Care outside of Households
When it comes to care outside of households, you might expect it to be steely, brisk, and efficient, thus a contradiction in terms. After
all, care in this setting becomes formalized and commercialized. Providers themselves are often low-income workers who depend on caregiving wages for their own survival. These features call up images of baby farms and exploitative nursing homes. Available evidence, however, contradicts any such picture. To be sure, care outside households differs from the care we have observed within homes. Generally speaking, for instance, the relationship between the service provider and care recipient is more contingent on changes in the life circumstances of the parties; relations with grandparents rarely break off in an instant, but parents often yank their children from preschools abruptly. Nevertheless, people caring outside of households do establish warm personal ties, often involving extensive intimacy. The sites for nonhousehold caregiving vary from psychiatrists’ offices to nursing homes to day-care centers, and each of the caring relationships establishes its own distinctive mix of economic media, transactions, and relations. Consider the diverse circumstances of family child-care providers, nurses, physicians, and hotel service workers.
Family day-care providers turn their homes into commercial work settings, attending unrelated children for a fee. An authoritative analysis of paid child-care workers in the United States during 2002 identified a total of 2.3 million individuals, distributed thus:
• 550,000 in center-based settings
• 650,000 providing family child care
• 804,000 paid relatives
• 298,000 other paid nonrelatives, for example, nannies
According to this estimate in 2002, 76 percent—1.75 million—of the people providing paid care to U. S. children ut to age five were working for their pay within households. But 24 percent— 550,000—were doing their work in private and public child-care centers, Head Start programs, prekindergarten programs, and similar settings (Center for the Childcare Workforce 2002: 6).
Commercializing domestic child care raises standard hostile world concerns: will the payment downgrade the caring? Will the household setting undermine the caregiver’s efficiency? What’s
more, paid family child-care providers confront three intersecting and often conflicting sets of demands: one, in their relation to the child; another, in their relation to the parent, and a third, in their involvement in generating income for their own families. Mary Tuo – minen’s interviews with eighteen family child-care workers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds suggest how providers manage these multiple demands. They do so not by becoming unfeeling custodians, nor by denying that they are involved in a commercial enterprise. Instead, Tuominen shows how care workers negotiate distinctive sets of relationships, transactions, and media, without excluding intensive attachments to the children.
Repeatedly, the women told Tuominen of their close, affectionate relationship to the children they were paid to care for. Their relationship to parents was more ambivalent. On the one hand, the workers complained about parents exploiting their services by arriving late to pick up their children without paying overtime for the extra hours of work. On the other, they often adjusted their fees to accommodate a parent’s financial situation. For instance, Anne Burns, herself subsisting below the poverty level, explained why, in the case of one boy, she had reduced by half her monthly rate from $300 to $150 without cutting down the hours of care: “His mom is trying to move. And she’s trying to sell all the furniture and trying to get all the bills paid before she leaves, so …” Annie McManus reported similar considerations in setting her rates: “It was negotiated…. It fluctuated. Especially with the two single moms—depending on what was happening with them financially” (Tuominen 2000: 122).
Echoing Deborah Stone’s findings concerning home-care workers, these women also reported going beyond strict contractual agreements, for instance, by picking up a child at the child’s home when the mother was unable to drive, even if it caused the caregiver significant inconvenience. Tuominen’s findings fully confirm Margaret Nelson’s study of Vermont family day-care providers. Nelson’s survey of 345 care workers plus 70 close interviews show her respondents conducting carefully run businesses: they set hourly or weekly rates, negotiate fee increases with their clients, specify the range of their services (for example, what sort of food they will pro
vide for the child), and offer formal discounts for a second child in the family or when they take in a relative’s child.
For all their commercial arrangements, Nelson still found providers troubled by the combination of monetary payment and loving care. As one woman put it, “It’s so hard because you’re dealing with their child. I mean you’re supposed to have unconditional love with their child. Yet that’s the hard part, you’re getting money for that kind of love. How can you put a price on that?” (Nelson 1990: 61). Setting prices for their labor, however, was not the chief source of the care providers’ conflicts. Instead, the women were especially upset at parents’ disregard or disrespect for their underpaid efforts. One respondent complained about a mother who “would keep track of how much, you know, and pay me just so much, and that hurt me because I thought, here I am giving so much. How can she be so cheap with me?” (61). More generally, Nelson listened to providers’ anger when parents “forget to pay on time, … haggle over every nickel and dime, . . . make a fuss about a slight increase in rates, and. .. assume that ‘overtime’ is free” (55). Parents’ picking up children late often caused trouble. In all sorts of social relations, who makes the other person wait signals inequalities in the relationship, and thus becomes a matter of negotiation and resentment. Parents who arrive late for their children’s return home, without paying extra, cause the triple harms of signaling their disregard for the care worker, keeping the care worker from other tasks, and costing the care worker money.
Care workers therefore appreciated any evidence of parents’ recognition of their labor, including personal gifts. One explained, “[Jennifer’s] mother is so good to me. .. . On the year anniversary of her being here I got this beautiful bouquet of flowers. . . and it had a real nice card. ‘Thank you for all the love and care you’ve given me. To my second mom.’… When I feel [parents] appreciate me, that makes a big difference” (64). However, thanks alone did not keep their businesses going. Child-care workers had to manage their finances, charging enough to keep their own households afloat. Thus they constantly balanced among competing claims on their energies (see also Enarson 1990).