On Monday, a client called me, panicking. She was due back at work after maternity leave, and her nanny had quit on the first day. On Tuesday, another client, another call: This mom, new in her job, had found a daycare spot after being on six waiting lists for nearly a year…only now the daycare was shutting down. On Wednesday – you know where this is going – another client’s grandma care fell through due to the flu…and now Nana needed a chest x-ray, too.

For families like these, like yours, the current childcare crisis (or cliff, or crunch depending on where you get your news) isn’t just some theoretical economic headline. It’s estimated by the Center for American Progress that 51% of America lives in a “childcare desert” — census districts where there are at least three times as many kids under age five as there are childcare spots — and the cost of care has risen 36% in the past decade according to surveying by Care.com. These stats reflect an industry that’s broken, and the resulting anguish parents feel is exacerbated by out of whack social norms.

Please know this: Lack of adequate care for our children is not a personal failing. If it’s hard, it’s not your fault. But I also get that hearing me say, “it’s the system!” doesn’t wet vac the flood that’s shut down your daycare or transform the demanding boss who expects you to be online 24/7. Yes, vote and advocate wisely. But also ask for the specific support you need right now, on a Tuesday, to be able to keep going to Wednesday.

The following are some questions I’ve received from moms — and they just might apply to you, too. I hope the answers I’ve provided help.

Q: How do you ask in an interview about flexibility for childcare needs without setting off red flags?

A: I am all for waving the childcare flag and parenting loudly in a work context. In a perfect world you would…just…ask! But we are not living in a perfect world. We are living in a world in which 80% of the gender wage gap can be attributed to the Motherhood Penalty. Progress is happening (see: the PUMP Act and Pregnant Workers Fairness Act), but it’s slow and incremental, and you’re between your third and fourth round of interviews and need to know now if a round of full family strep is going to ruin your bonus this year.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Ask about flexible work policies overall. Companies and orgs that support parents in a way that doesn’t stigmatize them offer flexibility policies that everyone can access.
  2. Look at their benefits policies. You want to see not just paid family leave (which is awesome but also can be a bit of a box-checking situation), but other supports that extend far beyond the newborn years – ramp up programs, mental health support, backup childcare, eldercare.
  3. Ask about asynchronous work – what are the core hours that people tend to work together in meetings, and how do different teams juggle different workers’ needs?
  4. And my favorite: If you have a chance to do any peer-level interviews and it’s anywhere near fall, ask casually about Halloween. Halloween – as a non-religious holiday, and school/photo/extravaganza for which many parents will want to leave by 3 p.m. – tells you everything you need to know about an organization’s actual commitment to the joy of parenting.

Q: We are looking for a different daycare. How do I get what I need without “outing” our complaint about our current one?

A: First, I have to just acknowledge the mental gymnastics here. You are pulling your kid out of one daycare (hard!) for reasons that are sensitive (hard!) while also looking for a new place (hard!), presumably being employed (hard!) and also somehow worrying about protecting the old place and not looking like a high maintenance new customer? Phew. I’m just – as the Instagram therapists say – holding space for that. And I’m here to tell you: You don’t have to worry so much about that last part.

An amazing thing happens when you have kids: People may judge you for how warmly you dress them or how late you stay at the office, but they absolutely will not judge you for the decisions you make in pursuit of your children’s safety and happiness. Everyone gets it!

So, you are not “outing” anyone or red-flagging yourself. You are being clear – with the new center and yourself – about what’s best for your family. That’s never not valid. That said, I suspect that your complaint/need is not one of logistics like location, hours or cost, which would be easy to explain, but something touchier like a safety issue or communication style. If that’s the case:

  1. Write a letter to the old center once you’ve left. It will give you peace of mind that you’ve done what you can to look out for other kids and the staff you like. (If there’s a big safety issue, you should also report it to your local/state department of health.)
  2. As you look at new daycares, state your need – staff policies or communication style/vibe – specifically in the context of your child’s growth. Babies’ and toddlers’ needs change by the month (by the week when they’re tiny!), making it both easier and true to say something like, “As Sammy has gotten bigger, we have realized we need to be in closer partnership with his teachers about XYZ.”

Q: At work, can I use flexibilities that help me but that I’m not empowered to offer to my direct reports?

A: The fact that you asked this says so much about you as a leader. I am certain that no matter how the plan I’m going to suggest below goes, your reports already think of you as a compassionate, empathetic person.

