Families are getting creative about how to balance the cost of working and kids.
When I was pregnant, I thought of all the ways I could save money once baby was born. Cloth diapering and breastfeeding were the obvious first choices, followed by the fact that I didn’t have to worry about many parents’ biggest expense: childcare. Since I work from home I envisioned doing what I usually do, with baby in tow.
The first time that I edited an entire a magazine on deadline wearing a 3-week-old in a carrier, we both cried. I realized that idea was fantasy. It turns out even with flexibility, it’s nearly impossible to do quality work with a little one in tow. Soon after my daughter’s birth, I found myself among the thousands of Americans scrambling to find childcare solutions that don’t break the bank.
Last year, a Care.com survey found that childcare costs are having a massive impact on the well-being of American parents. The average national daycare rate for one child is over $200 per week, while an au pair or a nanny rings in at $367 and $565 each week, respectively.
Not surprisingly, that huge financial burden affects all areas of parents’ lives. The study found that one-third of parents went into debt to cover childcare costs, and 40 percent say that childcare costs have caused tension in their relationships.
Once I realized I needed childcare, I spent the next three years in what felt like a continuous and ever-changing scramble to find care that fit my family’s emotional and financial needs. I did a childcare swap, traded shifts with my husband, relied on family and eventually signed my daughter up for preschool. All the while I wondered how other families possibly made it work.
With childcare costs at the forefront of many family conversations DailyWorth talked to moms about the way that childcare (or lack thereof) influences their lives.
Impacting Every Decision
Tammy Havlir, 32, of Claremont, N.H., is a nurse with four children. Since her oldest was born 7 years ago she says that figuring out who will watch the kids has become a primary concern in every decision she and her husband make.
“Every single employment decision I’ve made since having children has been 99 percent based on expenses and availability,” she says. Recently Havlir turned down a full-time position in favor of a per diem role that gives her more flexibility. She isn’t alone: two-thirds of parents say that childcare has impacted their careers, and 23 percent have downgraded to a part-time schedule to better handle costs.
Havlir tries to alternate shifts with her husband (she worked overnights until her daughter was born this summer), but she still pays about $230 a week for childcare. In addition to dictating what jobs she can take, childcare has also impacted Havlir’s education. She recently had to put nursing school on hold because of the added childcare costs involved.
Weighing the Mental Health Benefits
For many people having a job is about a lot more than making money. It becomes part of your identity. That’s why Haley* a 33-year-old mom of two from Lebanon, N.H., decided to keep working part-time even though her husband’s job can cover all their expenses.
“If there’s one single important factor in our childcare, it’s our overall happiness as a family. I am a happier person and a better parent when I have a couple days per week to engage with other adults,” she says.
Haley works part-time as a consultant and spends $296 a week on part-time care for her daughters. Recently, her husband used paid time off when Haley had to go to a two-day training for work because her pay during that time wouldn’t have covered the added childcare expense.
The couple cuts back in other spending areas in order to prioritize childcare.
“We’ve had to be creative with almost every element of our lives in order to make office work a viable option for me,” Haley says.
Balancing Career, Family and Finances
Katherine Martinelli, 34, has two kids in Brooklyn, N.Y. Like Haley, she gets a lot of fulfillment out of her work as a writer. However, she also struggles to balance her ambition against the huge cost of childcare.
“I am fiercely dedicated to my career, but I also don’t feel that I can justify forking over a big part of my salary to have someone else watch my kids,” she says.
She currently pays $642 per month to have her older son in preschool for two full days, while she is home with her 6-month-old, often working with the baby in tow of while he naps.
Despite the fact that her husband is a doctor, the cost of childcare has a big impact on the family’s budget and limits how much Martinelli focuses on her career at the moment.
“If I felt that we could afford it, I would definitely have more childcare,” she says.
Impacting Family Planning
LaToya Jordan, 39, also of Brooklyn, works a traditional 9-to-5 job, and her husband has similar hours as a teacher. The couple has one daughter who recently started preschool, but before that they were spending $450 a week on a nanny share with another local family. The situation allowed them the one-on-one care of a nanny and gave their daughter a playmate, but Jordan said that the cost was a problem.
“We used to look at each other and ask where all the money came from to fund the nanny share,” she says.
It impacted Jordan’s family planning. She and her husband initially wanted two children two years apart but realized that they would have to wait until their daughter was in school to afford childcare for another baby. They’re not alone: Twenty percent of families say that they had fewer children than they would like because of the cost of childcare.
Whatever It Takes
With childcare affecting all areas of life, many parents go to extremes to find a solution that works for them.
Shannon Leone Fowler, 43, is a single mom of three kids in London, England. To complete her recently-published memoir, Fowler did anything and everything she could to find time to write, including flying from London to California so her family could watch the kids during summer vacation.
“I’ve cobbled together all different kinds of childcare in order to write: I’ve had friends take my kids for playdates so I can finish editing, I stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. to meet a deadline, [I’ve] guilt tripped my parents into making visits to help out,” she says.
She admits that it’s exhausting.
“I get zero downtime,” she says.
Nicole Glover, 29, a mom of two from Newport, N.H. made an opposite decision, taking on nearly all the childcare and household work so that her husband could have two jobs, allowing her to stay home.
“It does get incredibly exhausting being almost like a single parent for the majority of the week,” she says. “I end up having to be the one to discipline, the one to potty train, the one to enforce manners and the one to be up with them at night.”
But she and her husband both agreed that having a parent at home — and keeping childcare costs low — is a priority.
“For both of us though it is worth it because there is no way financially we could afford to send both girls to childcare,” she says.