Confession: I was one of those day care parents. You know, the one that picks up their kid — usually the only one left by then — two minutes before the 6 p.m. deadline and the racking up of extra fees. I wasn’t trying to be neglectful or delay the irritated but professional staff from locking up and going on with their lives. I was just a single mom with a busy job.

I’ve thought a lot about how helpful it would have been to have a day care with extended hours, or even evening or weekend shifts. It would’ve been helpful to have a place that was open regularly so if I had work or other responsibilities, I wouldn’t have to scramble to find a last-minute babysitter. Last week, a poster on X (formerly Twitter) revealed that these magical places exist in Houston.

Opinions seemed to be fairly positive about the concept if used by parents who work late shifts and need coverage, but the video shared by a single mother dropping her visibly happy toddler off for a few late-night hours so she could have a girls’ night broke a lot of brains. There’s an unspoken societal rule that single parents like us are supposed to exist in sort of a punitive “Scarlet Letter” drudgery without fun, rest or any frills outside of motherhood.

And that’s dumb.

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“If I have a contract with you to watch my kid overnight, it’s not your business where I am,” said Caron LeNoir-Kelly, a Baltimore-born journalist now based in Charlottesville, Virginia. “If I take a day off, or want to rest, I don’t have to report that to you. Why do I have to get your permission for something I’m paying you for?”

My kid is now way past day care age, and I’m privileged to have a flexible job and nearby friends and family to provide coverage in an emergency, but there are still times drop-in child care would be helpful for us. I did some digging to see if such facilities exist in Maryland and found one: Sanbridge Early Learning Center. They have locations around the state and offer late-night or weekend services when needed, though a spokesperson said no one is currently availing themselves of those options.

Let’s be honest. Some people disapprove of day care as a concept, imagining impersonal rows of zombified kids in a child care factory. In most cases, that’s unfair. My sister and I were day care kids in the 1970s as my parents worked, and my son was one, too. You do what you have to.

“Day care is the foundation of their education, of their social-emotional learning, the foundation of their physical activities, fine-motor skills and listening,” said Lori Revell, owner of the home-based Just For Little People Learning Center in Baltimore.

Revell and other day care professionals I spoke to at traditional centers, which usually open around 7 a.m. and close at 5 or 6 p.m., understand why some parents genuinely sometimes need extended hours. But unless facilities are specifically set up for such services, it’s easier said than done.

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“The need was mostly because they [parents] worked past regular hours and couldn’t find care. I did it a couple of times, and it was too much,” said Revell, who used to offer late-night hours but found it unsustainable. “How can a child care provider provide those hours and provide the best care? I couldn’t go to sleep with the child here, and if they were here till 11, I had to clean up from there, do whatever I needed to do for the night, and then be up by 6 to start all over.”

Evelyn Owens, a mentor teacher at Downtown Baltimore Child Care, also once offered evening and weekend hours for parents as an independent provider. Like Revell, she understood that “so many parents needed it. My heart goes out to them,” she said, “but you also have to look at kids spending all that time at a day care center.”

LeNoir-Kelly told me that putting her kids in extended-hour day care was more expensive than a comparable daytime problem. Revell said she knows why: The extra costs of staying open later, like added utility costs, paying existing staff overtime or having to hire additional workers to cover those later hours, would mean having to charge parents more for that service.

I think that sometimes opinions about such services is based, in part, on money, family structure and access. No one gets mad at couples who can find and afford a babysitter for date night, or wealthy families with live-in nannies who, technically, could provide 24/7 care.

Of course, everyone can’t do that. In the 1990s, Lenoir-Kelly worked an 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift as a security guard at Baltimore’s Loyola University and found that care for her two young daughters was “the hardest part of being a single mother.”

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At the time, the public assistance vouchers she received through the state of Maryland didn’t cover extended hours, so she had to find — and pay out-of-pocket for — a private home-based facility, without which she said she wouldn’t have been able to support her family.

And it’s not just single parents who could benefit from having more available day care. Rita Powell, a substitute teacher and political consultant who grew up in Garrett County and now lives in Washington, D.C., has a husband who often travels. This puts her in a bind when the end of the school day where she’s working doesn’t line up with her kids’ dismissal.

“When you’re two or three minutes late, they start charging, and they act like they’ve never heard of traffic in D.C,” Powell said. “The day care shuts down at 6 p.m., and then you have to figure it out.”

Isn’t that the way everything in life seems to be? You kind of get thrown out there in the deep end and you sort it out as you try to stay afloat? Parenting, especially, is like that. While this country will probably never get to the point of universal child care during the day, let alone at night, it’s nice to know that professionals understand that parents need a break to work, to sleep or just be in a house without a child for a few hours.

“You still need to have time to yourself,” said Nikeiha Wallace, director of DBCC. “We need to rejuvenate and be the best parents we can be.”


Leslie Gray Streeter is a columnist excited about telling Baltimore stories — about us and the things that we care about, that touch us, that tickle us and that make us tick, from parenting to pop culture to the perfect crab cake. She is especially psyched about discussions that we don't usually have. Open mind and a sense of humor required.

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