Consistent childcare for the children of working parents, like investing in daycare, has economic, educational, and personal significance, despite being a significant financial burden for most households. Understanding how investing in daycare benefits you and your family can show that it’s not only a wonderful value for families, but for all of us as well.
I chose not to have children so that others could raise them. Others care for my children eight hours a day, five days a week, during all non-summer months (I’m a teacher), just as they are for millions of other young families led by working parents nationwide. Alternatively, their father. Perhaps their parents or grandparents. Or anyone else who is obligated to invest in their wellbeing by blood, marriage, or other legally binding contracts. Instead, kids are supervised by daycare workers.
Indeed, I do pay them. And it is costly. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 34 states, baby care is more expensive than in-state tuition for a four-year public college. Like many other families, the monthly tuition expense has been a source of stress in our household.
Child Care Aware stated in 2021 that the national average cost of daycare for a child was approximately $10,600 per year, representing more than 10% of household income for married couples and 35% of the average income for single parents. Due to many children and locations, many families’ annual total is significantly higher. Many parents are either unable to afford this payment or are disheartened by how much of their income goes toward the costs associated with working. In our societal discussions about the expense of child care, and as we try to make it more accessible to all, it is crucial that we recognize exactly what we’re paying for.
It has never been clearer how valuable daycare is to the American working.
According to Nina Banks, Ph.D., an economics professor at Bucknell University, “women had become the majority of the workforce” by January 2020, “representing 50.04 percent of workers, indicating an upward trend in women’s labor force participation,” and emphasizing their role as “major contributors to the growth of national output.” However, as the economy slowed in recent years owing to COVID-19, and both in-home and licensed facilities shuttered, women’s labor force participation decreased as many mothers quit their jobs or reduced their hours to care for their children. In September 2020 alone, when the school year began, more than four times as many women as males withdrew from the job force, according to statistics cited by Dr. Banks.
Though it is unsurprising that fewer workers had a negative impact on the economy, this information has increased the importance of establishing and maintaining mechanisms that make it easy and desirable for parents of small children to return to work. This is reflected in recent public policy; the Biden Administration intends to invest in child care as part of its 2023 plan.
And thank God for it. Doesn’t it take a village?
But for some families, especially after the seismic shifts in perspective over the past few years, economic value pales in comparison to individualized values. For instance, I often spoke with families — particularly women, many of whom had their first child during the pandemic — who were grappling with reentry costs, including whether or not to return to the job and rely on daycare centers. Why? Because somewhere within the compressed stress bubble of recent times, these mothers had internalized the belief that they, as the parent who had essentially never left their child’s side for the duration of that child’s pandemic-determined life, should continue to be there for the remainder of their life.
Obviously, child care is a highly personal issue that requires careful consideration of values, money, and other factors. The shame that you are not your child’s main source of love and guidance, however, should be recognized as an unwanted emotional expense and then released.
According to Terri Sabol, Ph.D., a professor at Northwestern University, “breakthroughs in diverse fields, including neurobiology, epigenetics, developmental science, and economics, all point to the importance of developing skills early in life to maximize children’s potential,” and “decades of rigorous evidence demonstrate children thrive when they attend high-quality out-of-home early care and education programs.” This is especially true when their classes have “warm, supportive, and stimulating relationships with their teachers,” as she explains.
Childcare employees are not replacement parents, but they do provide a broader network of social encounters, educational observations, and even affection. My son was approximately one year old when Kayleen encouraged him to take those twenty steps across the room. Around the age of two, Shari instructed him on how to fasten the Velcro straps on his sneakers. When he was 3 years old, and I had to leave his apple orchard field trip early to return to my own lessons, I recall the exact, familiar manner in which he curled into Ronilyn’s arms, his head cradled against her neck and shoulder, while I staggered away. It broke my heart, but it showed me that I wasn’t the only one who could make him feel better.
And thank God for it.
By the time I returned to work after the birth of my daughter, I had learned to replace shame with gratitude. According to Dr. Sabol, “parents are better parents when they are less stressed,” and “stable, out-of-home early care and education reduces parents’ stress, enabling them to be better employees and parents.” My capacity to have children and return to my work was made possible not just by logistical considerations, but also by the fact that I knew my daughter was being educated by individuals with different passions. This is a necessary dualism for our economy to revive. Karen taught her how to fingerpaint, Gwen taught her Christmas tunes, and Kay braided and twisted her hair every day.
Kameron Dill, Psy.D., a psychologist and the Director of Pediatrics at Sundstrom Clinical Services, explains that “it is often helpful for parents to have an identity outside of being a parent” and that regular child care with trusted caregivers helps parents “reflect on and obtain their own needs, which in turn helps ‘fill their emotional bucket’ for when they are with their children again.”
Together with my children, I explore the woods. I tickle them on pillow mountains and talk to them beneath blanket fortresses. I read aloud whatever books are presented to me. I fail in numerous ways, including my impatient response, my inability to attend field excursions, and my inability to organize playdates. My mother’s love is the most potent and propelling force I’ve ever encountered. Thus, it saddens me to recall how much I worried about abandoning my son each time I left him at daycare as he was a young child.
I no longer worry about that.
The epidemic demonstrated how much parents are willing to do and sacrifice for their children. For parents who, out of necessity, moved or reduced hours or left their employment entirely to care for young children, the period of returning to the office was likely fraught with a cost-benefit analysis, as many individuals figured out what to do with the youngsters.
Anne Larson, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Early Education and Development, states that if parents want to send their children to daycare settings, “they need jobs that can pay for the exorbitant costs often associated with care, highly trained (and therefore better-compensated) providers who can be consistent educators to children in their earliest years and policy changes related to reaching families for whom child care isn’t working.” Thanks to the Child Tax Credit payments, state legislation to subsidize care, and businesses providing child care-related perks, a portion of this issue has been addressed.
It would also be beneficial if, as a society, we began the next global calamity to emphasize the importance of childcare centers and their employees to both children and their parents.
Meaningful articles you might like: Strategies For Coping With Baby Separation Anxiety, How to Manage Aggressive Behavior in Toddlers and Preschoolers, Paying a Babysitter – How Much Is Reasonable?