What We Need: A solution to child care costs

It’s been a while since I wrote one of these posts about what women need and what we can do together to try to make our lives better. Today I’m going to write about a topic that’s been a big one for both my family and the families of many of my friends: the cost of child care.

I live in a big city, Seattle. Around here, the going rate for full-time care for an infant at a child care center is somewhere between $1500 and $2200 a month. Yes, you read that right. When we started looking for child care for The Girl, first of all, EVERYWHERE had a wait list. We literally got on a wait list for a daycare the day we found out I was pregnant. But what really amazed me was the cost: $2090 a month. For one kid. And we provided the food and diapers. Let’s break that down for a minute. I work at a good job with a (barely) 6-figure salary. After retirement contributions, health insurance, taxes, and all that, I bring home about $2400 every two weeks. So basically, almost half my take-home pay would go to paying for child care costs at that daycare center.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a lot of families look at those costs and say “Fuck it, I’m staying home with my kid.” I mean, I make enough money to make it work, but I’m a lawyer and I have a husband who also has a good job with a good salary, so we can make it work. What if I made half what I do? What would be the point of me going back to work? It would make no financial sense at all.

Now, I don’t begrudge child care workers their salary. Because, honestly, do you know any child care workers who are rich? Like, seriously, the (mostly) women who provide child care in this country work long hours of dealing with tantrums and poop and gazillions of children all at once, for often very low pay. The whole thing is completely fucked up. We can barely afford to pay for child care, but they can barely afford to live on what we can afford to pay them. How the hell did this mess happen?

I think the real structural problem is the way that labor and family rearing have evolved in this country since the 70’s. Women can work now, and workplace discrimination is slowly receding, but with women coming into the workplace, there has been no change to the way we structure salaries and work hours to reflect that somebody’s gotta be watching the children. Who is that going to be when both parents are working outside the home? It’s got to be someone, but somehow, society hasn’t evolved a solution to make child care affordable for working families.

What is the solution, then? Honestly, I have no idea. Child care workers deserve decent pay; families need safe and affordable places for their children to be while their parents work. I’ve seen people float the idea of tax credits as a way to offset child care costs, or perhaps subsidies for low income families. Coops seem to help for people who can make those work? Maybe there is no silver bullet, but I feel like there HAS to be a way to make it less shitty. So, if you know of a great idea to fix this, please share it in the comments.

School Aged Parenting

I am suuuuper lucky to live next door to an awesome licensed daycare, run by a woman who has an enormous heart. We moved into our house almost a year before The Boy was born, so we had some time living next door to the daycare before The Boy started there, which meant we had time to observe how awesome our neighbor is with kids. She’s like the Toddler Whisperer. If I had to deal with 8 kids ages 18 months to 5 years old, I would shoot myself. This woman says it’s her calling, she’s amazing. If you live in Seattle and you need childcare, drop me an email and I’ll send you her info.

An awesome daycare means you don’t have to worry about your kids’ safety. It also means you don’t have to worry about making them a healthy breakfast or lunch. And if you need a babysitter on a Friday night, you know someone awesome. Your life as a parent is made immeasurably better by a quality child care provider.

The only problem with finding an awesome daycare is, when your kid starts elementary school, it’s like being thrown into a tornado. Holy cow, there is so much crap we have to deal with for The Boy from his school. There are events all the damn time. There’s picture day, there’s show and tell, there’s projects, there’s fundraisers…it’s just a lot. Last year, the last week of school, we as parents were invited to attend 4 different events on four different days during working hours. FOUR. I mean, I love The Boy’s school and the staff are amazing and he is happy and learning…but really, four events that working parents would need to skip work to attend? In one week?

Not to mention, now you’re making breakfast and lunch again (because, that school lunch is terrifying, have you seen it? Yikes). And because our daycare was next door, transportation to elementary school is way more complicated than it was for daycare. We also don’t get to check in with his teacher every day about how things are going, like we did with daycare. And, it’s not like we’re saving that much money, because we have to pay for before and after care, since school days are shorter than work days. Plus, there’s the whole summer thing, and winter break, and spring break, and the zillions of teacher in-service days and early dismissal days.

I feel like elementary school is still set up to work for families that have a stay at home parent who has time to come to school on a Wednesday at 3PM for some event, and volunteer in the classroom, and watch the kids during mid-winter break (why do we need one of these? The semester JUST started two weeks ago and we need a week off already?). And, 3/4 of families in America don’t have a stay at home parent now. I have a super flexible job, but I can’t always come to events that happen during the work day. Imagine if you’ve got a job that doesn’t offer the flexibility to take time off like mine does–like you’re a single low-income parent who doesn’t get vacation and sick days. It’s not really a feasible choice for that parent to miss work for a school event, is it? I wish schools would do a better job of thinking about what works for all families, and making it easier on us. Because, kids learn better when their families aren’t over-stressed.

I’m coping with being a parent of a school-aged kid by remembering that what makes me a good mom isn’t how much I volunteer at The Boy’s school. It’s that I love my kids and I am helping them grow up strong and smart and kind. And that I have also found them wonderful adults who love them and want the best for them and are willing to help out. Because, there is no way in hell I could do this alone.