What we talk about when we talk about the cost of daycare

MARY POPPINS, Julie Andrews, 1964


That is the amount, each month, my husband and I will be paying for daycare when our baby is born and she joins her big brother at the YMCA after my maternity leave ends.

$3,200. A month.

And that is just the base amount. That doesn’t take into account the extra fees — for extracurricular activities, teacher gifts, field trips, food, etc. With all of that included, we’re expecting to shell out $40 grand a year just for basic childcare costs. This is $12,000 more than my first salary out of college. This is a mortgage. A year of college. This is a living salary for many Americans around the country.

$40,000. And my children aren’t even learning Mandarin.

We are unsure about where this money will come from. I am also unsure about what to even complain about. The teachers at their daycare deserve a generous living wage. My children deserve a safe environment while my husband and I work. I see that number and am this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Parenting is basically opening your wallet while your money flies out of it. And you have no choice but to smile and shrug. Because we have no choice in the matter. I mean, I could stop working, but then we’d literally have no money instead of biting $40K. And some money is better than no money, especially when, you know, you have children to feed and have to eventually send them to college. My husband and I have this small dream of not retiring in a mud puddle. Plus — and I know this is strange — but I am one of those women who like to work and be a mother at the same time. Weird! I know!

But I can’t work unless there is childcare in the picture. Hence: $40K. We could find a cheaper option, but — if I may be perfectly honest — this is pretty affordable for our area, and other options aren’t that much cheaper. Maybe a couple hundred less a month? But ours is close and convenient, and at this point, if we’re going to pay $39,000 a year for day care, we might as well just pay $40,000. We’re so screwed we don’t even care about $1,000. Again, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

But wait! What about the child and dependent care credit, offered by our friends over at the IRS? It looks like we can claim up to $6,000 a year for two kids. Which for my family is a month and a half of care. A month and a half, if that. (It turns out we make too much money to claim the entire credit, even though we’re going to spend $40K in daycare costs. Which doesn’t seem very fair, but again:

Cool! I guess I’ll get my hair cut sometime in 2020.

I’m being upfront about a hush-hush topic (money) because when politicians and essayists and economists talk about the struggle of the cost of childcare, I don’t think anyone really knows just what a sacrifice it is. It’s not like, “Oh, let me cut out my morning latte and then we’ll magically have enough to make sure my children have a safe, accredited place to go to while I work to help contribute to this great nation’s Social Security benefits.” It’s: “Here is literally all my money. All of it.” Or, it’s “I won’t work, as what I make is less than full-time daycare.” Or, it’s “Let me go into debt in order to have children.”

I guess it just seems to me that our society should want people to work. And pay taxes. And we should make it a little easier for them to do just that.

My husband and I come from a place of enormous privilege. We have loving, generous parents who helped pay for our college educations. We have no debt. We’re married. We have good, well-paying jobs. Our house is very modest and our mortgage is low. We drive a car that was given to us. And yet, the cost of daycare is still a huge, huge stretch for us. And if it’s hard for us, how is it even possible for someone who hasn’t been as lucky with their lot in life? I have a feeling it isn’t.

Everyone keeps talking about “job creators” in the same breath as 1 percenters. My husband and I are nowhere near the 1 percent, but if we just had a little more help in what we spend on childcare costs, I would be making so many jobs, y’all. So many. We’d get walls painted. And plants planted. Clothes purchased. Extensive dental work? You know it. Lasik up the wazoo. I mean, we’re talking expensive highlights, friends. Really. Expensive. Highlights. We’d probably even put money “into” a little something called a “bank.” As it currently stands, what leftover monthly cash we do have goes directly into the job creation of Grocery Store Clerk. That’s it. (Thank me later, Trader Joe.)

I guess what is so frustrating is that there is no answer to this dilemma that every parent who wants to work and every worker who wants to parent must face. I know money is tight. I know it’s crazy to even suggest that maybe some of the $515.4 billion we pour into the Military Industrial Complex should be used on something as trivial as helping to educate our nation’s youth and assist working families. Here’s a cool story about 2.5 already-obsolete surface warships the Navy commissioned at a cost of $12.3 billion. I say “2.5” as the third one isn’t even going to be finished, despite the fact that they’ve already sunk $4.5 billion into the project.

I’m no economist, but I see numbers like that and think: Maybe, just maybe, the federal government could increase that $6,000 child care tax break into something a little more helpful? Maybe? Why not, say, $12,000? Of course, that means a little less money will go towards building obsolete naval warships, but I think working parents would be happy to give back that tax break to the national treasury when the invasion begins.

Luckily for all of us in this ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ position, a wonderful financial break called “kindergarten” will happen. And then “real” school. And then in 10 short years, we may not even have to pay for after-care costs, as the kids surely won’t choke on grapes while sitting home alone at 13, right?

Then, together, we will all get exactly 3 or 4 years of a reprieve until we will then spend close to $100,000 on college (if we’re the lucky ones).

I guess I need to make that hair appointment for 2035.


This post was originally published by the good folks over at Wee Wander. Check it out here.  

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