How Do Working Parents Manage Commute & School Drop Off?

Parent Q&A

Select any title to view the full question and replies.

  • I actually don't have any friends with kids my age where both parents are working full-time, to whom I can ask this question! So: my daughter is 4, and my husband and I both work (let's pretend that offices and schools are open again!) in downtown SF. Currently I leave home at 7.30 for a short bus ride to her preschool, drop her at 8, go to the gym for 30 minutes, work 9-5, pick her up at 5.30, and get home around 6. Husband cycles to work, works longer hours, but is still usually home for dinner at 6.30. All fine and dandy, plenty of work-life balance, we're very lucky, wouldn't change it for the world, except...

    We are craving more of a sense of nature around us, and a yard for kiddo to play in. We'd love to live in the Berkeley Hills if budget allows, or maybe Montclair. But I can't get my head round how two working parents manage to include school pickup and drop-off in a routine that necessitates an hour-plus-long commute for both of them.

    Do a lot of people have nannies to pick up their kids? I don't love that option for us. Does one parent usually leave work early to pick up the kid, and make up the hours in the evening? Again, not loving it. Or does everyone just live close to BART if they need to commute to SF?

    We are (or were, pre-COVID) in a similar situation and chose to live walking-distance to BART and chose a preschool and nanny share (two kids) within walking distance. That was the only way we could actually work and commute without hiring a nanny to do drop-off and/or pick-up or cutting work hours. We live near a BART station and have a yard and two parks within two blocks, so we have plenty of outdoor opportunities but we would love to have more real nature nearby. But we also love that we can walk/bike everywhere, something you don't really get up in the hills. There are trade-offs for sure - we dream about living up near Tilden but the time lost to commuting would mean less time with each other and the kids, and we don't really want to stay up late working at night, so we minimized our commutes and have more energy to get out to nature on the weekends. Now that we're all working from home it feels like we made the wrong choice, but once we go back to commuting I think we'll see the advantages again.

    Hello, and I can definitely sympathize as my family did this for years.  We live in the Berkeley Hills and for years my husband and I worked in SF - completely different neighborhoods, which added to the complexity.  Each of us had 1+ hour commutes each way.  Our daughter went to pre-school and then K-2nd grade with a nanny picking her up.  Worse, she went to before-school care, school, after-school care and then a nanny would pick her up, feed her, bathe her, etc.  We would eventually get home - me at 7 and husband at 7:30 (though our commutes were often unpredictable) and then we had to make dinner for ourselves.  It was incredibly stressful for us and eventually our daughter started to articulate to us how unhappy she was at not having a parent from Monday through Friday.  We gave up hobbies and exercising to spend as much of our off-time with her as possible, but eventually this became too much for the three of us and I quit my job to take a (less fulfulling) job in the East Bay closer to home.  The stress of the commute and the inflexibility of the nanny's schedule became a stress point in our family life and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.  I took either BART, casual carpool or transbay bus back/forth between home and SF for work and I realized that I was spending between 10-15 hours per week just in commuting.  We're all much happier after I gave up my commute and took over the evening parenting routine. 

    Pre-Covid my wife and I alternated roles. One of us would drop our daughter off at school/stay at work longer while the other would go to work early and then handle the pickup.

    So my girl is only 20 months so I'm not in your situation YET. However, we just bought a house in Martinez and I have wondered this same thing once she is in traditional school. I work in San Rafael and my husband works in SF, so each of us has an hour commute. All the local elementary schools in Martinez offer after school programs on site and there are some daycares that separately offer after school care for kids up to age 12 (they even pick them up from school). Maybe Berkeley has similar programs to research?

    I think you'll find one parent usually has a more flexible schedule- can come in at 9, leave at 4:45. Many folks I know put in hours in the evening as well.
    Or you have a daycare/preschool that has early drop off and late pick up hours. Or a nanny that works around your schedule.
    Also, you may find that making time for the gym becomes less of a priority and you get yourself some weights and a peloton (for example) and wake up earlier to get in the work out.
    This is not an easy situation for anyone in it and for me, is a huge part of what people refer to as the bay area grind.
    I wish you luck!

    When we had to both commute to the city, my husband would drop off and I would leave work at 4:30 for pick up back in Oakland. Even though we lived about a mile from BART, I had to drive due to my work location wasn't near BART. We had a nanny pick up our kids for a short time, I felt like we never saw my kids during the week. 

