This Childcare Startup Pays Stay-at-Home Parents for Their Hard Work

An centuries-old concept, Otter is connecting neighbors, so stay-at-home parents can provide personalized, at-home childcare for their working counterparts.
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By Wyndi Kappes, Associate Editor
Updated September 1, 2022
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During the height of the pandemic and even now, a record number of parents have been pushed out of the job force due to a lack of childcare. Women’s labor participation, in particular, has hit a 33-year low, with 2.3 million women leaving the workforce since 2020. One of a million, Helen Mayer found herself in the same situation when her first business failed during the pandemic and shortly after, she had to pass on her dream job to stay at home with her two boys.

Frustrated with her childcare options, Mayer sought out an alternative. During her research, she came across several groups where families were exchanging childcare services and set up several swaps of her own. Overwhelmingly she found that working parents were thrilled with the idea of a neighborhood parent caring for their child, and she quickly convinced them that the stay-at-home parents could use a little compensation for providing this top-notch childcare.

And thus Otter was born. The childcare startup was created to make connecting with your village easier than ever, putting a silicon valley spin on the idea of the neighborhood sitter and developing it into what Mayer calls “the Uber of childcare.”

The service, now available in select cities in the US, is easy to sign up for but big on trust and safety. The onboarding process is broken up into four steps where you will:

  1. Create a profile—adding information about you, your family, your schedule and your parenting style.
  2. Find your matches. You’ll get to review experienced caregivers or families who need care, all in your own community.
  3. Pass a background check. Everyone on Otter passes a background check during onboarding.
  4. Book care. Manage scheduling, payment, and pick-up and drop-off, all in one place.

Mayer is passionate about making sure working parents feel safe dropping their children off with stay-at-home Otter parents and that the caregivers are paid in a predictable way. This means that even if the care is canceled, caregivers are still compensated. Otter states on their website that stay-at-home parents can make up to $600 a week just doing what they’ve been doing with just an extra kid or two in the mix.

Empowering stay-at-home parents to realize their worth is a big part of Otter’s mission. In an interview with the New York Times, Claudia Goldin, a Harvard labor economist whose research helped inspire Ms. Mayer, said she believed that part of the “genius” of Otter was that it was “awakening” a new population of workers — stay-at-home parents, in most cases mothers — to the value of the unpaid and undervalued care work they do.

Over the past few months, Otter has grown to be quite popular, with more than 7,000 children and 3,500 caregivers participating. Additionally, in August 2022, the company made the decision to expand its caregiver options to caregivers of any type, not just stay-at-home parents.

While expansion to all cities and states may be a longer process, parents all over can celebrate the investment and reinvention of a broken US childcare system. If you are interested in signing up to join Otter, visit If Otter is not yet available in your area, check out these five tips for cutting childcare costs wherever you are.

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