“There’s a perception that men are not the nurturing type, but that’s not true,” said Melissa Cox, owner of an Itawamba County day care. She nodded toward a little boy – 2, maybe 3 years old – hugged around the neck of Dorsey’s Jeremy Blair.
“Look at him,” she said. “He hasn’t even come to me yet.”
Jeremy and his cousin, Jarmichael Blair of Nettleton, are both 20-year-old men working in the day care field. Every day they work with dozens of diaper-soiling, screaming, laughing, rampaging, wrestling, crying, messy little children. They love it more than they can explain.
“It’s very interesting,” Jeremy said. “You never know what you’re going to get. The kids can really throw you a curveball … You’ve got to stay on your toes.”
“I just like being around the kids,” Jarmichael added. “They’re just unbelievable.”
The cousins are part of a small but growing trend of men entering the world of child care. National statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009 show only 5 percent of the child care work force is populated by males.
Cox emphasized there is a need to bring more men into the profession.
“I knew some of the kids I had came in with some problems,” she said, speaking specifically of those children without fathers or other strong male figures in their lives. She said more than 65 percent of the kids under her care are boys, but at the time she didn’t have any male caretakers.
“I was looking around one day and realized all we had working here were women,” she said. “I thought the little boys especially needed male bonding. There’s only so much we women can do.”
She said she first contacted Jarmichael, whom she had known since he was a baby. The experiment, she said, was a big success.
“Since his first day here, those little boys have just flocked to him,” Cox said. “They bonded immediately.”
“There are some kids here who don’t have fathers or are the only child in the house,” Jarmichael said, speaking of why he’s stuck with child care. “I just like being here to help them out. Just making a child smile is amazing.”
After little more than a year, Cox realized that Jarmichael was being overwhelmed with the number of boys under her care. He suggested his cousin, Jeremy, might be a good addition.
Both Blaires confirmed that they received their fair share of funny looks when they announced among their friends that they were entering into the child care business.
“When I first started [two years ago] I thought all my friends would make fun of me,” Jarmichael said, shaking his head. “But, I’ve gotten used to it. It’s great, though; it’s always interesting.”
Jeremy, who has been working in child care since August of last year, said the job would help him on his path to a career in social work. When asked what he liked specifically about working with children, he said making them smile.
“You can’t just sit there when a kid has a smile on his face. It’s very depressing,” Jeremy said.
Cox said she is a firm believer in a child’s need for a strong, male influence, especially for little boys. In her experience, she said, she’s seen countless young boys who have trouble bonding with other young boys because they only interact with women.
“Sometimes there’s a lack of bonding with men,” Cox said. “Some of these kids have never known their fathers, and they have a trouble bonding with men or don’t know how to do little boy things like throw a football.”
She said bringing men into the picture has changed the landscape drastically. There’s a tangible difference in the way the little boys interact with Jeremy and Jarmichael, a more rough-and-tumble style of play.
“They tend to be tougher with the guys than us,” Cox said of young boys. “We’re the mothering types, so they tend to act babyish around us, whereas Jeremy and Jarmichael are like big brothers. It lessens having to kiss and treat ‘booboos.’ They tend to try and be like them.
“We’ve had a lot of mothers come in here and tell me their little boys were acting better at home,” Cox added.
For the cousins, it’s a fun experience, and one that’s constantly teaching them how to adapt.
“You’ve got to have patience; if you’re not a patient person you can’t work in day care,” Jarmichael said. “There’s just so many things that go on. You may have to be watching 12 kids while changing a diaper. It teaches you to multitask, though.”
Although neither cousin was ready to commit to a lifelong career in child care, both expressed an interest. Jarmichael, in particular, said he has seriously considered pursuing child care as a profession. It’s news that couldn’t make Cox happier.
“I would love to these guys become directors, to see them break those barriers,” she said, adding that she’s sending them both to a Big Brothers, Big Sisters conference in Jackson later this month, hoping to teach them more about the importance of males in a child’s life. Cox believes that, as time goes on, more and more men will find themselves with child care careers, shattering the old-fashioned idea that men can’t care or are poorer at caring for children.
“It’s very unusual,” she said. “A lot of people have never seen a guy in a day care center before, but I think a lot of places are pushing for that, trying to get more men to become day care directors.”
Contact Adam Armour can be reached at (662) 862-3141 or email@example.com.
Adam Armour/The Itawamba County Times