A lack of childcare solutions

I think it’s fair to say that childcare concerns have impacted every major decision I’ve made since my children were born. For example, consider the first big question after my daughter joined the family: Do I return to my job?

The job was a pretty good one. It provided luxuries such as health insurance and paid time off, at a company where my writing skills were generally put to good use.  

But there were downsides. Flexible scheduling was definitively not on the table. And despite my best efforts of leading through example, HR had not yet implemented the “Unshowered Tuesdays” program I desired. 

Add to that the complete lack of affordable — or even available — childcare. 

Returning to work as I’d known it was basically impossible. 

The paradox 

A quick Google search will reveal the depressing reality — childcare costs in America are out of control and pushing families to the brink of financial ruin. As cited in numerous articles on the subject, average childcare costs in the U.S. exceed the average cost of in-state tuition at a state university. 

Parents across the country are faced with a variety of impossible choices. In a two-parent household, do both parents continue working, only to have the entirety of one paycheck funneled directly to the daycare center? 

With bleak realities like this being the norm, some parents (let’s be honest, it’s often the mother) decide to quit their jobs to stay home with the kids, since there’s no clear financial benefit to working. 

The freelance compromise

Weighing these considerations in my head after the birth of my daughter, I opted for what I thought was a reasonable compromise: I “went freelance.” 

My first client was my former employer, for whom I did the same work I’d done before but this time from home, without benefits and at an hourly rate. I hired a friend to babysit a few times a week for short blocks of time. I would rush across the street to the neighborhood coffee shop the minute she walked in the door where I would bash out a day’s work in a few hours’ time. 

I was killing it! The freelancer’s life was the life for me. 

Daycare realities  

Right around Lydia’s first birthday, I started getting quite busy. I knew my slapdash setup wasn’t going to work any longer; I would need to find legitimate childcare. 

My husband found a great place — an in-home French immersion daycare with a provider who my usually suspicious baby took an immediate liking to. 

As always, there were downsides: For example, it was in St. Paul (we lived in Minneapolis) and it was closed on Mondays. But since my job wasn’t “real,” I could surely figure something out if I ever had to do actual work on Mondays. 

The childcare situation with Baby No. 1 actually worked quite well. I made enough money to cover the daycare expenses and even saved some money to finance my upcoming DIY maternity leave. (Baby No. 2 was on the way.) 

But things didn’t go so swimmingly when little Felix arrived. With massive hospital bills piled on top of the usual expenses, piled on top of the fact that I didn’t do much work in the first couple months of his life, I blew through my $7,000 in savings in about six weeks. (And I swear I wasn’t purchasing Stokke cribs or plane tickets to Bali.)

Waiting it out?

The years to come were defined by constant trial and error as we groped around for workable childcare solutions — solutions that never presented themselves. We pulled Lydia out of the inconvenient daycare she loved in St. Paul and sent her to a new one (that she hated) close to home. Then we pulled her out of that one and sent her back to the original place. Somewhere in there we lost our chance to claim a spot for Felix. 

I wish I could end this on a positive note, with some possible solutions. But as far as I can tell, the only real solution to the childcare dilemma is … kindergarten. 

And that’s assuming you opt for public school.

Shannon Keough lives in St. Paul with her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.