Normalize Paid Childcare for LDS Services and Activities

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.

You may also like...

28 Responses

  1. Di says:

    ABSOLUTELY! I can’t think of a better way for the church to spend a tiny portion of it’s billions.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Back during midweek RS days our ward did have paid nursery care, for as long as I can recall, right up until midweek was discontinued. She was a wonderful non LDS lady. It was like this stake wide. (Sunday nursery has always been a calling so free service like primary teacher.)

    • Mindy says:

      I love hearing that this was implemented at any point in time. It’s a shame that they discontinued it. I think that for being such a “family friendly” church, the LDS church misses the mark frequently when it comes to age-appropriate activities. Ward dinners, potlucks, Christmas programs, etc., are usually too long for children and have little in the way of entertainment beyond food. For me, these were rarely fun because I spent half the time watching for my children and making sure they didn’t simply wander off. People always laughed at me and told me to relax while kids ran free everywhere in the building. Once, my toddler found his way into the hallway with some kids and ended up outside by himself. He could have easily wandered into the street. I wanted to either eat and go or not attend at all if it meant unsupervised children everywhere.

  3. Fairy says:

    Oh the horror stories I could tell of LDS church nurseries. Mine started in the 1970s when I first encountered them. These were the days where children were warehoused for 4-5 hours on Homemaking day. They did hire a woman in that particular ward. She was a smoker, and smoked “on the job” with the kids in the room. There was most often ONE woman with 20-25 kids. It was horrible. That’s why I spent most of my early mother years in the nurseries. They did improve, but not a lot.
    There for a while there were educational toys and actual lessons, but someone got the idea that free play was better for the kids, so the lessons were scrapped. I’m not sure that paid help would get the job done. (I’ve found that the problems go far beyond that) But certainly more attention should be paid.

    • Mindy says:

      As a prior nursery leader, I am always torn about lessons. These kids have already sat through an hour of sacrament by this point. I think they enjoy songs and a very short lesson. However, my husband and I once watched a nursery of 13 to 15 kids (and this was one of two nurseries). We were just happy to keep them in the room, safe, and happy. I would fall into bed when I got home and I had small children of my own. I did appreciate that some kind volunteer had purchased and organized many bins of different toys. So, we had variety and some order each Sunday. My experience in many nurseries, however, has involved outdated, broken, mismatched toys. It’s simply not a priority.

      • fairy says:

        Well, I was talking about an EARLIER time than that when it was never around Sacrament meeting. It was on the week day and was FOUR hours long on homemaking day where they had a luncheon. At least that was the way it was WAY BACK WHEN. I LOVED the lessons, and the kids did too. The lessons were fun and involved the kids in crafts and stories and fun. I HATE it when they just wander around playing with broken toys.

      • Mindy says:

        fairy – Thanks for sharing your positive experience with lessons. It sounds like it was well planned and organized. I have another blog post in my head about how primary should be more child friendly, age appropriate, and fun.

  4. mtp says:

    So many thoughts. Certainly some time needs to be invested in thinking about better options for everyone – both parents and children. One big sticking point I can see is the idea of paying someone to work on Sunday. When I was a single mom and called to be Primary president I was told there were pre-church meetings and post church meetings and what should I do. I said to the Bishop I could hire a babysitter and perhaps one of his daughters would be willing at times. He got pretty angry that I’d suggested paying one of his daughters to work on Sunday and made it very clear that wasn’t ok, but he was fine with me paying someone else as long as he didn’t have to hear about it. It was an expensive calling for sure!

    The work on Sunday thing is big even if we could get leaders to let loose the purse strings a little.

    • Mindy says:

      I am surprised he didn’t offer the free labor of his daughters. This is a perfect example of how the default in the church is married men with wives at home. It’s just assumed that you will have childcare. And, if a man is single, I’ve seen wards rally in these situations to ensure his kids are cared for. While my suggestion is payment, I do know some other churches have two 1-hour services. The members volunteer to watch the children during one session and then attend the other. It is a group effort, with a joint contribution, and pretty inspiring.

      • mtp says:

        I understand not offering his daughters for free service – a family can easily get exhausted by being the one to always be the ones serving. But, to not recognize that meetings require childcare and childcare costs and this can become a burden as well was hard.

      • Tristan says:

        Would it have had to be his daughters? Why not his sons? Is there a rule somewhere which states that young men cannot provide childcare?

    • Mindy says:

      I agree. Sorry if it sounded like I thought he *should* offer that.

      • Mindy says:

        My sarcasm was most likepy not helpful here. Yes to young men volunteering for child care. No to parents 9fdering their children’s services for free or tonthe expectation that anyone do so.

