One Orange County mother stretched the truth to get her children into a child-care program. Another regularly turns over a third of her salary to make sure her children are in good hands while she works. Others, especially the single mothers who need child care most, want the best for their children but just plain can't afford it.
Working mothers in Orange County now outnumber those who stay home. Half the mothers of children under 6 in Orange County have jobs outside the home, as do 70% of those with children ages 6-14, according to a 1984 study by the Orange County Commission on the Status of Women. But licensed child care in homes or day-care centers is available to only about a third of the children who need it, according to the report.
Laurelei didn't know the statistics, but she wanted to make sure her children got into a licensed day-care center. After several tries, she gave up on individual baby sitters and switched to day-care centers. "Baby sitters just weren't reliable," she says.
So when she and her husband, Chris, decided to move to Orange County from Riverside in 1982, she announced the move prematurely in order to enroll her children in a school-sponsored, extended day-care program.
"I was working in East Anaheim," says Laurelei, who was an office manager at the time. "But we were planning to buy a house in Yorba Linda, so I went to a school there and told them we were in escrow on a house in their district. Actually, we hadn't even found a house yet. They asked me the address and I told them, 'Oh, it's over on that street right behind the school.' But they let me enroll my daughter, and then I signed her and my son (a preschooler) up at the school district's day-care center. Luckily, we did find a house in that same area a few months later.
"Child care was always a struggle," Laurelei says. "I remember when my son was about 2, and he came down with the chicken pox. The day-care center wouldn't take him, and I couldn't miss work because the payroll had to be out that day, so I brought him with me. I got the payroll done, but soon after that they fired me. They said I was losing too much time from work because of my kids. But what else was I supposed to do? Tell them (the children) to take care of themselves?"
Laurelei now has her own home-based clothing business and helps her husband with his cleaning company, so she doesn't worry as much about child care these days for their 11-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son. "That was one of the big considerations in starting my own business," she says. "The children may not have admitted it, but they didn't like day care that much. It just doesn't give them the same intimacy as being at home. The whole family is much happier now."
Martha's baby sitter didn't say a word to her when she abruptly quit a few weeks ago. "She's Mexican and doesn't speak English, so her husband informed us," says Martha, a secretary who lives in Cypress.
Martha advertised in a newspaper for a replacement and got plenty of responses, many from qualified applicants. "But we couldn't afford to hire any of them," Martha says. "I didn't realize people wanted so much money to baby-sit. One lady, an older woman, wanted me to pay her $150 a week. We really wanted to hire her and everything, but we just couldn't do it. The highest price I can go is $75. Otherwise, I'm working just to pay the baby sitter."
Martha and her husband, Jim, a service manager for an RV dealership, have three children, ages 9, 6, and 2 1/2. "But we only needed the baby sitter for the youngest," Martha says. "So I called a baby sitter we'd used before who only charged us $50 a week, and asked her if she'd do it for $75. She said, 'Sure.' We have to go to her house, but that's OK; she only lives about two miles from us."
For the first two years after her divorce, Cherie, a computer systems administrator, took her two children to a day-care center every working day. "That cost me approximately $500 a month, and I was supposed to be getting $800 a month in child support, but that was very sporadic," she says. "I didn't have any child support money left for anything else.
"Finally, I realized I just couldn't afford it," Cherie says. "If my parents hadn't helped me out, I don't know what I would have done.
"My dad--he's 82--and my mom--she's 67--they've been taking care of the kids for three years now. My dad picks them up every day at 2:30, and then he and Mom take care of them until I get home at about 5:30 or 6," Cherie says. "And they do it for nothing, because it's their grandchildren. I'm just so lucky; without them I couldn't make it. There's just no way.