For first-time parents Michelle and Kreg Hanning, the pandemic smudged the lines between work and home life in a way they couldn’t have anticipated. The couple thought they could manage to take care of their 10-month-old son, Leon, while also working remotely in the same room — but it’s been tough.
“We thought it would be easy between both of us being there and both of us feeling like we have pretty flexible jobs,” said Hanning, who works as a web analyst while her husband works for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “It was just really hard to do both effectively. I felt like we were kind of choosing one or the other and then it ended up being like we’re working all day.”
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Not long after Hanning returned from maternity leave in January, it felt like she had exhausted all of her options.
She turned to a Facebook group of local moms to ask for recommendations on day care. That’s when a fellow mom pointed her to a co-working space that also offered child care all-in-one. It struck Hanning as a brilliant solution to their problem.
“You feel really pulled in both directions,” she said. “I want to continue to grow in my career and do well there, but I also want (my son) to have the absolute best of everything that he can have … I don’t want to sacrifice anything — I want everything for him.”
The concept of a hybrid co-working space with child care baked in isn’t new. But, it’s no coincidence that they are attracting a new wave of remote workers as a result of the pandemic.
The flexibility of working from home also came with a strain on the time and attention of parents, especially mothers.
A recent survey by McKinsey and Company found that 45 percent of mothers with children ages five and under who left the workforce during the pandemic cited child care as a major reason, compared to 14 percent of fathers who said the same.
Many of the women who had to cut back hours or leave the workforce entirely are eager to get back. But that still doesn’t solve the issue of expensive child care in our new hybrid workplace.
In San Diego County, the average cost for a spot at a licensed child care facility is $12,900 to $19,500 a year. On average, a San Diego family with a preschooler and infant spends nearly half (40 percent) of the median income on child care, according to a report by the University of San Diego.
That same quandary of creating work-life balance with a newborn is what led Michele VanDerworp to create The New Haven — the all-in-one space that Hanning tried out.
VanDerworp is not the only one who saw this need. Two other businesses in San Diego County — The Well Community for Women and Fandory Factory — offer a similar hybrid solution.
Each business model has its own twist, but they share one common thread — they were all started by local moms who wanted to create a space with the best of both worlds.
These businesses are not a silver bullet for all working parents in the child care crisis — hours of availability vary, they require parents to stay on-site and it is expensive.
But, for parents like the Hannings, it’s worth it because it is one more option to help them get through the day.
Founder and CEO Kara Lee poses for photos at The Well, a nonprofit co-working space with child care for women in La Mesa. (Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Office manager Sarah Leslie (left), and CEO Kara Lee (middle) share a laugh with Erica Calvert (right) at The Well, a nonprofit co-working space for women on in La Mesa. (Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Children play in the childcare area with caretakers at The Well, a nonprofit co-working space for women in La Mesa. (Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Children play in the child care area with caretakers at The Well, a nonprofit co-working space for women in La Mesa. (Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
A meeting area with work-stations nearby at The Well, a nonprofit co-working space for women, located inside the Grossmont Center in La Mesa. (Eduardo Contreras/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Kara Lee, founder and CEO of The Well, a nonprofit community for women in the Grossmont Center, started her business in 2018. Out of the trio, her venture has been running the longest.
As a nonprofit, she got started with the help of a generous donor and they continually fundraise to sustain the business. This has also allowed her to partner with other local organizations to bring in women who have been through trauma and need a safe environment to work.
Since affordable child care is hard to find, they’ve created scholarships and volunteer opportunities so more women and children can access their services at a reduced rate.
The pandemic shutdown coincided with The Well moving their original downtown location to a bigger, 4,000-square-foot space in La Mesa.
She said the space inside the shopping center feels safe, plus parking is not an issue and it gives moms the opportunity to knock out some errands. The facility has co-working desks separated from the children’s rooms where kids are monitored as they play and do educational activities.