  5. Elisa says:

    In the last few wards I’ve been in, we aren’t even allowed to offer childcare for activities (like we can’t have the EQ or YW do it for us). So women without childcare can’t attend. But I suppose that’s better than the alternative of having inadequate supervision. I think it’s a great idea to find a better way to allow people to attend meetings and activities.

    • Mindy says:

      I’ve lived in areas with branches or single-ward buildings for much of my adult life. This tends to create a more relaxed, all-hands-on-deck atmosphere about these things. Women frequently bring their children to RS activities, etc,, and the older children basically watch the younger children. But it also means kids are running in and out and grabbing refreshments as they go. Arranged childcare would be such a kindness for everyone.

  6. Dot says:

    Years ago, the bishopric counselor over the Primary in my ward would threaten people with a nursery calling. He found this hugely funny. I had a child in the nursery and didn’t find it funny at all. Normalizing paid childcare is a great idea, but those purse strings will have to be pried from leaders’ grasping hands–unless the spending involves remodeling space for their own meetings or sending them, their families and friends to Europe for temple dedications. Priorities.

    • mtp says:

      I’ve been in wards like that – with nursery callings as a threat. Not exactly a good sign for the children involved. In most wards I’ve been in (and visited as a stake primary person) nursery is viewed as not only separate from Primary but also more as a childcare service to benefit the parents rather than a service for the benefit of the children. In my last ward the leaders promised those called to nursery that they would only have the calling for one year. Unfortunately, they were not so good at calling replacements as the year ended. Several people stopped showing up on their year anniversary but there were no new people being called to fill the holes. It was a mess of scrambling for subs for a while.

      • Mindy says:

        I’ve had parents complain to me, “It was only wet” when I brought their child to them for a diaper change. I had their child for 2 hours in a tiny room. The fact that they thought their child should sit in a wet diaper and I should sit in the smell so they wouldn’t be interrupted told me all I needed to know. Also, the amount of time people leave their children in nursery after church has ended is so thoughtless. I get it if they are in primary and have to wait until their class is all safely picked up, but many are off chatting, etc. If church ended 15 minutes ago and your child is still in the nursery, it’s a problem.

    • JC says:

      Dot and Mindy (below): your comments partly the reason why I – and so many other single adult women – are hesitant to make the transition into a family ward. It’s not that YSA/SA/MSA wards are perfect (they’re really not and have their own set of issues), but it beats going to a family ward and having the congregants see us as free labor.

      I know single adult women who left the YSA/SA/MSA ward setting and head to a family ward, only to find that the bishopric and congregants saw them as free labor for the Nursery, Sunbeams, and Primary children under the age of 8. It was very frustrating for them. It didn’t help when everyone assumed that they were – and should be – perfectly okay with providing free childcare outside of church as well. My older married sister is good friends with an unmarried woman who ran into this problem frequently before she stopped coming to church entirely.

      A few years ago, she attracted the ire of the bishopric and Primary presidency of their ward when she refused to take time off work to help with a multi-day Primary activity during the summer. The bishopric and Primary presidency then had the nerve to ask her to use her PTO so she could help with the activity. When she pointed out that she had already scheduled her PTO – an overseas vacation to multiple parts of Africa that she had planned a year in advance and had already put in her days off long before this Primary activity had even come to fruition – the bishopric and Primary presidency told her to CANCEL HER VACATION so she could help. In the end, the Primary activity went on, my sister’s friend went on her vacation, and she no longer comes to church.

      Mindy’s comment below reminded me on an experience I had helping babysit an adult institute class for mothers when I was home from college a few years ago: the children were in the poorly ventilated Nursery room (the smell…) and provided with broken crayons to color with on tables that hadn’t been cleaned in a while and old toys that hadn’t been washed in ages to play with on a carpet that hadn’t been deep cleaned/shampooed for God knows how long. Then, it took a long time for the mothers to retrieve their children after the class had ended – we’re talking 15-20 minutes, which definitely became a problem and seriously made me question if these mothers truly wanted spiritual nourishment or cared more about the free daycare.

      I got asked to help out again the following week and said never again… at least not until paid childcare becomes a thing, the Nursery furniture and carpet are deep cleaned, and the toys are bathed in an antiseptic or bleach solution.

      • Fairy says:

        That’s why I spent most of my childbearing years in the nursery. How people can stand to leave their kids in those unsupervised, poorly run places is beyond me. After my kids were grown and I started attending RS classes, etc. I realized I wasn’t missing all that much anyway.

  7. Katie Rich says:

    Amen! And that $6 Billion is only what they made from one investment fund in 2020 alone. The Church has sufficient resources to invest in the proper care of young children so their parents can volunteer or participate elsewhere.

