Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I’ve recently come to the conclusion that every family needs a source of flexibility. No I’m not talking about yoga, although that type of flexibility is definitely good for me, and I need more of it. I’m talking about the ability to suddenly stretch your day’s plans in event of emergency.

Now the word “emergency” can vary a bit, and there is definitely a spectrum:
  • Your child ingests an allergen, and is ambulanced to the ER in anaphylactic shock
  • You go into labor and need someone to watch your first child while you deliver your second
  • Your child has a high fever and needs to be picked up from daycare
  • The daycare plumbing has gone out again and the state regs have determined this to be an unsanitary emergency situation that requires closing daycare
  • Your child puked at bedtime, seems ok, but isn’t eating and probably shouldn’t go to daycare the next morning

In these situations, where does your flexibility come from? The first two are pretty straightforward; in a true emergency situation, your friend or neighbor will drop everything and come to the rescue. Rare and desperate situations will give you the leeway to greatly inconvenience the lives of others. And they’re ok with it, because it’s a rare and desperate situation.

But the other situations begin to tax your volunteer pool. I have wonderful friends who would leave work early if I called asking them to. But would I really call and ask them to leave work because my kid has a fever? Or the daycare plumbing is on the fritz again? Or because my kid’s kinda sick, but not really sick enough to make me want to stay home? This is the true test of family flexibility.

So far, I’ve concluded that flexibility comes from three sources:
  1. From within your family:  you, your spouse
  2. From extended family:  your parents, siblings, cousins, and friends that are part of your extended family
  3. From hired sources:  nannies, Parents in a Pinch, etc.

You’re really fortunate if you have all 3 options available. You have lots of flexibility. But if you don’t have a lot of money, option #3 isn’t available. And if you don’t have family nearby and all of your close friends also have busy demanding lives, #2 becomes a challenge. Which leaves #1. You have to be your own flexibility.

This was illustrated today when our daycare’s plumbing backed up again. BestestHusband and I both have busy days on Tuesdays and Thursdays; he’s leading meetings, and I’m frequently working in almost-downtown with a tight schedule of patients to treat. When daycare called, I was with a patient (and my phone was not on me), and BestestHusband was in a meeting (not answering his phone). So daycare started calling my list of emergency contacts.

They were all out of state. Two of them had moved. (Sorry Jenny about that call today!) The third was out of state at a funeral. Hmm, it appears that I need to update my emergency list a bit. And consider where I can get some more flexibility…

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am the primary source of family flexibility. It’s a matter of necessity, considering geographical distance of family, and the economics of income potential in our marriage. I did purposely choose a career that would allow this flexibility. But this arrangement isn’t perfect, as today proved yet again.

Are there other sources of family flexibility that I haven’t considered? Anyone want to volunteer to pick up my kids the next time the daycare plumbing is on the fritz? 


  1. You know you can call me anytime! I could walk there if I didn't have enough car seats or room in the car...especially this year while I'm on leave, and even in future years as a teacher, I'm usually home by 4pm. I know how much I rely on my family who are close-by, so I can't imagine trying to work and raise your kids with your family half way across the country!

    1. Jackie, you're so so kind! But you're one of my examples of "friends who have busy demanding lives"! But I will definitely keep you on my list. Just know you'll be only called in the event of a serious emergency, not just a plumbing issue!

  2. We have no family in the area and sadly many of our emergency contacts have moved away! Roman has absolutely no flexibility and cannot leave work at all. That leaves me to handle every and all emergencies! I totally know the feeling!! My minivan can easily hold another two carseats and two toddlers! I am happy to be an emergency contact if you need. When you already have two toddlers whats another two anyway? And with the amount of ridiculous toys my children have from overly generous family members it's like a daycare center in their playroom anyway.

  3. P.S. Romans old company gave us parents in a pin with 10 paid days a year. Any additional days were only $15/hr. I miss it so! Saved my life on several occasions when I was too I'll to care for anyone!

  4. You too, Abby, are so so kind to offer. What is it with mothers of TWINS offering to be my emergency plan?! Like you don't have enough emergencies of your own! Thank you for your very kind offer. I'll keep you on my list of "only call if lives truly hang in the balance." But I'm home on M, W, and F if your emergency list runs short.

  5. Having twins is controlled chaos. Two more in the mix really doesn't seem like that big a deal. Plus the advantage of a day at a pediatric OTs house is a full day of sensory exploration and fine motor activities! And I send kids home with Independent dressing skills. :)

  6. Hi Joy, you should consider a babysitting co-op! Has Jenna told you about ours?

    1. Hi Charis, we're in a co-op. But our fellow co-op families are all in the same boat: I'm sure they'd drop everything if we called. But they also have multiple small children, and not the extra car space and carseats to make a pickup reasonable.
      What I REALLY need are some nice retired ladies on my street who have nothing pressing in their lives and can drop their knitting at a moment's notice to pick up the girls. Do you know of anyone like that in my area?

  7. Sorry about this headache, Joy, and sorry we couldn't be here to help! To put a positive spin on it, I would say that you're most eager and willing to serve, and have demonstrated that on countless occasions! Let's just hope these Lutherans can get their plumbing act together (or Chris will have to become a trustee and spend 2+ years of his life trying to help resolve them). Hopefully I can be a "first responder" if/when the next time arises.

    1. Anne, we would have been in the same boat as last time! Hopefully the plumbing won't be an issue again!

  8. This makes me want to call my friends who work and tell them to put me on their emergency list!

  9. As someone who has been an employed mama and a stay-at-home mama, I think the challenge is that the employed mamas sometimes need the stay-at-homes for their flexibility and ability to help. Sadly, they sometimes live in different worlds and thus cannot rely on one another. Mamas of the world, let's work together!