In short: Yes! You can and should use your flexibility. As a manager, you likely have responsibility to be available in non-traditional work hours like evenings, weekends, and vacations. Naturally, that is going to necessitate that you use some of your 9-5 M-F hours for things that are more personal. Absolutely fine. More than fine. Role model it.

By that same logic, though, if your direct reports are required to abide by strict hours, attendance, and conditions…you (and your bosses) absolutely cannot ask them to work in their off hours. No late-night emails. No scrambling on a deadline over the weekend.

Stay with me. I have a strategy for you here. Because while it’s technically okay for you to leave at 3:30 for pick-up while your team can’t clock out until much later, I know that’s not the kind of leader you want to be. Instead of limiting yourself, let’s use the logic above to empower you to get more flexibility for your direct reports, too.

Look, no one should have to “earn” their flexibility like it’s a prize in some morality race. But your workplace sounds very driven by rules. Lots of hierarchy and measurables and deliverables and P&Ls, right? So, your plan is to speak that language. Explain to your boss that since your direct reports aren’t entitled to flexibility, you’re not able to get the best work out of them, and you’d like to try an experiment. For a set amount of time, you and your team – everyone, not just the parents – will diligently track their performance (KPIs, baby!) while working more flexibly. Remember, as you ask: This is not a privilege you’re being given but an important business-supporting beta test. If it fails, hey, nothing lost. But if it goes well – and I suspect it will – you’ll likely change culture and policies company wide.

Q: I need my nanny really early but she has a long commute. Do I just offer her more money?

A: You know that improv game where everyone has to say, “yes, and…”? This is that kind of answer: Yes, and.

Yes, you could offer her time-and-a-half pay for those wee-early-morning hours.

And I would also ask her what else would help her be able to accommodate this need. Because of the natural employee/employer power dynamic (especially in your home), she is unlikely to just ask you for everything she would need to make it work. So, invite her into the conversation like this: “Due to X reason, we are really needing earlier care than we had first discussed when we hired you. I know that that’s going to make for a very long day for you. We would compensate you at 1.5x for that early hour. Is there anything else we could do to help make it work for you?”

Give her a pause to think. Suggest that she sleep on it for a night. And then take it from there. She may ask for a daily Uber that’s far more than you can afford – that tells you something, though, about how hard she would find the transition. In that case, you may have to find an alternative plan (early shift sitter, or a new nanny). Or she may say, actually, it would help me so much to leave early on Thursdays so I can pick up my grandson from school.

You can’t guess what’s most important to people…you can only trust that they know their needs best and empower them to express them.

Q: How can I navigate oversteps by my employer? My supervisor keeps asking me how long my daycare or nanny coverage is, how I split my mornings and evening childcare duties with my partner, etc. I work in professional services, with clients, so that’s part of what I’m balancing here.

A: Two words: Generous interpretation. I use this strategy to diffuse my response to anyone’s seemingly rude behavior. Bad bosses. Jealous grandparents. Even myself when I feel guilty.

Ask yourself, what is the most generous explanation for this person’s actions or words? The boss who asked me to pick up her dog’s poop was probably similarly shat upon by her boss in the past (and it was my job to break that cycle). The grandparent who went through the calendar and counted up all of the days we spent with the other grandparents? That was just a greedy version of love. The deadline I procrastinated on wasn’t because I’m lazy…it’s because I’m a chronic time blind optimist who always wants to do more than I can.

The generous interpretation you come up with may not be spot on – there’s always a small but real chance that your boss might just be an insensitive, intrusive jerk who hates parents – but it opens your mind up to the fact that this misdeed might have much more to do with them than with you. And that they’re human. Your response can communicate the boundaries you need while also educating them in the kindest way possible – keeping them from acting defensive and giving them the words they may need to use with others (other employees or your clients).

Try this: “You’ve asked a couple of times recently about my childcare – I know it’s been a hot topic in the news and I appreciate your concern for my family. If I have any scheduling issues that interfere with my work, I know that I can come to you to work it out. And if you have any concerns about my availability or work product, let’s make a meeting to discuss those deliverables or client needs specifically.”

Lauren Smith Brody is the CEO of The Fifth Trimester, a workplace gender equality consultancy, and a co-founder of the Chamber of Mothers, a public policy nonprofit