A friend of mine organized a group in Iowa City a few years back called “Interfaith Moms.” Her goal: to bring women of varying faiths together to learn, discuss, support, and build community. Women attended from various congregations and backgrounds, including atheists. Most meetings lasted around two hours and professional childcare was provided at no cost.
This vital inclusion of childcare enabled many women to attend and be present to listen to speakers and join discussions without having their focus divided by children. Women felt comfortable leaving their children in the church nursery across the hall because the caregivers passed background checks, earned a fair wage, and had a well-managed sign-in system. The host church’s willingness to pay for this service helped me to feel seen and cared for by their leaders.
On another occasion, I tried out a MOPS group. I entered the host church with my children and was immediately ushered to the childcare sign-in. Warm, welcoming individuals signed in my children and gave me a sheet I would use to pick them up later. My kids happily followed them to age-appropriate classrooms and I joined the meeting. While the group didn’t end up being what I needed, I once again felt seen and cared for by their leaders.
In my final experience outside of my faith tradition, I attended a large, bustling church with a friend one weekend. The moment we walked in, people welcomed me and my children. In fact, they had computers set up, where registered parents could sign children in each Sunday. I created a visitor registration and immediately knew my kids were in safe, well-organized hands. Volunteers happily led my oldest to Sunday School and a group of enthusiastic volunteers reached for my baby. I was confused. You mean, I could just go to services and they would care for my baby? But what happened if the baby cried or needed nursing or a diaper change?
They handed me a number to take with me to the adult meeting. If my baby needed me, my number would discreetly show on a board in the auditorium. But they would change his diaper and soothe him, allowing me to worship undisturbed unless he needed my attention. As I walked away, a woman happily cuddled my son and cooed to him. I don’t recall the exact sermon or songs from that day, but I do remember feeling that my distraction-free spiritual experience was prioritized that Sunday.
I’ve often wondered why the LDS Church does not implement a similar system. I recognize that part of the Mormon work ethic is to volunteer time and energy to the church. I also recognize that parents need the opportunity to worship and commune as couples and individuals. Unfortunately, sometimes to those two goals are in conflict. Our nursery system (now, blessedly, only requiring one hour of volunteers) simply doesn’t offer parents enough support balancing these two goals.
First off, the nursery only takes children beginning at 18 months, leaving infants in parent’s hands throughout church services. Additionally, nursery is only available during the second hour, meaning very young children are expected to sit through adult-oriented services without distracting others. This results in parents (often mothers) having to leave the chapel to quiet, soothe, or chase after children ill-equipped to sit through sacrament. In a busy building, this often means worrying about interrupting sacrament, Sunday school classes, or nursing babies.
Secondly, nursery is volunteer-run, which means members can lead nursery with little-to-no training and minimal accountability. In the LDS church, we like to say that all callings are equal, but no one calls a nursery leader by their title or praises their spouse for supporting them. Instead, nursery is often a calling where you love the children, but are quickly burnt out and exhausted by the end of church each Sunday. Wrangling kids, picking up toys, trying to get them to listen to a short lesson, wiping up snack crumbs and spilled water; this all becomes draining after a while.
Oh, and this doesn’t even cover finding parents to change a diaper or to take a potty-training toddler to the bathroom in time, while your co-leader holds down the fort alone. The nursery calling can often also be isolating and spiritually draining. This is especially true if you manage young children all week at home and miss opportunities to fill your spiritual cup through community and classes each Sunday.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the LDS church invested some of its immense wealth into paid childcare each Sunday for babies and small children? What if we had consistent background checks, experienced care takers, and a trusted sign-in system? Children could participate in age-appropriate activities instead of sitting through sacrament. Parents could enjoy a distraction-free spiritual experience. Volunteers could be assigned elsewhere and we could avoid the burn-out of under-appreciated free babysitting. Lastly, it would simply provide a safer, more trustworthy choice for members and visitors alike.
The second area where paid childcare is sorely needed is for weekday activities, adult sessions, leadership meetings, and even meetings with the Bishop. Finding volunteers for childcare at a Relief Society activity is always a challenge and the burden is usually placed on the unpaid labor of young women. Conversely, I’ve also brought my children into a room with two men, twenty children, and a DVD player. Names of parents and their dependent children are not recorded. Children tend to run free in the halls and even outdoors. This is far from an ideal environment for the adults in charge or the children in their care. More often than not, some adults are excluded or stressed because of lack of or insufficient childcare.
These problems could be easily alleviated by normalizing paid childcare for LDS church services and activities. The LDS Church has $6 billion in investments and additionally utilizes the free volunteer service of lay members to lead congregations, plan lessons, run temples, clean buildings, teach, play organs, lead music, proselyte, and more. Members willingly give hours of volunteer service and spend time away from family and paid employment. Providing funding for well-organized, safe, and consistent childcare would not take away from this. In fact, providing childcare would be a meaningful way for LDS church leaders to demonstrate that women are seen and cared for and that the safety and well-being of children is prioritized.