Mary Poppins and the Fantasy of a Well-Funded Child Care System

In the fantasy world of a movie, Mary Poppins is the epitome of a magical nanny—working for free, singing enchanting songs, and imparting wisdom to children. How dreamy! However, this portrayal, while charming, is light years away from the reality faced by most of the child care workforce.

Real-life early educators are not just dedicated and hardworking; they come with professional degrees, decades of experience, and a unique skill set (that’s not flying around with an umbrella). Their responsibilities extend beyond mere “babysitting,” to facilitating learning, providing emotional support, and fostering the healthy development of children. Despite their crucial role, early educators are paid extremely low wages, with a median hourly wage of just $13.71. It’s almost like they need a magic umbrella to conjure up a fair paycheck!

And with the expiration of federal child care stabilization funding, many early educators have faced further reductions in their salary.  

Not only is the Mary-Poppins mirage unrealistic for early educators, erasing the real education and child development they foster on a daily basis, it also diminishes the very real stress that families live under, constantly seeking (and rarely finding) affordable and high-quality child care. Prime example: The cost of sending a toddler to a child care center here in D.C. is almost $24,400 a year. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to get off two to three-year-long waiting lists.

(Yep, in the real world, nannies don’t drop down from the sky. Apparently, you have to wait for them. 

And then, go bankrupt).

While Mary Poppins continues to captivate audiences, it’s essential to acknowledge the vast difference between fantasy and reality, especially when it comes to child care. There’s one solution to the disparity we see between the glorified portrayal of early educators in media and the harsh realities faced by those in the profession: we need our lawmakers to fund child care.

As we celebrate the magic of early educators, let’s advocate for a livable wage and recognition of the invaluable role they play in shaping the future of our children.