Child Care Blues: The Break Up

I must say that changing day care programs feels a lot like a bad breakup.

My daughter, G.G., was told not to return to her first day care, not because of anything she did, but because of me and my husband.

Over the last year, I have thought the infant program was alright; however, for forty-one days out of the year, my daughter’s school does not offer infant care included in our tuition. With all of the breaks (fall, winter, spring), in-service days (an average of two each month), holidays (way more days than I have off work), parent/teacher conference days (why is infant care closed for this?), and snow days (I made it here so the roads really aren’t bad), this situation was not working for my family.  The first time that I pulled in and saw that no one was there due to a two-hour delay, I panicked.  Then, I got mad.  Why isn’t anyone here?  Why is there a delay just because it’s cold outside?  Where is my kid going to go today?  Do I seriously have to waste a personal day for this?

My husband and I are attorneys.  As attorneys, we have very unforgiving and inflexible schedules.  We have to be at work: there are client meetings, deadlines, court appearances.  Neither of us can show up with a baby on our hip.  We need a day care that is open typical day care hours because we have to be at work.

So I started making phone calls, setting up appointments, touring facilities, crunching numbers, trying to figure out when to pull G.G. out of her current program, and planning how to break the news to them.  It felt like I was cheating.  Every time I went to pick up the baby, I felt guilty (especially if I had just toured another day care center).

My husband and I talked a lot about how we would explain to the day care that we were leaving them. My husband had serious concerns that the employees would treat my daughter differently when we broke the news.  I thought he was being silly. These are child care professionals. Circumstances change and people need to switch child care providers all the time.  It’s really not a big deal.

I just have to say that people never cease to amaze me.

We paid through the new year so we expected to pull G.G. at that time.  But then we entered the longest in-service period ever, an entire week-and-a-half with no child care.  After one day of this, it pushed us over the edge.  We decided to pull G.G. out at the end of the month and place her into a day care situation that works better with our schedules.

We found a reasonably priced day care that had the hours that worked for us and had great recommendations.  Even better, we would be paying thousands of dollars less in tuition.  So we set up the switch at the end of the month.

My husband met with the Assistant Director of the school and informed her that we needed to change programs because of our work schedules.  My husband told her that once my daughter entered kindergarten, we would certainly consider returning. Although she was nice about the whole thing, she made the inappropriate comment, “You are both lawyers so on the days that we don’t offer care, why don’t you just hire a nanny?”  Whoa, are you kidding me? Who says that?  I shouldn’t need to hire a nanny just so I can have my kid in your day care.

My husband told her that our last day would be the final day of the month.  We received an email from my daughter’s teacher noting that she was informed of the change in our situation and confirmed our last day.  We would be able to finish out the month, say our goodbyes, and pick up our stuff.  We thought that it made sense and everyone was on the same page.  This breakup was not going to be so bad after all.

Then the new Director got involved and the amicable breakup got nasty.  My husband got an email from her, informing him that their school was open more than the 180 days a year that most schools are open.   Gee, thanks for that useless factoid of info. My daughter isn’t in real school yet because she is one year old, so I only care about your infant and toddler day care schedules and since your infant and toddler day care is open way less than every other day care around, adios.  The Director went on in her email that it would be better if the G.G. did not finish out the month because it would confuse her.   Huh?  I don’t think she would be confused, but now I certainly was.

Since there seemed to be some type of issue regarding my daughter’s last day, I called the Assistant Director and confirmed that G.G.’s last day would be the end of the month.  I reaffirmed that if my schedule changed, I would certainly consider bringing the baby back to the school.

A couple minutes after hanging up the phone with her, I received a call from the Director who informed me that G.G. could not finish out the month because they needed to focus on new and enrolled students. G.G.’s teacher would leave her stuff in a box outside the classroom. It was beyond my comprehension why a person would say this to a customer who had paid a ton of money over the past year to the program, especially considering that this customer stated that she wants to bring her child back in the future if her work schedule changes.  What a savvy businesswoman this Director must be telling a current customer that since you will not be giving us more money in the immediate future, you can take a hike.  It’s also great to know that this is the type of person in charge of my child’s care.  Thanks to the new Director’s personality flaws and lack of tact, she really made it easy for me to walk away from that relationship.

I guess my husband was right.  Some people are ridiculous, petty, and pretentious. This is not the type of person I want involved in my daughter’s well-being so I am quite glad that I got her kicked out.

But in the end, who ended up breaking up with whom? The whole conversation with the Director felt ridiculously childish. The tone was almost like, “You can’t break up with me if I dump you first.” Personally, I think my family came out on top in this break up. Now I just have get my belongings and move forward with my next relationship.

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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]