    We lived in Oakland close to Piedmont Ave, and I work in SF and my husband works in Berkeley. We chose a preschool where I could drop off our child (at 8am on the dot) on my way to MacArthur BART - and I would still be late to work, but in a somewhat sustainable way. So, a partial yes to your question about just needing to live near BART. The TransBay AC transit buses are good for some locations, too. That all depends on your proximity to the Terminal in SF, I'd say. Then there are some preschools with extended hours (7:30am to 6pm, or close to that?) One that comes to mind is Claremont Day on College in Rockridge. Otherwise parents try to stagger their day - the parent who does drop off a bit later in the morning may have to stay later at work, and so the other parent gets to work early, so they can do a 5:30pm preschool pick-up. It's not ideal, but in general, living in the East Bay and working in SF is not ideal, I'm sorry to say... I've been WFH since March and the lack of commute has been so restorative! Best of luck! 

    I grew up in the Berkeley hills and as a tween-teen I hated it. It was not walkable at all, I didn’t care about the view or nature at all; I wanted to be closer to school and stores and movies. As an adult and single parent, I have lived in the flats and love that it is walkable to Bart and everything; we can and do drive to Tilden and nature. 
    When my daughter was little I chose schools that were walking distance from our apartment and then walked to Bart to get back and forth to work. Her preschool and public elementary school had daycare 7:30 am until 6:00 pm. As she looks back now my daughter says that she would have rather had a nanny share with a friend or two after school because the day care staff at the elementary school was pretty much unqualified. Good luck.

    I would suggest finding other parents at the same school that you can share drop-off and pickup with. 

    Thank you everyone for the replies! This has been very enlightening, and I am now thinking we won't go for the Berkeley Hills option. We'll get a place with a yard, near transportation options, and I can hopefully have my in-the-woods dream home when our daughter's grown up :)

    I have shed so many tears over this issue. We struggled with this from the minute my maternity leave was over. In the beginning, we had a nanny who was flexible and could stay with the babies until one of us got home (6, 7, or midnight). When kids went to preschool, we had a sitter who picked up and stayed until one of us got home. 

    Our luck ran out when kids began elementary school. We sought to find sitters who could  regularly pick up but we were constantly looking for new ones which was extremely stressful. It’s really hard to find a person who can do just 1-2 hours a day everyday. 

    When we were desperate, we hired sitters but most sitters want minimum 2-3 hours which we couldn’t guarantee. 

    My husband’s work situation changed a bit, he worked it out with his boss so that he could leave work at 4:30 and pick up kids by 5:30-6. We live near Grand Lake theater.  We wish we lived more with full nature and privacy as we are realizing that we really aren’t urban people. But, when we looked for housing, it was really important to keep our commute at or under 1 hour. Grand lake was the cheapest neighborhood that met that criteria while offering good schools, relatively safe neighborhood and a 3 bedroom house with a yard. 

    He drives to SF, and once in a while he would get stuck in traffic and would barely make the 6 pm cutoff. We have been fined a few times for being late. We made a concerted effort to build relationships with parents who live close to the school so for those nights when he’s stuck in traffic or we can’t make the pickup, kids go to friends’ house for a fun play and dinner time.  

    I drive to Bart, take the Bart into SF. Recently, just before SIP, I got promoted and decided to use the extra money for parking in SF, so I began driving as well. It’s not any faster in the morning but I work late often, so being able to come home within 35 - 40 min after 10 -11 hour work day and still see kids before bedtime is money well spent! With Bart, it would take so long to at night...

    While we wanted to have a third person who could do pick up and drop off, it was hard to find a person who was affordable and could provide stability, so I do the drop off and he does the pick up and we mix in friends and neighbors for help.  What we really needed was a trustworthy neighbor or grandma who could spare 1-1.5 a day but surprisingly that was hard to find!

    We have wealthier friends who do hire sitters for drop off, pick up or both. It adds $80-$150 per day which we couldn’t afford. Some of those friends actually have afternoon sitter so that the kids aren’t in the after care everyday. That’s obviously more expensive and I envy those who don’t have to send kids to after care everyday. 

    With Covid, we are so happy not to commute. When the world opens back up, it is likely that neither of us will commute everyday, so we hope we can build a more manageable system. On the downside, we lost a lot of friends we made who were in regular rotation for pick up help, so we will need to make new friends.