Having three kids so close together in age was important to us. We wanted our kids to see each other as a resource as they went through school together and later in life as friends. Three kids under the age of four, though, means either I stayed home to save on the cost of childcare or we figure out a way to afford all three of them in daycare.
We’ve always believed daycare was the best place for them to learn and grow. However, the cost is considerable. The average cost of a week of childcare in our area is over $200 (this is my estimate based on my research). We chose to put them into a daycare with more resources and higher standards for their staff (each teacher has a 4 year degree and goes through extensive screening). Due to the extras, we spend over $700/week in childcare. That works out to over $36,000 of our income each year.
Given that most women make $.80 on the dollar to men and the considerable costs of childcare, it’s no wonder most women (not men, typically) will opt to exit the workforce and stay at home with their children. So, why did I choose to stay in the workforce? For us it was a combination of my own sanity and what we felt was in the best interest of our children.
First, my sanity. I love my children, of course I do. However, I’ve always known that staying at home with them all day, every day, without adult interaction would drive me insane. My happiness thrives on my ability to interact and socialize with others. Having a job also gives me a sense of purpose and contributing to my family.
After being laid off while on maternity leave, I worked for myself for about a year and a half. Though incredibly flexible, it was isolating. When given the choice to work and bring home a paycheck to cover the cost of daycare, I jumped at the chance mostly due to the advantages personally. Reentering the workforce was as much of a personal preservation decision as it was a financial one.
As I weighed the options I came up with a list of the personal advantages of me working. They are:
- Social Interaction
- A feeling of satisfaction contributing to the family financially
- The ability to save pre-tax income in a retirement account (a company benefit)
The second major reason I mentioned earlier was that we felt it was in the best interest of our children to send them to daycare. Why? I frequently ask myself why I can’t be the primary educator of our kids. The truth is, in theory, I can. I know I’m intelligent enough and I certainly would put enough effort into researching best practices. However, I’ve learned throughout my life I need external people pushing me to complete things and to be on the ball.
As a mom, I’ve found many short cuts and ways to do things on the fly. Though this is handy, it doesn’t best serve my kids. At daycare, they focus on learning things, many of which I was completely unaware my child was ready to learn. All three of my kids have come home singing the “ABC” song and “Twinkle, Twinkle” before I even knew they’d be ready to learn it. They can count in English and Spanish far before I’m aware they should. They learn to play well with other children. Most importantly, they learn to be away from mommy and daddy.
When looking at this list of advantages, it was also clear to me daycare was the best choice for our children:
- Taught by college educated professionals in a classroom environment
- Social interaction with children from other homes and other value systems
- Consistent schedules
- Exposure to material I was not aware they would be ready for
I realize, however, that sending children to daycare is not preferable for every family. These advantages applied to my family and outweighed the advantages of keeping them home with me.
According to the Department of Labor Women’s Bureau, women’s participation in the labor force is 57.7% versus men’s participation which is 70.1%. Many people have speculated that this discrepancy is due to women dropping out of the workforce to care for their children. While I can appreciate that many women are highly capable of continuing to work but choose to do this, it was not the right choice for me.
Is it the right choice for you? I don’t know.
I can tell you that I did not weigh these factors when doing our family planning. We knew we wanted them, we knew I was healthy and able to have them, so we did. We always have said we would figure out how to do it later. Though this goes against my obsessive need to plan big events (such as having a baby), it was freeing to take finances out of the equation. Due to the financial burden, our children would each have less (in terms of physical belongings and opportunities) because we chose to have more children. We were ok with that, because we felt in the long run they would actually have more in their lives because they would have each other. I don’t regret that choice at all.
When planning for your family, though, should you consider the financial aspect? I think it depends on your situation. If you believe you can afford to stay at home with your children and it is the right choice for all of you, then wonderful. However, do not feel guilty if it is NOT the right choice and you simply cannot afford to have three in daycare. In that case, certainly let the finances weigh in your decision.
For us, we knew the cost would be considerable. We knew it would stretch us. We knew we would have to sacrifice other areas because we would be paying so much in daycare. However, to us, it was completely worth it from all angles.
I mean, look at those faces, how can it not be worth every, single, penny?