A Must-Have Parent must have a backup childcare plan. Make that plans -- with an s. Because things will go wrong.
An out-of-town funeral, a work project that requires additional hours, your sister's 40th birthday party in another state, you getting seriously sick or needing surgery. There are lots of things, good and bad, that can happen to throw off your otherwise finely tuned solo parenting practice.
The basics: Every Must-Have Parent needs a relative, a close friend and/or three reliable babysitters nearby. This is non-negotiable and you should try to line these people up well before you know that you need their help.
I like to find babysitters through Facebook moms groups because I can see if potential sitters have any mutual friends with me and, depending on their privacy settings, I can poke around their page and learn a little about them before setting up an interview.
Also, I love drop-in day care centers. These centers are licensed and regulated. and many have a video system that allows parents to watch what's happening in real time video using a smart phone app.
If your emergency leaves you stranded for daytime care, you'll need at least one of the following:
- A grandmother, or grandmother-type friend or relative, living nearby who doesn't work outside the home and is willing to babysit during the daytime.
- A drop-in child care center.
- Drop-in privileges at a regular daycare, preferably one your child already uses part time or that you've used with an older child. If you aren't sure if a local day care offers drop-in care, just ask. Many of them do but don't advertise the service.
- A friend who is willing to fill in for you at the least minute. (The problem with this, though, is that a friend who is home during the day time probably has children of his or her own and, if you've got more than one child, it might be too much for him/her to handle.)
- A boss who is exceptionally tolerant of children and/or exceptionally quiet and well-behaved children. I used to have a co-worker whose kids would come to work with her when they were sick. I sat right across from her and NEVER EVEN HEARD THEM. This would not be possible with my kids, but it worked just fine with hers.
- Some combination of the above. Maybe you've got a friend who can get your friends off to school, they can drop in at an aftercare center after school, and another friend can pick them up in the evening.
For nighttime care, things are a bit different.
If your kids are school-aged and not involved in any extracurricular activities that they can't miss, nighttime care is easier to manage than day time.
The nighttime person needs only to make sure the children are fed, safe and that they go to sleep at a reasonable hour and then get them off to school the following morning. A relative is ideal, but a friend is a close second.
A paid sitter that you've used before is a decent third choice option. If you have to use a new sitter for an overnight, expect to pay a premium. Also expect to be a nervous wreck. Try to convince a friend or neighbor to drop by unannounced just to check on things. The sitter will totally know that you're checking up, but she'll understand.
I have a friend who is in the Army Reserves, and her husband deploys often. Sometimes she needs childcare for a whole weekend, and she doesn't have close friends or relatives living nearby. So she takes her children with her on drill weekends and leaves them in the hotel room with a local babysitter. She says the peace of mind she gets from not having to leave them for a whole weekend is worth the hassle of having to take them with her.
If you have a friend or relative a few hours away who is willing to babysit and their place isn't too far out of the way, you could opt to drive instead of fly so that you can take the children there.
The TLDR version? Be creative. There may have to be a lot of moving parts. No one ever said solo parenting wasn't a pain in the ass.