Student moms look for child care options

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Lexie Flickinger
BYU Ph.D. student Jessica Wilkinson plays with her two kids. She uses the Momni app and website that connects parents to other parents to participate in “caresharing,” similar to ride-sharing. (Lexie Flickinger)

BYU Ph.D. student Jessica Wilkinson picked up her sons from a paid playdate through Momni, a new caresharing app. Wilkinson said her son Eli didn’t want to go home because he had such a fun time playing with his new-found friends.

Momni, a new Provo company, helps moms get the child care support they need while in school.

Nearly a quarter of BYU students are married, according to BYU Magazine, many of which have children before finishing their degree. BYU is the only large university in Utah that does not provide a day care on campus, according to College Simply.

Instead of providing day care, BYU Women’s Services and Resources offers a list of local child care locations for parents. In addition to the list from BYU, apps like care.com and sittercity are available to student parents to help them find babysitters, nannies and other forms of child care.

BYU also offers student parents the Keith and Dolores Stirling Family Study Room in the Harold B. Lee Library. The room has sound-proof study rooms and floor-to-ceiling windows so studying parents can keep an eye on their kids.

Some student moms, like former BYU student Jamie Sharp, balance class schedules and child care with the help of family or ward members. Other BYU resources, such as the family study section in the library, did not work with Sharp and her husband’s schedules.

Sharp advised other moms to find support while balancing school and parenthood.

“Surround yourself with a support system. Whether that be people in your ward, your apartment complex or family close by, there’s almost no way to manage a full-time school schedule without the help of family and friends,” Sharp said.

Momni was featured on Dr. Phil in August and is one of Mayor Michelle Kaufusi’s pillar programs for 2019. As a pillar program, Momni will be promoted by the mayor and introduced at Mayor Kaufusi’s state of the city address in January, according to Momni’s website.

According to Momni Founder Karmel Larson, 35 million children age 5 and under are left home alone on occasion so their parents can work. Some children are drugged, tied to tables or locked in their homes in an attempt to keep them safe while their parents work.

“Most people aren’t aware of the issues, and it really should be headline news. This issue is recognized by almost every nation in the world,” Larson said. “It’s really devastating in developing nations, but the U.S. is impacted too. We have lots of child care deserts all across the nation.”

Larson said she learned about the global child care crisis in March 2017. As she learned about the problem, she thought of Momni as a solution.

“When something comes to your mind that strongly, I could see it from beginning to end — what needed to happen and how moms could be, maybe not the end-all solution, but a significant solution — and I couldn’t not do it,” Larson said.

The Momni app and website connects parents to parents for “caresharing.” The app is free, and no subscription is required.

Similar to Uber’s ride-sharing, Momni allows host parents, like stay-at-home moms, to schedule time for care-sharing. Fellow parents can be both a Momni host and a Momni user.

“Momni hosts set their own schedules and adjust it at any time, just as Uber drivers can choose to take three weeks off or work full time or work two hours a week,” Larson said. “Being a Momni host is similar and is very family-friendly and flexible.”

Lexie Flickinger
Momni is an app and website that connects parents to other parents to participate in caresharing. Caresharing is similar to ride-sharing, but instead Momni hosts offer their homes and care during chosen shifts to take care of other’s children. The Momni app is available on iOS and Android app stores. (Lexie Flickinger)

Larson said Momni helps combat child care issues among student parents.

“We really want to focus some of this growth towards students because they are one of the most active demographics to be negatively affected by the lack of child care — especially students with small children and single moms,” Larson said.

According to Larson, dropout rates rise significantly if a university student has a child. Single-mom students’ dropout rates quadruple.

Larson said many student-parents don’t need all-day child care. Instead, they need sporadic, intermittent child care. Momni lets student-parents schedule child care in intermittent periods without having to pay for all-day care, Larson said.

BYU Ph.D. student Jessica Wilkinson said she needed care for her kids and was struggling to find a solution. She found what she was looking for with Momni.

“When I saw (Momni) I was like ‘Oh! There’s the answer.’ I wanted to jump on board. My master’s was in public health, so I spent some time in Uganda and other places in Africa where I saw the child care crisis a little bit, and I connected to that,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said she likes Momni’s convenience, but also supports the Momni Foundation, the philanthropy arm of the company.

Larson said the Momni Foundation follows a social-giving model where, for every hour of care provided by a Momni in a developed nation, Momni funds an hour of care for a mother in a developing nation.

“I love what the foundation is doing,” Momni supporter Rebecca Palmer said. “Instead of giving someone money that they are going to go spend that day, it starts this whole care sharing economy and community by funding care. … I personally believe it is a step toward a solution.”

According to Larson, the funding from the Momni Foundation isn’t meant for one sole family or mom. Instead, Momni helps connect many different mothers and parents.

Wilkinson said she read a book on societies from the past and noticed the women were never expected to raise their kids alone.

“The women would all do their laundry in the same river, and all the kids would play. So, I love the idea of the village and using the digital technology to make a bigger village,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson also said Momni likes to use #paidplaydates to empower moms to pursue their best lives while providing great care for their children.

“I feel like the biggest barrier is mom guilt. Like ‘Oh I shouldn’t be dropping my kids off, I should just be watching them myself,’” Wilkinson said. “How I get over that is my kids want other kids to play with.”

Wilkinson also said Momni allows moms the flexibility and choice to live their lives and pursue their goals. She reminded mothers to dream big, even if they have kids.

“One of the things I love about Momni is we aren’t dictating to moms whether they should work or not work, get your degree or not get your degree,” Larsen said. “Momni provides options so that women have more choices to determine their own choices and destiny.”

Wilkinson said her experience with Momni gave her the peace to receive her Ph.D. She encouraged other BYU student moms to find that peace as well.

“Don’t give up your education because you don’t have child care. You don’t have to drop off the face of the earth just because you decided to have kids,” Wilkinson said. “You still exist. You can still follow your dreams. You don’t have to give them up.”

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