Childcare, Two Working Parents, and Reality
For 2 working parents, childcare is a blessing and sometimes a nightmare to figure out. My spouse and I are in our ninth year of juggling care and we’ve tried many different options. Financially figuring out the right care provider was the first eye-opening moment we had on this adventure. Thinking about childcare expenses is easier if you look at it like an investment, like a mortgage. First, it is that expensive. Secondly, it really is an investment in how your little ones will grow and be nourished physically and emotionally. Coordinating this care effort requires creativity at times. Examples include: When caregivers are absent, when the baby is sick, when weather prevents the children from school or care, but work still wants you online… When the bundle (or bundles) of joy arrive, you think, “Once we hit kindergarten things will be smooth sailing.” Well, think again.
The Neverending Cost of Childcare
Childcare doesn’t officially end until your oldest is legally able to stay at home by themselves. Yep. In the state of North Carolina that is 12 years old. While you eventually grow out of the 9-to-5 caregiver (daycare, nanny, au pair, etc.) you will have childcare costs. These include after-school care, school breaks, and days they just can’t attend due to illness. There are a ton of options that your local community offers during these times. But none of these options are free.
After-school Care, Camps, and Sitters
While I thought I was able to save more money once the kids hit elementary school, my costs remained just as high. There are a lot of options out there for care during the elementary and middle school years. Maybe that is what everyone was so excited about? I thought the big deal was over minimizing expenses and not having to fork over what essentially amounts to an extra mortgage payment. It is too bad someone didn’t point out the flaw in my plan.
2:30 PM Pick-up
The bell rings at our school at 2:30 PM. That either means kids are getting on the bus, shuffled out to the pick-up line, or headed to on-premise after-school care. In our household both parents work, which means this space between 2:30 PM and 5:30 PM needs attention. There are pros and cons to all the care options, such as:
- On-premise after-school care: It is great that it is on site and the kids aren’t making a second transition before seeing you at 5:30 PM. However, that means the kids have been at school for almost 10 hours. That is a long day. And not all after-school programs are created equal. Luckily, our school has well-regimented activities. Some parents have mentioned a free-for-all at some schools where the kids are left to play relatively unsupervised.
- Off-campus programs: Many activity organizations will pick up directly from your school. This offers kids the chance to take their martial arts/music/gymnastics lessons or spend time at a farm playing outdoors. This is a great option and often comes with a big price tag.
- Babysitters/nannies: We live near a fantastic university. There are many undergrads looking for work during the week that is flexible and pays well. You need to interview and do the background checks yourself. Just remember, if they are sick or have emergencies, your care routine could be interrupted.
- Shift your work schedule: Our family juggled this schedule for almost three years. I would go to work EARLY and leave 30 minutes from the office before that 2:30 PM bell rang. While we may have saved in childcare costs, it was exceptionally stressful. Any traffic delays created mass panic for me. Sometimes trying to get from my desk to the door meant I couldn’t stop to talk to senior managers that wanted to chat. I was also super exhausted by Thursday. The kids would watch television because I was too tired to engage them. Leaving work at 2:00 PM doesn’t mean you stop work at 2:00 PM. It simply means you delay it until the kids are in bed. Once they are asleep the laptop comes out. Your evenings are spent catching up on the work hours you missed.
Little did I know that your childcare struggles do not end once they hit kindergarten. I wish someone had laid out the financial and care coordination map for me. So… here it is. I hope it is helpful as you navigate the working parent role.
Reset your expectations about childcare until your children are mature enough and legally able to be home alone. Having been in the thick of infants and toddlers for so long, the concept of leaving your little ones unattended may not seem right. As my kids mature and continue to increase their independence, I can see a future where childcare will not be necessary. That day for my family is about three to four years away. We may still require some help, just a lot less. Plan for the long haul… the real long haul.
Figure out what you can live with and how to make the costs and experience as seamless as possible. Looking back at all the different childcare experiences we tried, there is one solution I have returned to having an au pair. We loved our nannies, preschool teachers, and after-school babysitters and have stayed in touch. The au pair option was the most consistent and created the greatest comfort for the children. Our children consider the au pair like an older sibling or family member.
Au Pair Care
Most first responses to our mention of having an au pair are, “Oh, isn’t that weird having someone live in your house?” I suppose at first it might be, but if you’ve had a nanny then it really isn’t too different. Having a nanny was the hardest adjustment for me. By the time I was accustomed to having someone in my home every day, seeing the mess, folding the children’s clothes, having access to my home when I wasn’t there, transitioning to an au pair was easy.
There aren’t traffic delays or weather issues with an au pair’s care. If my child is sick there isn’t a gap in childcare. Importantly, the schedule for care is flexible. I can shift a few hours around and have a babysitter for an actual date night. We have an invaluable experience that offers opportunities to collaborate, communicate, and bond with someone who’s way of life and language is different from ours. This care situation isn’t for everyone. The space to house an extra person might be an issue or maybe the costs do not add up to any savings. Trust me, I get it. After the nannies, preschools, after-school babysitters, summer nannies, camps… this is the one that makes the most sense for us. And that is what you really need to find: What makes the most sense, with the greatest consistency, for you and the kids.
At 3 Bossy Bees, we are Au Pair Care Families