It Takes a Village: Caring for Military Families
Lila Vizzard knew precisely what to expect when her husband, Lt. Col. James Vizzard, was deployed to Afghanistan in December, 2010. This was his first time in Afghanistan but his fifth deployment since the couple married 16 years earlier. Experience had taught Lila that, for the next year, she would be a defacto single, working mom to their 10-year-old twins, Liam and Jack. Despite working from home, her position with a national consulting firm is full-time, the hours are not flexible and she must travel overnight on occasion. With James away for a year at a time, she needed to establish reliable child care.
"One of the biggest challenges for military families is finding enough good childcare providers," explains Lila. "Because you move so much, it's like you're always starting over. Setting it up has been different for us every time because the boys have been a different ages and my work circumstances continue to fluctuate."
James and Lila are among the more than 43 percent of all active service members who are parents to nearly 2 million children. Today, about 80,000 of the more than 220,000 women on active duty are in dual-military marriages. An estimated 35,000 of them are single moms. When it comes to caring for the little ones, military moms are no different from their civilian counterparts -- they want someone who can be trusted, especially during an emergency. Yet, these stats highlight the unique challenges they face and why quality child care is so critical to them and, by extension, the country in general.
Child care became a pressing issue for the military during the 1980s when many servicemembers declined to re-enlist because of the lack of adequate care resources for their children. Since then, the military has made a concerted effort to provide available, high-quality options.
While stationed at West Point and Ft. Levenworth, the Vizzard twins were enrolled in the Child Development Center on base but that was not a viable option at Ft. Knox. Having had what she considered the gold standard of child care, Lila was unwilling to settle for anything less. She learned about Care.com, an online resource for finding care, from other moms in the area.
"I was prepared to do my own background checks and screening but this was a built-in part of the service," she says. "That told me that this organization understood and embraced military parents' need for quality resources." She placed an ad and found someone who could tutor and provide after-school care for Jack and Liam.
Christina Ano loved living in close proximity to her large, extended family in upstate New York. However, she did not fully appreciate what that meant until she and her husband, Joshua, were stationed a thousand miles away in Omaha with two small children. "I was surprised at how difficult it is being a military wife with two kids and no family around," she says. "My mom always talked about how the grandparents would sometimes take us overnight when we were younger but I lose out on that. The boys are with me all day, every day and sometimes I just need a break."
Being a stay-at-home mom with a military spouse who is unlikely to be deployed eased her child care burden but left Christina very little time for herself or her husband. So, when the couple arrived at Joint Air Force Base in Charleston, SC, 18 months ago, they promised to carve out a little time for themselves. Of course, this meant finding a reliable babysitter for 3-year-old Garrett and 2-year-old James.
She heard about Care.com from a friend. "I was a little nervous at first because it is the Internet but I heard about the background checks and felt comfortable that this wasn't like getting a babysitter on Craigslist," she says with a laugh.
She posted an ad and, after a two-hour telephone interview and in-person meeting, she ultimately settled on a young navy wife and college student. "We hired her for the next weekend which was our anniversary and everything went great," recalls Christina. "I used her until they got stationed in Virginia earlier this year but found two more babysitters on Care.com."
When Garrett starts pre-school this fall, Christina will still have two kids with her most of the day and in her free time she has agreed to be the child care provider for her neighbor's new baby.