  8. Lizzie says:

    AMEN. I admittedly didn’t think nursery was a big deal or worth much thought until my youngest suddenly started resisting going a year after starting. So I went with him and told him I wouldn’t leave until he wanted me to. And I quickly understood why he suddenly hated it. We had a baby boom about a year after my son was born, so several new 18 month old kids were in the nursery. And, true to tradition, our ward had called a few newly married couples to the nursery, all of which had either moved or gone on vacation, leaving equally inexperienced substitutes in charge. And they just showed up without a lesson or plan or any routine, threw some snacks and crayons on the table, and started chatting with each other. One of the newer kids was struggling with severe separation anxiety, and his father just left him with these other inexperienced adults who the kid didn’t know. The kid screamed and no one knew what to do. My son sat in my lap and told me “kid crying” over and over. Every other kid was affected by this kid’s tantrum in their own way. Eventually I suggested to the substitute teachers that it would be okay for them to take that kid to his parents. They shouldn’t have had to deal with that — they’re untrained and not a childcare facility. And then, that week, I wrote a long email to the primary presidency detailing what I’d observed and what my kid needed. The ward then called a woman who actually knew what she was doing and enjoyed being with young kids to the nursery, and it was like night and day. That was just luck though, that we have someone like that in our ward. We, and our kids, shouldn’t have to rely on luck to get our spiritual needs met during these meetings.

    • JC says:

      That nursery experience sounds horrific. I’m sorry you and your son had to deal with that, and I’m glad the primary presidency and bishopric listened to your concerns about the matter. You’re right, though, in that we shouldn’t have to rely on absolute dumb luck for people to receive spiritual nourishment on Sundays.

      Considering how the church always talks about how important families are and how raising children in the gospel is of utmost importance, it has REALLY missed the mark when it comes to how the nursery program is “handled”.

      If church leaders and its members want the nursery to function as a daycare during Sunday meetings, weekly institute classes for mothers, EQ/RS activities and ward parties (when applicable), then it should function as a daycare. Have those who are called to the nursery vetted and ensure they all pass background checks, pay them a fair wage, have designated sign-in and sign-out times (and charge those who are late to pick up their children – I bet that would stop dilly-dallying after church, institute, activities, and parties REAL quick), establish clear policies regarding age/what to do when a child is sick/isn’t toilet trained/has behavioral issues/how parents will be contacted and communicated with if needed, etc., provide better ventilation in the nursery room (ideally, have it connected to the grassy area outside where the children can run around on summer days), make sure the toys are cleaned regularly/safe to play with/aren’t old or falling apart, and for the love of all that is holy, ensure that the Nursery room is cleaned consistently as well! Raise tithing up to 11% if we must, but it is really is inexcusable how we’ve basically normalized young children playing in and around complete filth.

      • Fairy says:

        It’s hard to believe that these are the same complaints I LOUDLY vocalized FIFTY YEARS AGO!

  9. Risa says:

    For me the bigger issue than lack of pay, is the lack of background checking those who work in the nursery, Primary, and YW/YM. Especially since the church has a history of covering up sex abuse, and those who bring lawsuits are victim blamed and shamed by Kirton & McConkie.

    The first time I went to the Christian church with my children that I started attending in 2015, they took pictures of each our kids and us. They have a well organized sign in and sign out system on the computer and the child wears a nametag the entire time they’re their. If you’re not the parent or guardian who checked the child out, they don’t release them to you. All of the church workers from infant to 17 years old are background checked and vetted.

    Having seen their system I felt so incredibly naïve that I ever just dropped my kids off with whomever at church when I was active LDS. I can’t believe I ever trusted the system to be safe when there was no vetting process other than a middle aged man in my neighborhood having a “feeling” about a certain person and their youth calling.

  10. Tina says:

    So many thoughts….my most recent calling I had was in nursery. Nursery isn’t valued because care giving isn’t valued in a patriarchal culture. If nursery did anything for me, it was to teach me how to firmly set boundaries. For example, to deal with parents chatting for 10-15 min after church, I decided to take the nursery kids a few minutes before church ended and line-up outside the rooms where EQ & RS met (right across the hall from each other) and deliver the children to their parents as soon as the prayer was over. No more making my own family wait for me after church. After two years I requested to be released and the bishop said no. After six more months, I decided that I didn’t care what he thought and will never again turn my church experience over to a bishop. I gave a one month notice to the primary president and bishop that I was leaving nursery. Those 2 1/2 years of isolation, stinky diapers, and dilly-dallying parents were awful. I did grow and change though and will never put up with that stuff again. Nursery workers absolutely need background checks, appropriate facilities, training, and pay.

  11. Rachel Schmidt says:

    Yes, yes, yes. This article fills my heart with joy and I’m happy to help with this movement in any way I can.

  1. April 15, 2021

    […] Exponent II blogger relays the story of attending an interfaith meeting for mothers that provided professional child […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.