Child Care Blues

Oh yes, I have the child care blues.  During pregnancy I didn’t give much thought to the premium I would have to pay to ensure my daughter’s well-being when I returned to work. One of my family members agreed to watch her part-time, so I figured that paying for child care wouldn’t be too bad. I signed my daughter up for part-time care before her birth and it was a major relief that I no longer had to worry about obtaining child care.

Then my family member backed out last minute and I had to frantically scramble to find full-time care.  With approximately a month before my return to work, my husband and I had to figure out what to do with my daughter.  We decided to place her in an actual school that also offered infant care.  Unfortunately, it was the most expensive place we looked at, but the infant classrooms were roomy and clean and we liked the curriculum (although, personally, I don’t really think a twelve week old learns that much in school).  So we enrolled my daughter, feeling desperate and overwhelmed.

Over the last year, I have wised up about the subject of child care.  I’ve had time to research and talk to other moms about my options.  Over the last year, I’ve also watched child care tuition consume over half of my take home pay from my day job.  Every time I look at my tuition bill, I get the child care blues.  It seems like I work just to pay for the tuition.  Well, it seems that I’m not alone in feeling the blues. An Opinionator article by Alissa Quart in the New York Times chronicles the difficulties facing educated, middle and upper-middle class families in finding affordable childcare.

The cost and the scarcity of day care has helped create what the sociologist Joya Misra calls “the motherhood penalty.” While women without children are closer to pay equity with men, women with children are lagging behind because they find that working doesn’t always make sense after considering the cost of child care. When women earn less than their partners, they are more likely to drop out of the work force, and if they do so for two years or more, they may not be able to get back in at anything approaching their prior job or earnings. The cost of taking care of one’s children outside the home is now so high that many women cannot be assured of both working and making a decent income after taxes and child care costs.

I have considered leaving the workforce due to child care costs and the absolute lack of flexibility that comes with being a lawyer, but I like the mental stimulation of legal work and it is nice to get out of the house and be with other adults.  I recently read an opinion piece by Margaret Heffernan for CBS MoneyWatch that made some interesting points regarding her choice not to leave the workforce when she had kids.  She described her choice to continue working as an investment in herself and in her family’s financial future.  She noted:

Yes, for a few years — quite a few in fact — I probably operated at a loss. But as my career advanced, I slowly but surely became a profit center, as it were. And, much more important, by the time I didn’t need child care any more, my career had advanced significantly and had momentum. I hadn’t taken the “off ramp,” I didn’t need to catch up on new technologies and job searching tactics, and as a family we had developed some healthy, thrifty habits.

I like this positive way of looking at this situation, even if day care costs eat up my entire salary.  Perhaps I am building a better future for my family by continuing to work. Perhaps this situation is best for both my family and me.  Perhaps.  Even so, I sure wish I had more flexibility in my career so I could spend a little extra time with my daughter and a little less money on day care.  Comparing that monthly tuition bill to my monthly salary makes me feel that my career is somehow inadequate and it’s just not worth the hassle.  I have the child care blues.

Crushed By the Cost of Childcare [New York Times]

For Women, Child Care Isn’t A Cost — It’s An Investment [cbsnews.com]

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