with no child care,” says Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, psychiatrist and cofounder of Gemma, and author of Real Self Care: A Transformative Program for Redefining Wellness. “We need solutions.”
Don’t be fooled by the “faux self-care” trap. As Dr. Lakshmin says, No yoga class, manicure or weekend away is going to fix your mental health. But finding your own sustainable solutions—like child care—can improve your mental health in measurable ways.
1. Child care can reduce your workload.
There’s a reason they call the post-work hours “the second shift.” Cooking dinner, cleaning up after your children, bathing them and putting them to bed is work.
Data shows that affordable child care reduces a parent’s total work amount, which in turn reduces overall mental stress levels.
Investing in child care outside of the home frees up a lot of desperately needed mental space. Parents who employ child care outside of the home do not clean / prep / organize a space for child care. They don’t have to worry about finding the correct developmental toys for your child or dreaming up the perfect homeschooling scenario—they’ve brought in the pros! They know their child is being cared for by professionals trained in their development. And in many cases, they don’t even have to worry about packing snacks!
It is literally taking child care off your plate for a set period of time. And it’s so rewarding.
2. Child care can increase stability.
When a working parent has dependable, high quality child care, they can reduce the stress associated with constantly seeking or swapping child care providers, or figuring out how they can both care for their child and get their work done.
Studies show that child care instability can wreak havoc on our mental health and exacerbate depressive symptoms. It gives that “out of control” feeling that can plague a parent to no end. Conversely, when mothers feel like they have good child care choices for their baby, the likelihood of clinical depressive symptoms go down.
3. Child care can empower a working parent.
If your personal identity is tied to your professional identity, you’re not alone; many parents derive pride and pleasure from being successful at work. Child care not only makes this work logistically easier, allowing parents to fully focus on their job knowing their kids are in good hands, but it also enables parents to pursue growth opportunities and increase their value.
For working women, access to child care can also bring more empowerment at home; studies suggest that an increase in paid work can give women more influence on decisions related to herself and the household, shifting detrimental gender dynamics and encouraging a more fair split of domestic work.
4. Child care gives you time and space to address your mental health.
If you think that child care is only supposed to be used while you’re at work, think again. Child care can be used while you see your therapist. While you take a walk. While you read a book on a park bench by yourself for an hour.
When someone else is caring for your children, you can take the time to care for yourself through activities that promote your own mental health or strengthen social ties with friends, family and neighbors. Investing time for yourself, while your child is with a trusted and loved caregiver, will give you time to fill your own cup before you jump into taking care of your family.