“We really wanted to create an environment where the moms felt like they weren’t having that same amount of ‘mom guilt’ if they dropped their kids off at a day care program,” she said. “It’s a feeling that you can’t describe and can’t really understand until you are a mom.”
The Well is not a licensed child care center, rather it’s like the YMCA child-watch model. They follow the appropriate child-to-adult supervision standards but parents need to stay on-site with their children, Lee said.
“It’s the perfect situation for some people and it’s not for everybody,” she said. “It’s not for moms who need to drop off and go into an office.”
Currently, they can support about 30 children per day and recently they’ve had days with a full house, Lee said. She added that they are trying to expand their hours and hire more staff and volunteers as they grow.
“Most of our women are part-time workers — they’re doing both and that’s what’s so cool is that we created a space to have that family life and the work-life because the reality is we’re moms 24 hours a day regardless,” Lee said.
The Well, often hosts events with music or “mommy and me” sessions in addition to the co-working and child enrichment programs.
“We realized that on memberships alone, the business is not really sustainable … what’s paying our bills is our enrichment programs,” she said. “Unless you’re charging as much as you are in a day care — which is astronomical, preschool and day care are so expensive — unless our rates were that high, we wouldn’t thrive.”
Cost: Currently, a six-hour day at The Well, which includes co-working, Wi-Fi, a coffee bar and child care costs $40, and a full-year membership is $7,000. Prices are scheduled to increase to $75 per day and $800 for a monthly unlimited membership in September. The Well is also looking to expand its hours of availability beyond 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the future.
Location: 5500 Grossmont Center Drive, Ste. 195, La Mesa, 91942 (It’s in the Grossmont Center.)
Mirela Sabanovic Lewis and Aldisa Sabanovic co-founded Fandory Factory, a child play zone and co-working space in Rancho Bernardo. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The play area at Fandory Factory, a child play zone and co-working space, in Rancho Bernardo. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
An office room at Fandory Factory, a child play zone and co-working space, in Rancho Bernardo. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Claro Nguyen plays with her 14-month-year-old daughter Emma Nguyen at Fandory Factory. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
A conference room at Fandory Factory, a family-friendly co-working space in Rancho Bernardo. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Last year, Mirela Sabanovic Lewis and her younger sister, Aldisa Sabanovic launched a family-friendly co-working space called Fandory Factory, in Rancho Bernardo. They’ve created a custom-kids play zone that looks like a colorful child-sized village, separate desk setups for parents as well as summer camps and a space to host birthday parties.
Additionally, they offer an array of weekly events like “moms and tots” gatherings, crafts, building sessions and junior baking classes.
“If you’re out in a different setting kids also behave differently, so at home, they’re more likely to come and interrupt,” Sabanovic Lewis said of the work-life balance that comes in their space.
COVID-19 delayed the full-scale opening of the business, but since they’ve been operating for over a year, the mother of two noticed that it’s mostly been moms using their services.
For her, this makes sense because the business was born out of her desire to be a mom and get back to working on her photography business. In 2019, she had an 18-month-old baby and another one on the way, so she decided to self-fund the business to create the place that she needed.
“Just being your own business you are on every day 24/7,” she said. “Basically your business is … trying to grow together with your kids — it’s like my third child,”
Sabanovic Lewis recalls getting up in the wee hours of the morning to tend to her newborn baby, and brainstorming what she wanted the space and play structures to look like.
Fandory Factory — a name her daughter made up — has a 6,000-square-foot space with room to grow as not all of the office space is in use. Currently, the “Work Play & Care” program supports about 10 to 12 kids at a time, but they plan on expanding the hours and hiring more staff soon.
It’s not a fully licensed day care — so parents need to stay on site — but it offers parents “something in between” working remotely and still being near their kids, Sabanovic Lewis said.
