The Shocking Cost of Being a Working Parent

(This post first appeared on the Framingham Patch.)

There’s a lot about parenthood that I was not at all prepared for (see my earlier post 25 Unexpected Realities of Parenthood.) One of these things was just how crazy expensive it is caring for these little people.

I’m not talking diapers, food (gosh, I have to feed them over and over and over) and clothes (they just keep on growing) but the shocking cost of daycare, after school care and camps.

I’m fully aware that I could have chosen to be a stay-at-home mom. There are days when staying home with my kids sounds like nirvana. But I am a working mom, a career woman; its part of who I am. I found my niche, I’m good at what I do and I’m passionate about it. And, lucky for me and my family, it pays well too.

But like many other working parents, I’m forever assessing whether the delta between what my husband and I bring home, and what’s left in our bank accounts after paying for preschool, full day kindergarten, afterschool program, early release cover and camps, is really worth it.

This summer is the first that we’ve put both kids into camp (previously my daughter’s preschool continued through the summer months.) First off, selecting from the variety of programs offered was incredibly overwhelming. But then, oh my, the costs! And to think, we have to fill nine weeks of school vacation. Plus extended day. Plus busing. The whole process gives me severe heartburn. Surely all that diligent financial planning before and ever since the kids came out of the womb would have readied us for this? But no.

I think back to the summers of my own childhood and wonder about the fiscal choices my parents made. My mother did not work so we kids were home. I remember going away to the occasional two-week camp – probably a welcome very break for my Mom. Maybe she was going stir crazy the whole time we were home but there was never the need to pack us off for the full nine weeks so that she could pursue a career.

There are days that I wonder whether working parents are being ripped off. Is someone making a profit out of working parents like me who pay other people or institutions to take care of our kids so we can put in an eight-hour day at the office? Is this some kind of penalty we must accept for the fact that we have chosen the professional route? Academically, I understand why child care costs so much. But surely there has to be a more cost-effective way to do this?

For me, working is a choice I make. There are many for whom it is a necessity. I cannot imagine the financial strain they must face finding the balance between making enough money to pay the bills, put food on the table, clothe and equip their families and finding affordable childcare so they can do their jobs.

Maybe it’s our culture that needs fixing?

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13 Comments

  1. Great post. For so many of us it’s (financially) touch and go as to whether to go back to work at all… many of us work just because we kinda like it. But with all the attendant guilt of leaving your kids in care, plus juggling the house, being a half-decent partner… there’s a decent emotional cost, too!

    Reply
  2. Countries that have reasonable child care have happier parents. End of bulletin. ;)

    Reply
    • Tis true. Also a diff attitude – work to live vs live to work!

      Reply
      • Yes, that is VERY true. My cousin (French) lives and works in Spain but works VERY hard … why? Because he works for a US based multi national and they have the American philosophy towards work / life balance. Though I have been thinking about it lately, and I think that w/l balance is a myth. Like mermaids. We would like to believe they are out there… but they aren’t.

      • I hear you!

        p.s. I believe in mermaids.

      • Really? ;)

  3. Very true! I’ve always wondered how my grandma managed with her eight children!

    Hi! Stopping by from MBC. Great blog!
    Have a nice day!

    Reply
  4. Annie Moore

     /  March 30, 2012

    Already commented on the original article-and trying to keep it positive but real at the same time-parenting challenges our expectations and forces us to continue to grow in ways that we never, ever could have anticipated until we had children. It is one of those yin-yang or “take the good with the bad” realities. When we bump up against issues like this one, it is usually our expectations that we find we need to bring into alignment with the realities of the world and the realities of raising our children in the current world. Hopefully, when we want the best for our kids, we make choices that continue in line with that trajectory! And as we continually achieve that goal with every choice we make, it no longer seems like a cost, but a worthy investment.

    Reply
  5. lemead

     /  March 11, 2013

    Yes – I find the summer overwhelming also. Choices and expenses and things shifting around week to week so we never find our rhythm. Ugh.

    Reply
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