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Well Past Time to Add a Child Care Rating to the Military

We interrupt this regular broadcast of house renovation and excavation posts for a special announcement.

This past week, Erik and I became grandparents to our second grandchild. Woooooo-to-the-Hooooooo!

As with Grandchild #1, in the interests of our new grandson’s privacy, I likely won’t blog much about him except in fairly general terms. Grandchild #2 is an adorable bundle who doesn’t like to stay swaddled, so I suspect he will be as active as Grandchild #1 has turned out to be.

Young Son Number Two and his girlfriend are the proud and happy parents. They met while serving in the Navy. While Young Son finished his service last year, his girlfriend is still in the Navy. Like most parents who have fulltime jobs, they are struggling to find child care. (We live too far away to be of any help along these lines.)

They signed up for child care through the military at the beginning of her pregnancy but are still on the wait-list. Someone else they know waited over a year for Navy child care (not sure if they are still waiting).

I find this situation utterly ridiculous.

Why should our military personnel have to be put on a wait-list for child care through the military, forced to struggle with finding limited private child care elsewhere?

According to the USO (United Service Organizations), women have been allowed to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the military since 1948, when President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. There were restrictions on their service, one being that if they got pregnant, they could be automatically discharged.

While automatic discharge for pregnancy is no longer the case and the military provides quite a bit of leave for new parents, this lack of child care once the parents return to work should have been addressed long ago.

Frankly, it should have been addressed prior to 1948, when women were finally allowed to join the military. Even though only men could serve prior to this, the military made no bones about the fact that they wanted young, healthy men in their twenties … the prime age for people to become parents. Of course, the assumption was that only men went to work and women stayed home to take care of the children, with the military benefiting from this arrangement because the heads of the Armed Services didn’t really have to consider a man’s family. They could send him anywhere and how it affected the man’s family or his relationship with his family was no concern of theirs.

Setting aside how damaging this was personally for soldiers and sailors and their families over the entire course of the military’s history in the United States, it’s not good for the military either. Pretending that a man’s family didn’t matter was a giant blind-spot in providing the support he needed to effectively serve. If a man was worried about how his family was getting along without him, he wasn’t going to be able to stay focused on his duties. Once women started working outside the home en masse, including in the military, the lack of reliable child care for soldiers and sailors put added pressures on military families.

Though the military does address child care in some fashion for families (see this page on Military OneSource for child care options), the fact that there is a long waiting list for new parents means that what is being offered is not adequate.

There’s a simple solution to this lack of child care for those in the military: Create a child care rating in each branch of service.

A rating is simply the military’s word for a specific job description. We often think of jobs in the military related to fighting wars, like a Gunner’s mate or sonar technician in the Navy, but there are all sorts of ratings that are support positions. Soldiers and sailors can’t fight without eating, so there are ratings related to culinary positions. There are also medical ratings and ratings for various administrative and construction roles. (See List of United States Navy ratings from Wikipedia.)

The Navy even has a rating for musicians. If the Navy understands that music is so important to sailors that it has created a rating just for musicians, why hasn’t the Navy or the other branches figured this out for child care?

In assigning soldiers and sailors to the child care rating, I wouldn’t default to having only women perform this duty. Men, transgender, and gender-fluid people should be represented in the rating, as well, so that children have the benefit of a variety of caregivers. And if there is any pushback from soldiers or sailors about child care being an “easy” duty, whoever makes such wisecracks should have to assist with these duties. They would soon figure out it isn’t so easy keeping infants and young children safe, fed, clean and happy. (Seriously, infants can be tougher taskmasters than generals or admirals.)

It is well past time to add a child care rating to the military. We can and should do better in supporting military families.

Thoughtful comments welcome.