Cost: Fandory Factory’s “Work Play & Care Program” on Mondays and Wednesdays currently costs $65 for a three-hour day or $429 for a monthly membership, which includes child care, co-working space, Wi-Fi, coffee and tea. However, the prices will increase as they expand to six hours, five days a week on Aug. 22 and a monthly membership will start at $620.
Location: Inside the Plaza at Rancho Bernardo at 16787 Bernardo Center Drive, Ste 7, San Diego, 92128
The New Haven
Michele VanDerworp, founder of The New Haven, poses for a portrait at the site’s open house in Liberty Station on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. The small business operates a co-working and childcare space in one site. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The toddler classroom at The New Haven space in Point Loma. The small business operates a co-working and childcare space in one site. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The co-working area at The New Haven in Point Loma. The small business operates a co-working and childcare space in one site. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Bryce Buzzell, 9, and his mother Amanda Buzzell play with a small telescope at The New Haven open house on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. The small business operates a co-working and childcare space in one site. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
The building that houses The New Haven, a small business in Point Loma that operates a co-working and childcare space in one site. (Adriana Heldiz/The San Diego Union-Tribune)
Education is at the core of The New Haven in Point Loma where VanDerworp has created a place for children to grow alongside their parents.
Before the pandemic axed commutes and merged working and parenting at home, the mother of three worked for years in education. She’s applied that to making a space that is geared toward early childhood education, incorporating liberal arts and Montessori methods, for infants through preschool-age children.
Additionally, she envisioned this as a place where parents can learn more about their child as they remain nearby, get tips from other parents and observe the kids playing during the day.
“The beauty of this is it gets to be a source of education for the parents who want to understand their child’s development,” VanDerworp said.
The concept of child care and co-working together seems like an obvious winner, so why aren’t there more of these businesses?
VanDerworp asked herself the same question when she first considered the idea a few years ago. What she’s discovered since she initially opened The New Haven last year in a few rented rooms at a local church was that there are many moving parts to this combo business.
“I’m really opening two businesses at the same time,” she said.
She originally tried to secure a space and start the business in 2020, but the pandemic shut everything down.
Another hurdle to getting started was securing financing while also proving the concept works. When applying for grants and traditional loans didn’t work, VanDerworp self-funded through friends and family.
And then she had to deal with the licensing process, which made it all the more complicated since VanDerworp was combining child care with a co-working business.
It is not a licensed child care center, so parents are required to stay on-site at the co-working facility while their child is at The New Haven. VanDerworp said her goal is to secure the license that would allow parents to leave as needed to an off-site meeting in the future.
However, some parents who were members at the original location said that staying on-site was one of the things they enjoyed most. Each day, they were reminded to stop what they were doing to have lunch with their kids outdoors.
The new location at Liberty Station currently supports about 30 children across three rooms aesthetically designed to fit the children’s needs at different developmental stages. Members can work down the hall in the co-working space and in the future, The New Haven will have a fenced-off grassy area for the kids to play in and an outdoor patio for communal lunches.
A week before The New Haven was set to re-open, VanDerworp was busy coordinating the finishing touches, when her temporary babysitter had to cancel last minute. She readjusted her game plan on the fly to juggle her kids while working from home — the irony of the situation is not lost on her.
“I mean, this is just the scenario so many people find themselves in and then here I am too, and I’m trying to solve it,” VanDerworp said in a phone interview, with the sounds of babies and kids vying for her attention in the background.
Cost: Since relaunching The New Haven, VanDerworp separated the prices of co-working and child care at the request of members who said their company may subsidize the co-working fee, but not child care costs.
There is also a 25 percent discount on co-working membership for parents who have their children enrolled in the child care program. The middle-of-the-road co-working membership is $200 per month, for a first-come first-served desk space and various amenities such as snacks, Wi-Fi and free black-and-white printing. The full-time child care options from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. range from $2,150 for an infant to $1,814 for a preschooler.
Location: 2640 Historic Decatur Road, Bldg. 200, Suite 100, San Diego, 92106 (Located near Liberty Station.)