There has been a lot of recent coverage and debate about child care in the U.S. — issues ranging from access and affordability to timing (in California we have paid family leave for a total of three paid months of baby bonding… in most other states families are forced to choose between a paycheck or spending time with their barely month old child after just six weeks).
I’ve been following a lot of these discussions because a. child care is a necessity and soon-to-be reality for my family and b. it’s been in the news a lot with the 2016 presidential election ramping up.
Anyway, all along I had been thinking about child care from a purely financial perspective (I was less concerned with finding the right person to watch Ellie since there are far more options in our price range here than in San Francisco).
Would we be able to afford it or, like many people, would the cost of child care match or even exceed my or my husband’s income? Turns out, we’re fortunate enough to afford child care so long as we do what’s known as a nanny share: usually two children from different families who share the time of one nanny at a reduced rate. Fine. Great. A playmate and a discount, score!
With the financial aspect squared away, I thought I was clear to avoid any emotional breakdown about this particular topic. Spoiler alert, I was wrong.
With my return date to work less than a week away I’ve realized that the real cost of child care is the time that you lose, not the money. At less than four months old, my child will spend more of her waking hours with someone other than her mom or dad. There might be days when I get home and she’s already down for the night. It happens to my husband at least once a week. I can’t even wrap my head around that!
How is this ok? How is this the norm? Three months of bonding time and then you become ancillary to your child’s everyday experience and development? The second-most important influence?
I understand that this is why it’s so important to know and trust the person you choose to watch your child — but we’re lucky enough to have several candidates to choose from and it still feels impossibly hard to relinquish that kind of time and responsibility to another person. Those with less to spend have far fewer options and it’s unconscionable, not to mention heartbreaking, that income is a determining factor in a family’s ability to place their child in a safe and nurturing environment.
On a somewhat related note, I wonder if there will be a different breakdown for every day of the week leading to my first day back at work… that could be interesting…