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Utah mom launches child care-sharing network for moms needing relief

PROVO — Lisa Draper loves being a mother to her three young children, but she also needs time away from them to be completely happy.

"I know what a long and frustrating thing it is to find a baby sitter, sometimes calling six people until you find one, and nights are hard to nail down and weekends are even harder," the Lehi mom said.

She's one of the first women to join Momni, a locally founded global network of mothers who are willing to provide child care for other moms in need, but also book "paid playdates" for their own children.

"It's incredible," Draper said. "It's very freeing. It puts away a little of the guilt (of leaving your kids) if you know your child is going to another mother who would already be caring for children during the day, in her own home. She doesn't have to rearrange her home or her schedule or her lifestyle around your kids."

Draper can book child care for her own children in a matter of minutes from her phone and the agreed-upon rate is charged to her credit card. She can feel confident that they will be safe when she drops them off to do whatever she needs to do.

"I'm a stay-at-home mom with three young children, ages 4, 3 and almost 1, and none of them are in school and none of them will be in school this year and I'm tired," she said, adding that she'd also like to travel with her family and not have to feel exhausted after a day or two.

Momni founder and CEO Karmel Larson knows the frustration all too well. The mother of eight recalls immense satisfaction resulting from the solitude she found during a visit to the dentist shortly after the birth of her fifth child years ago.

"I think there's a lot of moms who rarely, if ever, get a true break," she said, adding that, at the time, it "felt selfish to use the family's resources on myself."

Just over a year ago, Larson learned that reputable child care isn't even an option for many mothers, especially in developing nations. These mothers, some of whom are single and must work or risk starving themselves and their children, are turning to drugs or tying up their children to keep them safe in their homes.

"These are not abusive, bad moms. These are moms who don't have any other options," she said. "Our hearts are broken by stories we hear of babies being doped and tied up as an alternative to child care, and we are passionate about being part of the solution."

An investigation into the international child care crisis was televised on a "Dr. Phil" show segment, Tuesdays with Troy, during which Troy Dunn spoke with Larson about the growing need for day care options. More than 1.6 million people have viewed the short documentary and hundreds have teamed to help, either by hosting their own paid play dates or donating to the Momni Foundation, which kicked off this month.

The foundation, at, aims to provide financial support for moms struggling to find appropriate child care in developing nations. For every hour of paid care in a developed nation, Larson said, the Momni Foundation will fund an hour for a mom in a developing nation. She is asking for donationsto help meet that need.

"Since the beginning of time, mothers have formed groups for support and protection," Larson said. "These interlocking circles already exist. We're just asking them to include Momni now."

It is estimated that 1 billion additional women will enter the work force between 2020 and 2030, yet deficits in child care have already reached crisis levels throughout developed and developing nations.

The Overseas Development Institute, a global think tank working for world peace, has reported that the child care gap affects 129 million women around the globe, many of whom are single mothers. And as many as 35 million children under age 5 are left on their own or with a very young sibling on a regular basis, according to the organization.

Momni — patterned after the successful room-sharing Airbnb platform, or ride-sharing success accomplished by Uber, and other networks of service providers throughout the world — is poised to help.

"We call it care-sharing," Larson said. "Moms trust other moms."

Moms, it turns out, also have more experience than teenage baby sitters or even an experienced nanny, having cared for a child "24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said. "Experience level skyrockets when you care for children full-time."

And with Momni, there is an exchange of funds, making the service more worthwhile for the host.

Though, Draper said, the benefits don't end there.

She likes exposing her own children to other kids, kids they don't already know, kids of different ages, different backgrounds and ethnicities that become available by linking people with the technology of the World Wide Web.

"This fills my need to have my children see and love others and create friendships in a time when they usually wouldn't have access to a lot of other children because they're not in school yet," Draper said. The exchange has also resulted in new friends for her, too.

"I find that those who are willing to put themselves out there and work, or pursue hobbies to find themselves again, are people I want to be friends with," she said. "I don't only get a connection with the children, I connect with other mothers who are like me."

More than half of the parents of Utah children ages 5 to 17 have both parents working outside of the home, according to a report from Utah's Office of Child Care, a division of the Department of Workforce Services. Those kids also spend an average of eight hours per week unsupervised, the statistics show.

The state pays child care subsidies to at least 40 percent of families of Utah kids ages 5 to 12, and other resources are available, as the cost of licensed child care in Utah is high, according to the state organization.

But not all families qualify for assistance and still need help once in a while.

Momni is free to use. The application verifies the identity of all users and provides an optional but highly recommended background check at a small cost for prospective hosts, if they want to boost their viability. The site charges a nominal service fee to link interested parties together for child care service — a small percentage of the amount exchanged.

"It's long overdue," Draper said. "It's efficient and effective and those are incredible things to have as a mother."

Larson said that when she learned what some mothers were doing in order to provide for their families, she knew she had to help.

"Call it inspiration. The idea … just came to me," she said. "I know we as mothers can do better. We can help each other. We can do better."

The Momni logo contains an elephant, which purports the matriarchal society of elephants, who instinctually "circle around when there is danger or harm or any need to protect or support," Larson said. "And they put their babies and teens in the center.

"We're circling up to help each other as mothers and elevate the standard for raising our children."

And all children, Larson said, deserve the opportunity to be properly cared for.

"These children in developing nations who are being left alone, or being drugged day after day … it has significant developmental implications for their progress and their opportunities in life," she said.

Research, Larson said, shows that children are more well-served by mothers who are healthy and in strong marriages.

"Momni is the solution that moms everywhere have been praying for, to anyone who will listen. They say, 'I can't lock my kids at home another day,'" she said through tears.

"It's like a huge global hug," Larson said. "Moms need this. They don't just want it. They need it. If they're not experiencing the pain point themselves, they know someone — a sister, a friend, someone — who is. They're so ready to help."

So many times when she couldn't find child care for her own children, she said the only option was to cancel whatever it was she wanted or needed to do.

Larson doesn't want motherhood to be a burden to anyone.

"You lose yourself in motherhood. It's a beautiful, good, purposeful thing," she said. "But, it is also a good thing to make a space for who you are as a woman and as you allow yourself to shine and develop in whatever capacity, that blesses your family as a whole. That doesn't detract from your mothering or child-rearing capacities, it makes you a better mother."

Having more options for child care, and opportunities to pursue other things, Larson said, could help women have better marriages and improved mental health situations, but also "empower women to be able to do more of what they love, more of what they're good at, more of what they're called to do in life."

"It will help them live their mission and purpose," she added. "Momni will absolutely change the world."

More than 1,265 people are using Momni worldwide since it began about 16 months ago, with the majority of "Momnis" enlisting after the "Dr. Phil" video went viral. Larson expects Momni's popularity and usefulness to rise exponentially as word gets out.

"We're here to help," Draper added. "We just need our communities to show up."