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My Grocery Store Has Free Childcare, and Yes, It’s Just as Glorious as It Sounds

Yep, you read that right: My local grocery store has childcare — and it’s absolutely FREE.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Three years ago I moved into my current neighborhood and discovered the unbelievable bliss of shopping without some (or all) of my kids in tow. My grocery store is a Smith’s Marketplace in Utah, which is part of the Kroger chain of stores. In case you’re unfamiliar, Smith’s has pretty much everything you could possibly need, all under one roof — from clothing and shoes to groceries, toys, home decor, a jeweler, and even a pharmacy. It’s kind of like a Target, but not quite as big. And, yes, they have a Starbucks, too.

But the best part (in my opinion) is the fact that they make grocery shopping far less miserable for parents by watching your kids for you.

My husband makes fun of me for my loyalty to this amazing grocery store, because I basically live there. But honestly, having a store that will watch my kids while I shop makes me want to give them all my money.

Gone are the days of frantically rushing through my list of necessities, trying to race down every aisle before one of my kids has another epic meltdown. No longer do I have to brace myself for the 5,238 things that will inevitably be begged for once we step foot in the door. No, instead, I grab a fountain drink in their deli department and stroll through the aisles sipping away, for a full hour of pure bliss all by myself. I try on clothes, check out throw pillows, and get all my groceries for the week, too.

I’m not even sugar-coating things here, that child-free hour really is as glorious as it sounds.

So, how does it work? The play area is open for kids ages 2 to 6 years old. No need for them to be potty-trained, because they can simply page you if there’s a problem and your child needs a diaper change or wants you to take them to the restroom. Of course, you can’t leave the store while they’re in the play area, and you do only get an hour, but a child-free hour is a child-free hour. Am I right, parents?

An employee is assigned to work in the play area from the hours of 10 AM to 7 PM every day. And while there is a bit of paperwork to fill out the first time you go (including your contact info, child’s DOB, etc.), they keep it all on file for you for the future. After that, you’re good to leave your kids and shop in peace. For me, that looks like 60 minutes of hearing only my own thoughts, and debating about whether or not I need that cute wall clock. That my friends, is what a mother’s dreams are made of. It’s enough to make me want to grocery shop every day.

To keep track of things, they give you and your child each a wrist band to wear with a number on it. Both numbers are documented on your personal file every time you drop off your kid. You have to sign them in and out, and the door is locked so no little ones can escape (thank goodness). The only slight downside is that they cap the number of kids in the play area at 10, so occasionally they will be full; but moms are constantly coming and going, so it’s usually easy to get in if you just wait a few minutes. And to me, that is more than worth it.

Image Source: Meredith Ethington
Image Source: Meredith Ethington

I took a picture of the one time we actually did have to wait, and shared it on Instagram — and let me tell you, moms everywhere went nuts that such a thing even exists in the world. But I’m honestly not surprised, because what parent in their right mind wouldn’t want free childcare while they shop? Why every grocery store out there doesn’t have this service yet remains the big mystery, but I for one am happy and loyal customer who now refuses to shop anywhere else. My only hope is that this catches on, so other parents out there can revel in the same happiness I do.

Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: My kids actually love it. And, the cute lady that watches the kids knows my kids by name because I’m there at least once a week (and then some). There’s even a giant TV screen mounted to the wall and a library of Disney movies for them to watch, coloring pages for them to color, a little toy house and toy kitchen to play in, and toys and trucks galore. And if you’re worried about germs, they wipe down everything thoroughly at the end of every shift. I’m not even kidding.

Lots of grocery stores these days are offering drive-thru services so you don’t even have to get out of your car, which is incredible for those days when someone is sick, or you just can’t bring yourself to put on a bra. But I will never stop loving the idea of a play area actually inside the grocery store, so your kids can get a little bit of playtime while you get that much-needed alone time you crave.

Since shopping with young kids in tow is basically every parent’s nightmare, I refuse to shop anywhere else when my kids are with me. It’s just a no-brainer. Mostly because I can actually remember the things I went there for when I don’t have a little person begging for 12 varieties of Pop Tarts while I try to think.

It’s the little things …

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